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A Final Toast : Welk's Fans Linger a While to Note His Passing


ESCONDIDO — Taking their cue from the music of the man they adored, Lawrence Welk's fans on Tuesday were taking news of his death in graceful stride.

One woman quickly and without ceremony placed half a dozen multicolored roses at the base of Welk's statue on the patio outside his theater and museum north of Escondido.

Others who said they were moved by the news of the bandleader's death stopped by the Lawrence Welk Resort to walk through the museum and linger in front of the scores of photographs that document his musical career, or to stand next to the life-size cardboard cutout of Welk and see themselves on the television monitor.

And still others called the resort, asking about funeral arrangements and where to send sympathy cards The funeral will be private. Sympathy cards will be forwarded to Welk's widow, Fern, in Santa Monica, the resort said. Welk died Sunday night of pneumonia.

Most of Tuesday's visitors to the Welk showcase had previously bought tickets for the day's theater production of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," and it was, by most signs, business as usual at the popular tourist attraction.

In other words, Graceland it wasn't. Elvis Presley's death clearly hit the rock 'n' roll set more dramatically than the passing of 89-year-old Welk hit the champagne music set.

For Welk's fans, Tuesday was another opportunity to enjoy the buffet-lunch-and-matinee combo, to take snapshots, and to tell friends back home in Peoria--or at least in Hemet--that they had stopped at Welk's resort.

The gift shops were open and the deli did a brisk business, as the flag flew at half-staff and the resort management added their own two baskets of spring flowers to the base of the Welk statue.

The theater marquee read simply, "Lawrence Welk, 1903-1992."

Ron and Marty Briggs had spent Monday with their granddaughter at the San Diego Wild Animal Park outside Escondido, and on Tuesday could not help stopping at the Welk resort on their way back home to Monterey Park.

"We read the article about his passing, and we thought we would come by and see the place," Ron Briggs said. "We danced to his music . . . when we were courting."

He looked at the complex of shops, the museum that occupies the theater lobby, the hotel-restaurant complex on the other side of the parking lot, and the banks of time-share condominiums next to the golf course, which had been a trailer park that Welk purchased in 1964.

"Boy, this place has really blossomed since we were here 20 years ago," Briggs said.

One woman complained: Why is elevator music piped onto the grounds of the resort complex?

But her chagrin didn't stop her from posing for a picture in front of the Welk statue.

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