Dakota - History and Culture
Germans from Russia Heritage Society
Cassette Tape Collection (Date Unknown)
Number Three in a Series
Transcription by Joy Hass Stefan
Editing by Janel Wald and Linda Haag
This is our hometown. You know everybody. It’s got its advantages and disadvantages, a small town, but you know everybody. It’s not like Bismarck, you go to a bar and you sit there all night and don’t know anybody. Here you go in the bar and you can talk all night. You know everybody. That’s what’s nice.
Strasburg, North Dakota. Population: 643. Our hometown. One in a series of programs exploring the values, concerns, and character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. On today’s sound portrait, you’ll hear why residents like living in Strasburg. Pius Kraft traces the history of the German Russian settlers and their descendants describe themselves. The interviewer is JohnYdstie.
One thing about it, you can look up at the sky at night and see
stars. Many of the cities in, like Milwaukee, it’s bad. You
can’t even see a star at night. You can do things with your
family much easier and more often in a small town. My children are
only five and six, but they go swimming by themselves. The swimming
pool is just across the street. We only live a block and a half
from it, but we don’t have to drive them anywhere, we don’t
have to worry about them. We don’t have any trouble. I can’t
remember the last time my business was broken into. It hasn’t
been since I’ve been back, in eight years, seven years. My
biggest problem in being in business is probably the kids stealing
BBs or .22 shells, something small like that. Just the whole lifestyle
is different in a small town. It’s a slower pace. Being in
business for you, too, is different in a small town. Your problems
are different. You know your customers real good. Credit might be
a problem here that you don’t have in a big city, but there
are so many benefits that I can’t even pinpoint, because I’m
used to them.
For me, I don’t know whether it has anything so unique as
any other town, excepting that I feel at home here. I’ve lived
here since ’45, the winter of ’45, and we have our little
church here. I have my friends here, and I know nearly everybody.
It is pretty well known all over the country, because of Lawrence
Welk, I guess, but he doesn’t mean so much to us, because
we just take it kind of for granted. My sister was a schoolteacher;
she was his teacher. He comes here once in awhile. He comes to the
nursing home and he dances with some of those old women. But I wouldn’t
move to Strasburg for that. Not that. I have a son in California,
in Vista, California, a beautiful part of California, way in the
southern part. And they want me to come there so bad. In my condition,
they said it would be just the thing for me, because I can’t
walk. But I said no, I don’t think you could pull me away
from Strasburg. My roots are fast there. We have our cemetery here.
My folks are buried here. My husband is buried here. I lost a daughter
a couple of years ago, of cancer, the oldest one of the children.
She was 65, and our oldest son died and he is buried here. It’s
just home. It’s just like, even if you have a new barn, you
try to get a horse or a cow in that new barn, and there’s
an old shed where you used to stall him. He doesn’t like that
new barn; he wants to go back to that old shed. And that’s
the way it is with us. I like to be here.
I was in Chicago, bigger cities, you know, Seattle, and so on, for, I put in close to 20 years, living in different places. Excitement, traffic, and when we came back here in ’45, my wife and I and our family; we have children, Mickey and Rosalie. When we came back here we were ready to climb the walls, because there was just nothing here. But you know you get used to that. It took us awhile. It probably took us close to a year, and now, I still go out. I go to Phoenix. I play the Westward Hotel in Phoenix, usually six or eight weeks every year, usually in January and February when we have these horrible winters up here. And I’m ready to come back to the farm, believe it or not. It kind of grows on you. Like you see here, we have no traffic, and no problems. You can do as you like. You are your own boss, nobody around. Not that I don’t like people, I love people. If I didn’t have people to be around, I’d climb the wall too. So, all in all, we enjoy the quiet of the country, living here, very much.
How do you think growing up in a small town like this has helped you in being a success, and maybe helped Lawrence? Has it helped?
Yes, because we grew up the hard way. We had enough to eat and
a good place to sleep and all that, but we had to work hard. We
often talk about it. Lawrence will say, “Remember, Mike, how
we used to get up when it was 20 below and had to go to the barn
and milk cows by hand,” which we both did, feed the cattle
and so and so on. And he says, “Now look.” We’ll
be out on a golf course and things like that.
