Fern V. Renner Welk, the 98 year old matriarch of
the Welk family and wife of the legendary orchestra leader and
television star, Lawrence Welk, passed away peacefully in the
arms of her loving family on February 13, 2002. In a statement
released to the press, family members remembered her as a source
of strength, wisdom, forgiveness and abiding love to all who knew
her, noting that her spiritual gifts will remain a rich legacy
for both her family and friends.
Fern's long and productive life spanned the entire
20th Century and she was called upon to meet unimaginable and
untested challenges. She was born on August 26, 1903, the 13th
of 14 children born to Elizabeth and Mathias Renner, an immigrant
family in St. Anthony, North Dakota. Eight of her siblings died
while Fern was still a child, and her beloved father died when
she was just three years old.
A Strong Mother
In the years after her father's death, Fern's mother
was a tower of strength, with management skills and a brilliant
financial mind. The farm succeeded with the help of her older
children and she invested her profits in the stock market, an
unheard of enterprise for a woman of her generation and rural
location. Contrary to the times, she believed in educating both
her sons and daughters and made sure that all her children had
advanced degrees. Fern earned an RN degree and began a career
in nursing and laboratory work, first in the Dakotas and then
in Dallas, Texas.
After meeting and falling in love with the young
bandleader, Lawrence Welk, Fern faced a critical life decision.
She knew that marriage would finish her dreams of a career in
medicine because she believed it demanded complete intellectual
absorption and total personal dedication.
In the end, she chose a home and children, marrying
Mr. Welk in 1931, beginning a life of travel and temporary homes
throughout the U.S. In 1952, Fern and Lawrence settled in Los
Angeles, and lived in California for the rest of their lives.
Fern rejoiced in being a wife and mother but maintained
a lifelong interest in medical science and research. She was an
avid duplicate bridge player, winning many championships and she
relished her afternoons at the horse races, placing her small
bets with the knowledge and instincts of a "pro." Though
marriage brought her into the life of a celebrity, she always
knew that her family and her faith gave her life its true wealth.
She carefully guided the education of her children
and, with pride and delight, saw her grandchildren achieve many
college, career and graduate degrees. Their nurturing was her
life's joy and it is no accident that her two daughters happily
married physicians, that three of her eleven grandchildren became
physicians and, in their generation of spouses, there is another
physician and two nurses.
A Loving Family
Fern is survived by three children, Shirley and
Bob Fredricks, Donna Mack and Larry and Lynn Welk; 11 grandchildren,
Laura and Jeff Segall, Dr. Robert and Becky Fredricks, Dr. David
Fredricks, Jonathan and Tracy Fredricks, Lisa and Paul Parker,
Dr. James and Jennifer Mack, Christine and Mark Oliver, David
and Dr. Jenny Mack, Larry and Tracey Welk, Kevin and Lindy Welk
and Jeffrey Welk, and by 15 great-grandchildren.
The funeral Mass took place at St. Monica's Church
in Santa Monica on February 19th, concelebrated by Msgr. Lloyd
Torgerson and Rev. Donald Riffle, a guest from Boise, ID and friend
of Donna Mack. The church was filled with family members and friends,
and dozens of stars, band members and production staff members
of the "Lawrence Welk Television Show." The musical
group, "Venice," sang and played before the Mass. The
members of "Venice" are: Michael and Mark Lennon, the
sons of the late Ted Lennon, and Kipp Lennon, the youngest brother
of the Lennon Sisters. Ralna English sang some of Fern's favorite
hymns and Henry Cuesta played two clarinet solos during the Mass,
both accompanied by Bob Smale. The Mass was sung by Gary Turk,
a parish soloist.
Fern was buried beside her husband in Holy Cross
Catholic Cemetery in Culver City, California.
A memorial gift may be sent to The Lawrence Welk
Family Foundation, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, California
90404. An article about the Welk Family Foundation was planned
for this issue of the newsletter before Mrs. Welk's death.