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Volunteers to fix band leader Welk's boyhood home

Associated Press Updated: July 7, 2014 at 1:01 pm 0

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Volunteers are being recruited from across the country to help make repairs to the boyhood home of famous band leader Lawrence Welk in southern North Dakota.

The three-day effort begins on Aug. 1 at the property near Strasburg. Volunteers will be treated to German food and entertainment after the second day of work.

Organizers have relied on word-of-mouth and social media to advertise the event, said Carmen Rath-Wald, president of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, which promotes the region's German-Russian culture.

Wald said about 200 people are expected to turn out for the event, including many from out of state who are originally from the region or are die-hard Welk fans.

"It's pretty amazing," Wald said. "People either want to volunteer some of their time or through donations."

The State Historical Society of North Dakota 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.

The historical society also envisions the property as a tourist destination to tout the importance of agriculture and the region's German-Russian heritage.

Merl Paaverud, director of the historical society, called the restoration project "a great cultural event."

"It's nice to see that kind of support," he said of the volunteer effort.

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

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.

Organizers said the sod house and most of the outbuildings require only minor and cosmetic repairs but the barn needs major structural work to make it safe.

Clarence Herz, an economist, historian and carpenter, said student volunteers from North Dakota State University already have completed about 40 percent of the work at the site. He said the volunteer work next month "should get us real close" to being done.

Everyone is welcome to help out but Herz said some of the most ardent fans of the maestro of champagne music may be too old to be swinging a hammer or climbing ladders.

"We're looking for volunteers who can pick up something heavy," he said. "But we don't want to turn anyone away who wants to come out, even if it's just to hand out a cup of coffee or for moral support."

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