BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET)— When KX News spoke with 85-year-old Victor Schwahn, he was playing a more than 100-year-old accordion. Both man and machine, as they say, still got it. Times and musical tastes have changed though since Schwahn started playing and so have the laws. “By the time I was nine, I could play the accordion. I was even playing in the local bar on Saturday nights with another guy that played the piano,” Victor Schwahn said.
He’s been playing ever since and all by ear. Besides playing music, Schwahn supported his family by working jobs in the grocery and printing business. He says music is his love, but his true love is his wife Johanna of 65 years. “She was sitting in front of me in high school and we were kind of making fun of things in the study hall. And she turned around, she had an orange and she squirted me and that’s how we got to know each other,” Schwahn said.
Johanna Schwahn often goes to wherever her husband plays and she loves to listen. “I sit pretty close to him and he does good. People like it and they always say: ‘Oh. He’s doing so good. He’s doing good,'” she explained.
Recently, Schwahn was doing good at Marillac Manor in Bismarck. Toes were tapping, hands were clapping, and there was some dancing bringing people together. Several years ago, Polka music actually brought 89-year-old Vern Krein and his friend Marlys Olauson together. “I used to live in Minnesota and my brother and I were here to visit my sister. And we went to the dance and my sister knew her and introduced us and we started dancing and we’ve been together ever since,” Krein said.
For more than an hour, Schwahn and his audience revisited a bygone age; a time featuring another North Dakota musician with whom Schwahn has some connections. “Lawrence Welk and my dad were first cousins. They lived on the farm, west of Strasburg, about five or six miles,” Schwahn said. “Dad played the pump organ and Lawrence would play the accordion and they were buddies on the farm until Lawrence turned 21 years old. “[He] took his accordion and three dollars in his pocket and he went to Strasburg and he caught a ride down to hitchhike all the way down to Yankton, South Dakota and found Myron Floren and the rest is history.”
Not history anytime soon is Schwahn’s busy playing schedule, saying music means as much to him as it does to those who are listening. “When I play, they come up and congratulate me and say ‘thank you’ and ‘such a good job.’ I just really enjoy their smiles and their ‘thank you’s’ and I’m going to do this as long as I possibly can,” Schwahn said.