The people are real friendly around here. Which, like you go to some other small towns, which I have been, and I’ll tell you, people aren’t half as friendly as they are around here. I don’t know what it is. Every strange people that come into town, they can’t get over it how friendly everybody is around here. Like, when kids come, younger kids that come here to visit, they always want to stay here. They don’t want to go home anymore. I don’t know what makes it. They really like it here. They’d even like to move back to Strasburg. The reason why the do come back is they have either grandparents or uncles or aunts here, and I think when they do come they don’t want to go back. It’s just amazing, really.
Family is an important factor here.
I think so. Like when somebody gets sick around here, I think everybody
knows about it, and they send out cards to everybody, which is really
nice. And I think you take it in a big city… while some people
don’t even know their next door neighbor. I don’t know
if this is true or not. I’ve never lived in a big city. I’ve
lived in Bismarck. That’s the biggest city I’ve ever
gotten to. Then I know some people always say they don’t even
know their next door neighbors. And some say, “Oh, that isn’t
true. They do too.”
I was in no place, just Strasburg all my life, so I like it here,
and I think everybody is friendly. See, they talk German, and we
are German, and that’s why I like it here the best.
[109 – 120: singing]
My folks and all, we come over here. We come from the Ukraine, which is South Russia, all these people here around in the other towns, in Linton and all of them over east here. We come over here, in 1906 we arrive here. We went by train to Antwerp, from southern Russia. These colonies there, you know the people live in colonies, not out separately on their lands. But then we left there and we boarded in Antwerp, Belgium. And we landed in Quebec. 12 days on a boat. We came from Quebec to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and then to Zeeland, the first year. My dad had some relatives there, in Zeeland. It was from June 1906 to October 1907, when we came here.
The people here are called German-Russian people, aren’t they?
Why? Why the German?
Well, they are German. They originally immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine in 1808. Our people from 1808 to ’11, the bulk of them come in there. Well, some prior. Well, at that time they were living in Alsace-Lorraine, which was this little country between Belgium and that little country… every once in awhile, they had a war. Germany or France, and it belonged to Germany awhile, and then France awhile. Then this Kaiser and Catherine… was it Peter the Great or something? She invited these people over there, you see. She gave them land over there. She wanted to populate that part. That’s a nice country there, with heavy, black soil. And the native Russians there didn’t do anything or something like this. Then in order to build up that country I assume, she gave them 60  of land, which is about the equivalent of about a quarter. The first ones that came in here of our people were three rights here, this locality. There were three young fellows. You see, as soon as they got up to be 21 years old, they had to register and they had to go into the military service. So a lot of them skipped, you know, the border, get across the border, prior to being made. Then they came over here, and they found land down here. There were five of them, and that was in 1888, out here, right here in Strasburg. Then of course, they wrote home. Then in the spring of 1889, eleven families came over and settled in here. But they left on account of the land and the land got scarce, too. Land doesn’t grow, you know.
You came over then, what year was that?
We left over there in May 1906 and arrived… we were interrupted on the German border, and we missed our boat in Antwerp, the one that was scheduled. See, they didn’t leave single families. They usually left four, five, six families together. They had these travel bureaus in Odessa, different travel bureaus, and people would go in and make arrangements, paid the fare. Do you know how much the fare cost at that time? From  which was the station, the railroad station, the Russian word, to Aberdeen, South Dakota, we paid 140 rubles for an adult ticket. At that time a ruble was only worth about 55 cents. But now their money, I don’t know what it’s worth now.
It would have been about $70, then, all the way from…
Yes. Well, of course it wasn’t First Class. You know on the boat it wasn’t First Class. It was Third Class, on the Kaiser Wilhelm ship. I was not quite 11 years old. Of course we didn’t talk English or nothing, but we got along.
What was Strasburg like when you got here?
Strasburg? Well, there were two stores here, three already when we got here. The Bazaar isn’t here anymore, where the telephone office is here now. That was the first store in town. It was built in 1902, called the Strasburg Bazaar. When the railroad came in, there wasn’t much, like all little towns. Of course, then they grew fast when these people all came in. Now we have 650 or something like that.
