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Lawrence Welk's Birthplace  (Strasburg, North Dakota)

(Reprint from News: September 15, 2001)

September 1, 2001

 

My "quick drive" through Aberdeen took more than four hours, but by 2 p.m. I was back on Highway 12 heading west.  A few hours later, I crossed into North Dakota and just north of the town of Strasburg, I saw signs for the Lawrence Welk birthplace.  Now I'm not a big fan of Lawrence Welk's, but for reasons I don't really need to go into here, I happen to know all of the words to the Lawrence Welk theme song, "Good night, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you..." 

 

For the dozen or so Americans who've never heard of Lawrence Welk, he was a bandleader who was born on the prairies of North Dakota, apparently with an accordion in his hand (it was a Caesarian Section, I guess).  Seriously, though, when Lawrence was a teenager, his father agreed to buy him a $400 accordion and, in return, Lawrence agreed to work on the family farm until he turned 21.  On his 21st birthday, Lawrence was history... and became history. 

 

Here's a brief tune from The Lawrence Welk Show.  This is Lawrence singing, accompanied by Roslyn, South Dakota's Myron Floren playing his famous accordion.

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Since it's hard to wave a baton while playing an accordion, Lawrence soon hired an accordionist named Myron Floren (see above) and got his own television show, which has been airing every Saturday night since the Pleistocene.  Lawrence passed away in 1992, but reruns of his show still run every Saturday night (at least, they do in Portland). 

 

Although I'm not a really big fan of his music, I've always admired the guy because he was ever cheerful, always had a smile, and he loved music.  Not surprisingly, his motto was "Keep a song in your heart."  Believe it or not, Lawrence even had a customized license plate that said "A1ANA2."  Now that's my kind of guy!

 

Although I didn't know much about Lawrence Welk, I do like Americana, which is why I stopped at his family's farm near Strasburg.  The farm sits alone, two miles off the highway and down a dusty, dirt road.  As I bounced down the road, I was hoping that there would be lots of tourists there, paying tribute to this bandleader who brightened up the lives of so many people, but when I arrived, sadly enough, the parking lot was empty.  As I walked towards the main building, I heard lively polka music playing from a boombox somewhere across the farm and, as I walked into a small, white building, I was greeted by a smiling older woman with gray hair who looked oddly familiar.  She spoke with a thick accent and said that her name was Evelyn and asked me if I'd like to see the house.  

 

As she took me around the house, I tried to identify her accent, which I've heard only one other person speak with, and that was Lawrence himself.  Two women tourists walked in a few minutes later and the three of us, with Evelyn as our guide, got a wonderful tour of the house that Lawrence grew up in.   As I learned, Lawrence's parent's were German-Russian and they homesteaded here in the 1890s, about the same time that my great-great-grandparents, the Svangs, had homesteaded near Webster, South Dakota, a few hours east of here.

 

Here's Goodnight, Sleep Tight, (also known as Bubbles In The Wine) the closing theme song of The Lawrence Welk Show.

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As Evelyn answered one of my questions, she happened to mention that she was Lawrence's niece.  That's when it hit me -- she had the same smile and that same accent.  If you could imagine a female version of Lawrence Welk, Evelyn would be that person.  She then mentioned some of her childhood memories of her Uncle Lawrence and, standing there in the Welk living room, I found this all rather charming.  By restoring the farmhouse and opening it to tours, she was doing her part to preserve a small slice of Americana and keep alive the memory of her dear Uncle Lawrence.  And for that I admired her.

 

       

Above left:  The turnoff for the Welk birthplace near Strasburg, North Dakota.

Above center:  The Welk homestead, restored in 1991 by Lawrence's niece Evelyn and others.  

Above right:  Lawrence Welk, one of America's most famous bandleaders

 

       

Above left:  Lawrence's niece Evelyn (left) showing us the Welk kitchen.

Above center:  This is the dining room, with a cutout of Lawrence standing next to his first accordion.

Above right:  Back on the road, heading north to Bismarck through the wheat fields of North Dakota.

 

 

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