- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The state Historical Society is still negotiating the purchase price of the boyhood home of famous band leader Lawrence Welk, three months after the group decided North Dakota taxpayers should own it.

“We’re making progress but we aren’t there yet,” Merl Paaverud, director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, told board members on Friday.

The historical society voted 6-5 in January to buy the Strasburg homestead from Welk’s nieces, Evelyn Schwab, 84, and Edna Schwab, 80. The property in the southern part of the state had been listed for sale for more than a year, with an asking price of $125,000.

The Historical Society did not negotiate a purchase price at the time of the January vote. The Legislature last year allocated $100,000 for the purchase of the 6-acre homestead, but stipulated repairs must be made first. The purchase agreement itself is contingent on negotiated repairs being done to the property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Paaverud had estimated the site would require an annual state appropriation of about $60,000 for maintenance and to pay part-time staff. Repairs and improvements would cost about $500,000, he said.

Volunteers have made significant progress on repairs and work should be completed in about a month, Paaverud said.

The historical society envisions the property as a tourist destination to tout the importance of agriculture and the region’s German-Russian heritage. Tours of the homestead led by volunteers are slated to begin on Memorial Day, said Carmen Rath-Wald, a member of The Tri-County Tourism Alliance, which is helping provide volunteers at the site.

Volunteers from the region have pledged to help staff the facility through 2015, when the Legislature next meets and appropriates money for staffing and upkeep.

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.”

The homestead on the outskirts of the town of about 400 people, many of whom still converse in German, features a life-size cutout of an accordion-wielding Welk. The property also has a barn, summer kitchen, granary, buggy house, blacksmith shop and outhouse.

The state’s commitment to purchase the site comes two decades after Congress earmarked $500,000 in federal funds to develop a tourist industry in Strasburg. The money included funding for 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 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.