Did you have more businesses at one time?
Oh yes. At one time we had five stores. There was the Bazaar, the Farmer’s Store, The Golden Rule, Klein’s Store, and later on, Strasburg Mercantile. There were five stores at one time. There are two here now. Well, you can’t do without sweatpants and horse collars and harnesses, barbed wire, oil. You know at that time everything was machine, horse drawn, and all that stuff. And the school… well, when I come over to Zeeland, this was in June. That next fall we started to school. Zeeland was a small town. We had one school room with a teacher; one woman teacher, I remember, and maybe 20-some odd kids. But she didn’t know what to do with me because I was in third grade over there.
[quit recording in mid-conversation at counter 205 to 216]
When I come over here, she put me in first grade, naturally. I could read that stuff, but I’d pronounce it differently. Say, I couldn’t say “girls”; I said “geels.” Or I’d see “cup” and I’d read it as “soup,” not “cup.” Every letter… you see in our little German book in Russian school, we had a page with letters, like letters you have now. And of course, we’d express it in German, right? And you mentioned every letter. There are no silent letters, or nothing, as they are. And here, you don’t have it. Say, like you say “could” or something like that, you have silent letters there, right? Well, I didn’t know that and arithmetic too. But I went through two grades right away. It didn’t take me too long, because I was in third grade over there.
What did your folks do when you got here?
Well, my dad worked in the lumberyard. He had a cousin or somebody there who was the manager there and he started in the lumberyard. Then when he comes up here, he worked in the elevator. For a little while the family was out there, about 20 miles northwest of here. He had a piece of land we had to prove up yet, you had to live on there, see. And I was the oldest. And the school, I had to come out early in the spring and come back late in the fall, when school had started. At that time we had the schoolhouse that was built in 1904 here. We had two rooms there, but sometimes we only had one teacher, sometimes we had two. When I was 17 years old, I started to work at the Bazaar store. I got a dollar a day at that time, $30 a month. From morning 7 or 8 o’clock, 7:30 in the wintertime, until 10 o’clock at night we worked there. Those days, every town had a little band and a baseball team in those days. Not any more, much. There was nothing else to entertain you. There were no radios or anything like that. Like everything has changed now. In those days everything was in German, the churches and everything. Then in 1910 in the spring we had five nuns come over from Germany, and they started a parochial school in the church basement. They divided it up… that was really… seeing, the church was built in 1910, well it started in ’09, but they finished in ’10.
Was Strasburg a Wild West town when it started?
No, no. There was no wild west. Well there were Indians across the river over here, at Ft. Yates. Once in a while those people would come over here. But when I got here they still had the army over at Ft. Yates on the west side of the river. There was no trouble over there.
It was a pretty quiet little town.
Well, they’re all just the same people, you know. Everybody knew everybody when they settled. See, we had the , that’s a Russian word. Now  is something like a state.  is something like a county or something like that. And there across the river, the Dniester River that formed the border with Bessarabia, these people southwest of here about 8 or 9 miles, and they came from Bessarabia. They had a little bit different dialect, but now it is all mixed up.
[281 – 300: music]
We’re a German-Russian community, I would say, and many of
our parents, most of them, still speak it, and many of us speak
it fluently. Some of our children speak a few words, a phrase, here
and there. They want to learn. In fact, some of our boys say, “Mom,
why didn’t you teach me German when I was smaller?”
And they get in every word or every phrase they can.
Well, I can talk German, yes, but it doesn’t mean that much to me. People are people, and it doesn’t make that big a difference.
Does your family follow any old German customs or cook German food?
Oh yes, my mom. We’re German; all the food and talk, everything.
