Maintaining 'Wunnerful' Memories
Armstrong, Patti Maguire. "Maintaining 'Wunnerful' Memories." Algona Upper Des Moines, 23-28 December 2001,
Maintaining `Wunnerful' Memories
|Evelyn Schwab leads tours of the Welk
When Lawrence Welk left his hometown of Strasburg,
N.D., (pop. 549) in 1924 and became a famous bandleader, he was
not alone. He took a piece of Strasburg with him---the hearts
of the town's German-speaking immigrants from Russia, of whom
Welk was one.
Although Welk, known as "Mr. Wunnerful"
because of the way he pronounced the word wonderful, died in 1992,
the people of Strasburg have kept his memory alive by restoring
his boyhood home and remembering the musical legacy he left the
"It seemed that anyone who owned a TV had it
turned on Saturday nights to Lawrence Welk," recalls Evelyn
Schwab, Welk's niece and a volunteer tour guide at the restored
Welk homestead since its opening in 1991. "And even after
Lawrence became famous, he regularly returned to Strasburg and
always visited the family home."
As part of North Dakota's preparation to celebrate
the state centennial in 1989, state officials offered small towns
grants to restore sites and structures of historical value.
"Since Welk fans occasionally came to Strasburg
and asked where his boyhood home was, restoring it was the obvious
choice," says Rosemary Schaefbauer, president of Pioneer
Heritage Inc., which spearheaded the restoration project, funded
with a state grant and private donations.
|Lawrence Welk's boyhood home provides
a look into the lives of North Dakota's early settlers.
Restoration of the six-acre Lawrence Welk Homestead,
two miles northwest of town, was completed in 1991 and brought
7,000 visitors the first year. People continue to stream into
Strasburg at a rate of more than 3,000 a year to tour the Welk
farm and see what it was like to homestead the North Dakota prairie.
Strasburg, named after Strasbourg, France (once
a part of the German Empire), was established in 1903. Ten years
earlier, Ludwig and Christina Welk, Lawrence's parents, immigrated
to the United States from Odessa, Russia, where German immigrants
had settled a half-century earlier. The Welks were typical of
the German-speaking people who fled oppression in Russia to stake
claims on the Great Plains.
When they arrived in North Dakota, they found a
vast, treeless landscape, similar to the steppes they had farmed
in Russia, and built sod homes just as they had in Russia. Made
from mud and clay bricks, these earthen homes provided good insulation
against the bitter winter cold. A section of the restored Welk
house siding has been removed so visitors can see that when Ludwig
eventually added wood siding, he built it over the original sod.
Lawrence Welk Birthplace.
Visitors to the Welk homestead also can see how
the immigrants, despite living in small quarters without electricity,
running water, or modern heating and cooling systems, carved a
rich life for themselves. It was his childhood filled with love
of God, family, and hard work that Lawrence often attributed to
Ludwig and Christina, who had lost their first baby
before immigrating, went on to have eight more children in their
new homeland. Lawrence was their fifth, born in 1903. He learned
to play the accordion, and on his 21st birthday he left home to
pursue a music career. In 1955, the Lawrence Welk Show made its
television debut. It was an instant success and lasted 26 years.
Reruns of the show are still aired around the world today.
All of the tour guides at the Welk homestead are
volunteers. Nicole Leier, who graduated from Strasburg Public
High School in June, has led tours for two years.
"I have met people from all over the country
and world through this," Leier says. Traveling around the
state as North Dakota State Dairy Princess, Leier was proud to
discover that Lawrence Welk has made her hometown famous. "As
soon as I mention I'm from Strasburg, everyone says, `Oh, the
home of Lawrence Welk.'"
Reprinted with permission of the Hometown