North Dakota agrees to buy Lawrence Welk’s boy­hood home

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By James MacPher­son

BIS­MARCK, N.D. — Pop the cork and start the bub­ble ma­chine: North Dakota has agreed to buy the boy­hood home of Lawrence Welk, the mae­stro of “cham­pagne mu­sic” and the one of the state’s most fa­mous sons. The North Dakota State His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety voted 6-5 Fri­day to buy the prop­erty in Stras­burg from Welk’s nieces, Evelyn Sch­wab, 84, and Edna Sch­wab, 80. The prop­erty in the south­ern part of the state has been listed for sale for more than a year, with an ask­ing price of $125,000. A fi­nal sale price hasn’t been ne­go­ti­ated. “Twenty years ago, we would never have thought of sell­ing it,” Evelyn Sch­wab said. “The time has come now.” The Sch­wabs have given tours of the farm­stead since it was re­stored with pri­vate funds in the early 1990s. Welk do­nated about $140,000 for the restora­tion be­fore his death in 1992 at age 89. The site drew more than 7,000 peo­ple in 1992, but at­ten­dance has since slipped to only a few hun­dred per year, the Sch­wabs said. Last year, the leg­is­la­ture al­lo­cated $100,000 for the so­ci­ety’s pur­chase of the 2½-hectare home­stead, but law­mak­ers stip­u­lated that re­pairs must be made first. The pur­chase agree­ment is con­tin­gent on ne­go­ti­ated re­pairs be­ing made to the prop­erty, which is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. The home on the out­skirts of the town of about 400 peo­ple, many of whom still con­verse in Ger­man, fea­tures a life­size cutout of an ac­cor­dion-wield­ing Welk to greet guests. The home­stead in­cludes a barn, sum­mer kitchen, gra­nary, buggy house, black­smith shop and out­house. The his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety en­vi­sions the prop­erty as a tourist des­ti­na­tion to tout the im­por­tance of agri­cul­ture and the re­gion’s Ger­manRus­sian her­itage. The pur­chase comes two decades af­ter Congress ear­marked $500,000 in fed­eral funds to develop a tourist in­dus­try in Stras­burg. The money in­cluded a mu­seum of Ger­man-Rus­sian her­itage that was in­tended to draw vis­i­tors to the band leader’s birth­place. Law­mak­ers later with­drew the money when the idea was mocked as a na­tional sym­bol of waste­ful spend­ing. The Na­tional Tax­pay­ers Union said at the time it was “hard to imag­ine a more in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of tax­payer funds.” Sev­eral peo­ple, most of them el­derly, packed the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s meet­ing in Bis­marck and spoke in favour of the pur­chase. “It would be a shame and na­tional em­bar­rass­ment to let it fall down,” said Gary Satern of Bis­marck. Satern said he feared if the state did not pur­chase the prop­erty, it would be turned into a hunt­ing lodge with “beer cans in the yard.” Merl Paaverud, di­rec­tor of the State His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety of North Dakota, es­ti­mated the site would re­quire an an­nual state ap­pro­pri­a­tion of about $60,000 for main­te­nance and to pay part-time staff. Re­pairs and im­prove­ments to­talling more than $500,000 also are needed, he said. “We don’t have the fund­ing to op­er­ate and main­tain it right now,” Paaverud said. Vol­un­teers from the re­gion have pledged to help staff the fa­cil­ity through the sum­mer of 2015, he said. That is when the Leg­is­la­ture next meets. Welk left Stras­burg at age 21 to start a mu­si­cal ca­reer that took him from dance halls in the Dako­tas to na­tional television. He be­came known as the “King of Cham­pagne Mu­sic” for his bub­bly dance tunes and added to the na­tional lex­i­con with his heav­ily Ger­man-ac­cented phrases, “Ah-one, an’ ah-two” and “wun­ner­ful, wun­ner­ful.”

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