You find the people very open, unsophisticated. They don’t wear a façades, and I find that very delightful. A lot of the things that we’re striving for, on a national basis in education just come naturally here. I find the thing that led to the drug scene, for example, in your urban environment, the sophistication, the role playing facades that people were wearing… so we tried changing our approach to people. Well, here, that really wasn’t that necessary because people didn’t put on airs and sophistication, or build walls around themselves. I try to be proud of my background and in no way apologetic. I think, in the past, because of the history of the two world wars, people somewhat had feelings of inferiority, and also the fact that most of them had German as their second language, or for some of them German was their first language. So they are somewhat apologetic and they have some feelings of inferiority. The second year we had this as a school, we did an intensive study of the German-Russian history and culture, some of the language, we got as many books as we could possibly get into our library to bolster the self concept of the students. After working at this for about six months, the students could volunteer to make tape recordings to be analyzed by a speech therapist. She had her doctorate in speech therapy and gave us a very thorough analysis of it, which we then interpreted back to the students so they could overcome so many of the accents and mispronunciations. I feel the more we can do to make people feel proud of their heritage, rather than apologetic, it will be good for the community. If I’m going to find out who I am, I can’t cut myself off from my roots. So the more I go back and trace these roots, and the different cultures that are with it, the more I know myself. Yet, I’ve gone through the phase where I thought I could just cut all that off, but I could see where I was harming myself by doing that, so now I’ve reversed that.
What kind of traits would you attribute to the German-Russian people?
Stubborn, I guess. I’m so deeply involved, that [laughter]. They can get very stubborn, angry. They are very loyal.
I’ve heard stubborn a lot when asking people about characteristics. Why do you think they are stubborn?
It goes back to the feelings of inferiority. If a person doesn’t
feel adequate, he is going to stand real firm on familiar ground,
and he’s not about to change. So the more they overcome that
feeling of inadequacy, the easier they are to change. At one time
it was probably considered… I don’t know why, but people
didn’t really care to let other people know that they have
this Russian-German background. I think when they left the felt
it was a detriment. I think today, with the more liberal thinking,
the breaking down of ethnic roots and so on, I think it really doesn’t
affect them too much either way.
Strasburger, huh? Why, I suppose we have an accent, don’t
we? They’ve told me that already when I went to school. It’s
just real simple. I suppose there’s kind of a farm squak.
You can tell there always seems to be a lot of work involved in
there or something. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know if there’s
so much difference.
I think they are very, in most cases, ambitious. They’re
hard working. They try to get ahead. They do put value on education,
although I think this is kind of going the other way. They’re
very competitive. One thing I think that is detrimental is they
are very prejudiced. They’re very biased. They are very quick
to criticize. They feel that their opinion is the right opinion.
They’re a little bit too fast in that they’re a little
bit too quick to condemn, I think. But I think that is just because
there’s a change it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
I was raised around here. I was born in this community. I went to school here. I never got away from home, you might say.
Do you ever wish you had?
Not really, because I don’t think I’d have the holdings that I have today, if I’d have roamed. A man can’t accomplish overnight, lifetime holdings overnight, and the longer you’re gone, the less chance you have. I figure myself lucky for staying where I am. We don’t have a very mixed community. It’s not very mixed. It’s mostly German. We have pride in our German ancestry. You’ve either got to join them or leave them. I joined them.
Are you German?
How do you feel about that German-Russian heritage? Does it
mean anything to you?
No, not really. My grandma has talked a lot about how she came
over and everything, but I was born in America, so I realize most
of the people come from German-Russian. But I don’t really
think about it that much.
I go to the home quite often, and you hear some of these older people there in the home that live together, sing these German songs, and the tears are rolling down their face.
[455 - 497 another German song]
Strasburg, North Dakota – Our Hometown. One in a series of sound self-portraits, illustrating the attitudes and character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. Producers of the series are JohnYdstie, Dennis Hamilton and Bill Siemering. You may purchase a cassette copy of this program by contacting KCCM, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota 56560.
[ 482 - 495 more German singing]
[end of recording on Side A]
[Begin Side B]
What would I miss most if I moved into a big town? Probably the
weddings we put on here, we get invited to a lot of these weddings,
with a lot of fun and friendly people. If you’d move to a
strange town, I don’t think you’d ever run into a group
like we have here.
