Welk home deal could close in May: Repairs planned for later this month
BISMARCK – The State Historical Society’s purchase of famed bandleader Lawrence Welk’s boyhood home could be completed by the end of May, Director Merl Paaverud said Friday.
Members of the Historical Board voted 6-5 in January to buy the homestead from Welk’s two nieces, Evelyn and Edna Schwab, contingent on certain repairs being made beforehand.
The homestead near Strasburg was listed for $100,000 at the time, which is the amount state lawmakers approved last year for the purchase.
Paaverud said progress has been made in the purchase agreement negotiations, “but we aren’t there yet.”
The agreement will specify which repairs must be made to the property, which includes a house, summer kitchen, barn, granary, blacksmith shop and outhouse. An assessment last year by the Historical Society pegged the cost of needed repairs at $488,000 to $578,000.
Paaverud said the Historical Society is close to reaching a separate agreement with the Tri-County Tourism Alliance to operate and maintain the site through June 30, 2015, when the state will take over.
“We really appreciate that, because we don’t have any funding at this point for that purpose,” he said.
Lawmakers didn’t allocate any money for staffing and maintenance of the site, which Paaverud previously estimated will cost about $69,000 per year. He said the Historical Society is trying to calculate the amount of operating expenses that will need to be included in its next budget request.
Paaverud said volunteers are making good progress on repairing the site, which underwent a $147,000 restoration that began in 1989 and was funded by the Welk family. A group of North Dakota State University students led by history professor Tom Isern and a graduate student plan to tackle much-needed repairs to the homestead’s barn on April 25-27.
Carmen Rath-Wald, president of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, said the Welk site will continue to be open to tourists from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Welk, born in 1903, left the family farm at age 21 to pursue a music career that saw him advance from a big-band leader to weekly host of “The Lawrence Welk Show,” featuring his distinct “champagne music.” The show aired on ABC from 1955 until 1971 and continues to run in syndication.