BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – More than $580,000 is needed in repairs to the boyhood home of Lawrence Welk in the south-central North Dakota town of Strasburg, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Evelyn Schwab, Welk’s niece, who owns the famous bandleader and TV host’s birthplace along with her sister, Edna, said the assessment done by the North Dakota Historical Society threatens the sale of the property to the state.
“Oh, my lord _ this really hurts,” Evelyn Schwab said Friday, after learning of the property evaluation from the AP. “We’ve come this far, but this definitely would be a deal-killer.”
The Legislature this year included $100,000 in the state Historical Society’s budget for the purchase of the property on the outskirts of the town of about 400, about 75 miles south of Bismarck and two miles off the “Lawrence Welk Highway.” The idea is to turn the home of the maestro of “champagne music” into a draw that would also tout the importance of agriculture and the region’s German-Russian heritage.
Lawmakers, however, did not appropriate funds for operating the site or for repairs, said Diane Rogness, the historic sites manager for the agency. State law requires that repairs must be made prior to the state acquiring the property, she said.
The 12-member Historical Society board visited the site in July and tabled the purchase, saying it needed more information on the costs to repair and maintain the six-acre homestead that includes a barn, summer kitchen, granary, buggy house, blacksmith shop and outhouse.
The assessment by the state estimated the cost of running the site would be about $69,000 a year. Other costs would include $68,000 to install a security system and the purchase of “a large lawnmower,” according to Rogness.
The board is slated to meet Oct. 12 to make a decision on the site purchase.
North Dakota’s interest in obtaining the farmstead comes more than 20 years after Congress earmarked $500,000 to develop Welk’s hometown, including a museum of German-Russian heritage to draw visitors. Red-faced lawmakers later withdrew the funding when the idea was ridiculed outside of North Dakota as a symbol of wasteful spending.
The National Taxpayers Union said at the time it was “hard to imagine a more inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.”
Evelyn Schwab, 84, said she and her sister, Edna Schwab, 80, don’t have the money to do any repairs to the property.
“We’re in the twilight of our years,” Evelyn said. “We don’t have the resources to do anything.”
Welk left Strasburg at 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.” The show ran until 1971 and is still shown in reruns.
Welk donated about $140,000 for the restoration of the property before his death in 1992 at age 89. The property, which has been for sale more than a year, has been listed with a Bismarck real estate agent for $125,000.
Evelyn Schwab said there has been interest in the farmstead from individuals but she and her sister want the state to buy it.
“We’ve been backing off with private owners,” she said. “Anybody could come in and turn it in to a hunting lodge or something, and we don’t want that. It would be a disgrace.”
The Schwab sisters have given tours of the farmstead since it was restored with private funds in the early 1990s. The site drew more than 7,000 people in 1992 but attendance slipped to about 700 this year, Evelyn Schwab said.
The sisters charge $5 for a tour and most of the visitors are senior citizens, many of whom want “senior rates” that don’t exist, she said.
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