Strasburg, North Dakota. Population: 643. Our hometown. One in a series of programs exploring the values, concerns, and character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. Neil Pierce wrote of North Dakota in the Great Plains States, “Across the state, once prosperous little farm supply towns are in grim struggle for survival. Some have even died. The problem is that as the number of farms contract and supplies are purchased from afar or from regional shopping centers, the little towns have little more reason for being. As more and more people leave, economic survival and the quality of life become harsher for those who remain, often, only the elderly and retired people.” If Mr. Pierce had visited Strasburg, he would have found the strong German-Russian tradition and the birthplace of Lawrence Welk as two factors that make this town unique. On today’s program, you will hear about the traditional wedding celebrations, and learn about the roots of Lawrence Welk from those who stayed behind, Mike Dosch, Pius Kraft, and Mike Welk, Lawrence Welk’s younger brother. The interviewer is John Ydstie.
The traditions and like the style of weddings and all that and customs they had, that has changed a lot. Since those days, well, there was a wedding that took about two days, sometimes three.
What was it like?
Well, they had it in the house. They’d invite the friends
and relatives, whoever, and you’d have some musicians, and
you’d eat and dance and drink. The first day was the main
things, then the second day it was usually leftovers, then it was
a little smaller. Only the more close ones came. That’s usually
the way it was. You’d eat up and drink up what was left. That
was the proper days, I guess. It was much more fun than you have
now days. Well, they didn’t have all that entertainment in
those days. People didn’t have any entertainment. They were
all poor and had to work hard, all by hand labor. They usually had
it in the house. Those who didn’t have those that came later,
these weddings, the last years they had it right here in town. It’s
all so fixed up. But those, they had in the house. There weren’t
as many coming, there weren’t as many people. They had it
at the house, the meals and everything.
It seems like all the children that leave here, come back here. They just wait for their vacations to come back here. And all the young people who leave here, they want to get married back here. It’s sure funny. Even the boys, that’s what surprises me. Even the boys want to come back home and get married here. They just say a wedding isn’t a wedding until you’ve had a wedding here.
[046 – 065 - Music, etc.]
Once you are there, they play a short waltz for the bride and the groom, and the maid of honor takes the bride and groom out to dance. They dance a few minutes alone and the other bridesmaids and best men, you get those two and they dance with the bride and groom, and you keep on all the way down through the parents and everybody. Then you have the whole bridal party, sides, the parents and grandparents out there dancing. It’s quite a long dance, just alone. That’s all.
How about the marching in… what’s that all about?
The bride and groom lead the best men and bridesmaids in, and then the parents behind. And they’re leading… we just go around in a circle.
Why do they do it?
It’s just tradition, mainly, I think.
It’s been going on for years like that. So everybody can see the party, plus the relatives… the close relatives, that is. I’d say it’s basically tradition that has carried it on this far. Most weddings have it.
Did you guys ever think of having any other kind of wedding?
It’s just the basic here, and it’s carried on. I think
every one is similar. There are very few changes, and if there are,
[Heard over a loud speaker]: Good evening, ladies
and gentlemen. At this time we’d like to extend our congratulations
to Brenda and Richard. We’d like to go on to the parents with
Mr. and Mrs. Volk. Also to Mr. and Mrs. Aloys Zacher. And we would
like to go on to the grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Volk. Mrs.
Alex Buechler. I think that’s right. And Mrs. Mary Anna Zacher
Then we have one more thing, which very few people do get to go
through with, a great-grandparent to a wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Casper
Burgad. Okay, from here on in, folks, everybody dance.
That’s the way it goes in Strasburg.
[103 - 117 accordion music for dancing]
I’m talking to Mike Dosch who is a native of Strasburg and a musician, a well known musician from Strasburg, probably as well known as anyone except Lawrence Welk. And Lawrence says Mike is the best accordion player you can hear, if you want to hear an accordion. When did you begin to play instruments?
Well, John, I started when I was four years old. We had one of these old parlor organs. In fact, I’ve still got it here. And I started on that, and my sisters would have to stand on either side of me to pump the air into the organ because my feet weren’t long enough to reach it. And I’d play, then, see. So this went on and on, and I finally graduated from that to about a 10-button accordion, four bases, whatever it was. Real small, you know, German style accordion. And of course I thought I had everything when my dad bought me one of those. It probably cost around $30 in those days, maybe $25. Every year, why, he’d get me a little bigger accordion. I think I was about 16 or 17 when my dad got me my first 120 base, 41-key piano accordion. In fact, Lawrence and I got these accordions about the same time, although Lawrence is a little bit older than I am.
