Accordion Awareness Month Highlights NDSU’s Welk Collection

The unforgettable sounds of "Champagne Music" replaced the usual hushed tones of the NDSU Archives. As chords of a polka worked their way through the rows of books, files and artifacts, smiles abounded among the workers.

This was a special day.

On June 8, in recognition of National Accordion Awareness Month, the accordion that once belonged to legendary musician Lawrence Welk sprang to life. Taking turns playing the cherished instrument were NDSU alumnus Joe Heilman, who was student body president during the 2008-09 academic year, and former North Dakota First Lady Nancy Schafer.

"This accordion is sacred for me, because I thought he was such a fine musician," said Schafer, who has enjoyed playing the accordion since she was a young girl. "Lawrence Welk was a North Dakota talent; he was one of our homegrown boys who made it to the big time. It is just a thrill to play his instrument."

Welk, a native of Strasberg, N.D., hosted "The Lawrence Welk Show" on network television from 1955-82. The musician had a number one hit in 1961 with "Calcutta" and was inducted into the International Polka Music Hall of Fame.

His black, white and silver accordion is one of the many items in the Lawrence Welk Collection at the NDSU Archives. The Welk family made the donation in 1993 following the musician’s death in 1992.

"We have an entire collection of his music, scrapbooks and other artifacts," explained John Bye, director of the NDSU Archives. "It was a full truckload of music, furniture, chandeliers – a whole variety of stuff."

According to Bye, the Welk accordion sat in its case until about five years ago, when a temporary worker decided to oil the instrument and get it into playing condition. "It hasn’t gotten much use, but it certainly looks good," Bye said.

Heilman, who has been playing accordion since third grade, jumped at the chance to play a few waltzes and polkas. "As an enthusiast of the olden days of North Dakota, I decided it would be a lot of fun," he said. "Lawrence Welk was the first North Dakota Rough Rider Award winner, so this is a neat way to pay tribute to him and also let people know the Lawrence Welk Collection exists at NDSU."

National Accordion Awareness Month was established in 1989 to acknowledge the resurgence in popularity for the accordion and to educate the public about the instrument.