STRASBURG – While the music world was shaken by the death
of Lawrence Welk, Strasburg and Emmons County has spent the
past 10 days mourning the loss of its most celebrated musician.
Welk, known for his “champagne music” and charismatic
smile, died Sunday night, May 17, at his home in Santa Monica,
Calif. at the age of 89.
Welk had been battling pneumonia for several days.
Evelyn Schwab, a niece of Welk and treasurer of Pioneer Heritage
Inc. said, “It’s always a feeling of sadness when
something unexpected like this happens.”
Schwab said townspeople were aware that Welk’s health
“We knew his health was deteriorating, but, yes we were
stunned by the news,” Schwab said.
Strasburg was a little quieter than usual on Tuesday, May 19
upon hearing the news.
“It was a real somber day for us,” Schwab added.
President to Pioneer Heritage Inc. Rosemary Shaefbauer said
the town was both shocked and saddened by Welk’s passing.
“You never really expect death but when you’re
89 years old with pneumonia, it’s a lot tougher to recover,”
A Memorial Mass was held in Welk’s honor at the Church
of Sts. Peter and Paul last Thursday evening, May 21.
During the Mass, two German Hymns, “Maria Zu Lieben”
(Mary We Love You) and “Grosser Gott” (Holy God
We Praise Thy Name) were sung in his memory.
Welk was buried in California, after a private funeral service.
The Welk Heritage site, just a few miles northwest of Strasburg,
was quiet on Tuesday, but souvenir sales were up.
“The few that were here, did buy more souvenirs than
they might have,” Schwab said.
Neither Schwab nor Schaefbauer could predict the effect Welk’s
passing would have on the tourist season.
“That, I think, remains to be seen. All the media attention
from this might bring in more tourists,” Schwab said.
“It’s hard to predict the future but it shouldn’t
have any bearing on the outcome of the tourist season,”
Around seven thousand tourists viewed the Welk site a year
ago and more are expected to see the site this year.
“We’re doing more advertising this year and the
North Dakota Tourism Department has helped get the word out
we’re open,” Schaefbauer explained. “So we’re
expecting to exceed that (last year’s count) this year.”
The Dedication of the Lawrence Welk site will take place on
Sunday, June 7 and will feature a parade at 1 p.m. and other
Myron Floren, who played accordion for Welk’s band for
some 32 years, is expected to be among the special guests.
Welk was the first recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Rough
Rider award in 1961 as the highest recognition the State of
North Dakota can give its former residents.
Welk left the family farm when he was 21 to pursue his musical
career and has lived in California since 1947.
He has entertained millions of TV viewers for 30 years and
was seen regularly on TV until 1982.
Welk last visited the Strasburg area in 1982.
In 1976, he was the guest speaker at the commencement for his
great niece Laura Schwab and the graduating class at Emmons
Both Schwab and Schaefbauer said Welk had a fondness for golf
and hunting and enjoyed coming back to the Strasburg area to
visit family and friends.