What kind of music did you play in those days?
John, we played mostly polkas and waltzes; German style music.
Were they old songs that had been bought over from Russia?
That’s right, John. That’s right.
Were there older people around here who taught them to you?
Yes, there were some old accordion players around like Tom Guttenberg. He played for dances around here, parties and things like that. And of course, I wouldn’t miss one of them for anything, if for just one reason, just to hear him play. Then I’d listen and try and catch all I could, then I’d walk home and grab my accordion and see if I could do the same thing. That’s about the way we learned to play those songs. And my father, he knew a lot of them, he brought over from Germany, Russia. And he would teach me some of them.
Why is music so important to these people?
Here? I just don’t know why. I think I’m safe in saying that you can go to at least 60 or 70 percent of the homes here, have an accordion, believe it or not. They still do.
Do you think it was an escape from that hard farmland? Is that what they needed?
Yes. I would say that’s part of it, because in those days, we didn’t have automobiles. We couldn’t get in and say we’re going to Bismarck or Aberdeen. We had maybe a pony or a horse and buggy. And in the evenings we’d stay home and furnish our own entertainment; play cards, play music, sing and stuff like that. Of course mine was an accordion.
Did you play for a lot of dances and parties?
When did people start asking you to play?
I imagine I was probably 10, 11, 12 years old. Well, they danced fox trots, like they do now, and waltzes, polkas… and then of course came the time to pay me for playing. Well, that was a big problem, always. So they’d always figure out, well, let’s see, how many do we have here? We’ve got 10 boys here… the boys, naturally, would have to pitch in, and they’d pass the hat. But they wouldn’t just let you throw in a dime or a nickel. They’d set a price so that I would come out with at least 50 cents or 75 cents for furnishing the music, don’t you see.
[187 – 199 accordion music]
I still say if we had a big monument of Lawrence Welk here, it
would be the biggest tourist attraction you could get. Oh, I imagine
about $12,000. First thing it should be up there for all the money
we’ve been getting from Lawrence. We should have one already.
They said we don’t get anything any more; we got dropped out
because we didn’t make use of the money.
I remember the first time he came out here. He had a hookup with,
was it Casey or Kelly? He was a magician or something. We had an
opera house; we called it an opera house. Blip’s Café,
there, upstairs. They had these traveling shows come out. There
was a man and a woman, or maybe two of them came out. They had a
little magician and stuff like that, and he had hired him. I remember
that. That was the first travel job, I guess he had. And he came
out and played the accordion on the stage. He had kind of a nice
tunic on, tight pants, and so I remember that. When he was here
two or three years ago, it was three years ago, at the civic club
here, we put on a party for him, and he mentioned that, he asked,
and I was the only one that remembered that. The others were all
younger. I could remember that real well, when he came and stood
on there. He was very, very nervous, always so shy. It took him
a long while to make announcements on his own program, a very, very
long time. In fact, he didn’t until some guy from Milwaukee
told him if he would make his own announcements, he’d contract
with him for $5,000. And he did. I know one time I went down by
the St. Andrews Hotel in Minneapolis, and then his cousin, Mastel,
and this fellow was down there, and he was working at some bar or
some nightclub, this fellow, this Mastel. And I happened to run
onto him. And I knew him, and he said Lawrence and he were staying
in the St. Andrews Hotel where we were, and he was playing at the
Orpheum, there. And I said we’ll go over there tonight; he’s
got two shows on tonight. So we went there when they put the second
show on after 9 o’clock. We went around to the back door and
came in on the stage side, and when we came in, they were already
going, and he was already out on the stage. We could see those,
where the setup is, and he came back in to change. He was sweating
and nervous. I said, “Lawrence, I don’t know. Golly,
that’s a…” He was so nervous that when he came
in to change clothes, I thought he wouldn’t last, he was so
nervous. But he got over it finally. It took a long time. He was
afraid. He couldn’t speak English very well, you know. In
those days, when he was in school, all you had in English was in
school, and you came home and everything was in German. The stores,
church, everything was German. So he still has that dialect. So
have I, some of it.
