What a week for celebrity homes in the news. First, we discovered that Liberace’s over-the-top Las Vegas mansion is in foreclosure and could be snapped up for half a million cash. Now comes news that the Lawrence Welk farm house in Strasburg, N.D., where Welk taught himself to play accordion might be purchased by the State’s Historical Society to be used as a tourist destination to tout the importance of agriculture and the region’s German-Russian heritage.
Yet, and here is the sad part, some opponents counter that it’s a waste of money considering most of the champagne bandleader’s fans are already dead or soon will be. Ouch!
Here’s the story from James MacPherson of the Associated Press:
“Even with the Welk legacy aside, it’s history worth preserving,” said Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, who successfully fought this year to include funding for the bandleader’s birthplace in the historical society’s budget.
Merl Paaverud, director of the historical society, said the agency’s board meets July 12 and may decide whether to spend $100,000 on the six-acre parcel that includes the home where Welk and his seven siblings were born. The property is still owned by Welk’s extended family and includes a barn, summer kitchen, granary, buggy house, blacksmith shop and outhouse.
The home, about 75 miles southeast of Bismarck, has been on the market since last fall.
“It’s not a done deal,” Paaverud said. “We’ll be taking input from people, locals and interested parties.”
Welk’s nieces, Evelyn Schwab, 84, and Edna Schwab, 80, 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, Evelyn Schwab said.
Though Welk returned home often, “He never lived to see the place restored,” she said. “That was the sad part.”
Not a fan of farm life, Welk left North Dakota when he was 21 after performing at barn dances and other community events. His big break came when ABC picked up his eponymous television show in 1955. The show, famous for its bubble machine and Welk’s phrases “Ah-one, an’ ah-two” and “wunnerful, wunnerful” in his German accent, ran until 1971 and is still shown in reruns.
The Schwabs said Welk’s farmstead drew more than 7,000 people in 1992 but attendance has slipped to about 500 last year.
“For the first few years, we were swamped with people but as the years go by attendance has dropped — younger kids have their own types of music now,” Evelyn Schwab said. “If it wasn’t for reruns, it would have died out a long time ago.”
The Schwab sisters and Sen. Erbele, whose district includes Strasburg, said the state’s purchase of the farmstead would preserve Welk’s musical legacy and bring in much-needed tourism dollars.
“We think $100,000 is a drop in the bucket for the state,” Evelyn Schwab said. “It would help with economic development because we’re not benefiting from the big (oil) boom out west.”
Visitors still trickle in to see Welk’s home but many are at least as old as the 80-something Schwab sisters. Fans from Canada and Alaska visited this week, along with an elderly Iowa woman who’d always wanted to see where Welk grew up.
“She cried when she arrived and said, ‘I cannot believe I’m here,’” Edna Schwab said.