Dakota Datebook

Lawrence Welk’s Parents

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


There’s no mistaking the familiar opening notes of the Lawrence Welk television show theme song.  This world famous musician, band leader and showman was born on this date, March 11, 1903, near Strasburg, North Dakota.  Much has been written about Lawrence himself … but what about his parents?  There wouldn’t have been a Lawrence had it not been for the generations of Welks that preceded him.

Lawrence’s great-great grandparents, Moritz and Magdalena (Arth) Welk immigrated to then southern Russia (today southern Ukraine) from Alsace, France in 1808, where they, along with a hundred other families, founded the village of Selz near the Black  Sea.   Their son, Kasper and his wife, Magdalena had a son named Johannes who became a blacksmith.  Johannes Welk, Lawrence’s grandfather, had a son named Ludwig who became a farmer and a blacksmith like his father.

Arriving in America in 1893, Ludwig and Christina (Schwan) Welk were two of the many thousands of immigrants to America known as the Germans from Russia.  From New York City, they took a train to Eureka, South Dakota where they bought a wagon and a team of oxen.  From Eureka they traveled a few miles north and west to their homestead in Emmons County, North Dakota.

The Welks lost their first child, Anton, before leaving Russia, and Christina was pregnant with their second child when they sailed to America in 1893.  Seven more children, including Lawrence, were born in the sod house still standing near Strasburg.  The homestead has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The house is made of mud and clay brick, the same method of construction used by Lawrence Welk’s ancestors in Russia for several generations.

You can learn more about the Welk family history at the German’s From Russia Heritage Collection located at North Dakota State University Library in Fargo.  So, until next time…

Source:  Germans From Russian Heritage Collection Library at NDSU, Fargo, ND.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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