I’m talking with Mike Welk, a native of Strasburg and younger brother of Lawrence Welk. What was he like as a young man?
Oh, he was a pretty good worker. But he didn’t care too much, he always wanted to go. He did play a little bit for dances. But he was a good worker, yes. He was pretty strong.
Where did he learn to play?
Well, see, my dad played, and my older brother. He had such a love for music; he played when he was young, already.
How about you? Did you ever learn to play?
No, all I did was chord a little bit. I’m not Lawrence. I’m not Lawrence on the organ. I like the piano. That’s easy. Just chord a little bit, that’s all I played. I liked to hear it but I didn’t learn to play it; didn’t practice enough.
Did you have a lot of music in your home, musical instruments?
Oh yes. There was always the organ here, and I remember my dad in the evening, when they were all done. He took the organ, a small one, and played a little bit.
Lawrence comes back every year, doesn’t he?
Why does he come back?
Well, we don’t go out there too often. My sisters and brothers are getting pretty old now. So we go together a little bit in the fall. Sometimes we have a little reunion.
Does he miss this place, do you think?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s so much nicer out there.
Would you like to live out there?
Why do you like living here?
Well, I suppose because I lived here all my life. I’ve got my children here, and my sisters. I know everybody.
Have you ever thought of leaving?
What has been the most important thing in your life?
It’s been your whole life, practically, hasn’t it?
Yes. That’s right.
Is it a good way to spend your life?
Oh yes. Fresh air out here, sometimes people are out here from Michigan and so forth, they drive over here and the winds are blowing a little bit from the north. I remember one fellow said, “Oh, that air is so nice!” Said he I was going to live to be a hundred years old.
He was probably right. What do you do now when you come out?
Oh, lately I fix some fence a little bit. I took away one part away over here. I cleaned up a little of the trees over here, some old trees that I put in a pile over here, and that I’m going to burn later on if we get some snow. Now it is so dry I kind of hate to burn it.
What do you think you’d miss most if you had to leave here?
Working on the land.
I’m speaking with Al Kramer who is a businessman in Strasburg. He runs the Pin Palace Bowling Alley and Café here. What kind of influence has having a man like Lawrence Welk, a nationally famous person, have his birthplace here. Has it affected the place, do you think?
Oh, very much so. I can hear this every day as the tourists come through. Some go out of their way, just to come to Strasburg, even if they didn’t know they were this close to Strasburg. They just stop in and say they saw the signs, and they had to see something about Lawrence Welk’s hometown. And we do send them out to his farm, which is three miles west from here. It definitely is a factor; it’s the birthplace of Lawrence Welk and it has helped the business in town.
Do you think it would have survived, had it not had someone unique like that being associated with it here, would it have still been the same town?
I’m afraid not, because there are a lot of towns that are a little larger than Strasburg, and don’t have a celebrity like we have, that are not on the upswing. So personally, I think it is one of the factors for Strasburg surviving and on the upswing.
What do you think accounts for Lawrence Welk’s success, is it something he got here in Strasburg, do you think?
Well, he came up through the ranks, and money was hard to come by in his days. He learned to work hard and save his money and he’s a down to earth guy and I think that’s what made him famous. That’s what we generally talk about all the Germans here; they’re pretty hard workers. And they don’t like to be up on a pedestal saying “I’ve got money, I don’t know anybody anymore”. It’s not that attitude that people have here, and I think Lawrence Welk is on the same basis. You make it the hard way and save it.
Strasburg, North Dakota. Our hometown. One in a series of sound self-portraits illustrating the attitudes and character of life in small towns. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio Station KCCM, with funds provided by the North Dakota Committee for the Humanities and Public Issues. Producers of the series are JohnYdstie, Dennis Hamilton and Bill Seimering you may purchase a cassette copy of this program by contacting KCCM, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota 56560.
That’s the way it goes in Strasburg!
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