North Dakota lawmakers split on costs for Lawrence Welk home

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Posted: Apr 16, 2015 3:40 PM
North Dakota lawmakers split on costs for Lawrence Welk home

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers are at odds over how to pay for maintenance and other costs at the boyhood home of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk, which the state's historical society envisions as a tourist destination.

Senators want an appropriation of $135,000 over the next two years for maintenance and to pay part-time staff at the 6-acre homestead in Strasburg. North Dakota's House voted against the funding on Wednesday and wants the historical society to find the money elsewhere.

Two years ago, the Legislature included $100,000 in the society's budget for the purchase of the site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but lawmakers stipulated that repairs must be made first. The historical society hopes it could be a tourist draw to tout in part the region's German-Russian heritage.

"They wanted it and they're going to have to operate it within their own budget," House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer told The Associated Press.

Sen. Robert Erbele, of Lehr, which is near Strasburg in the south-central part of the state, said he's confused about the move.

"Why would you buy if you're not going to operate it?" asked Erbele, who has been among the strongest supporters of purchasing the property.

A House-Senate conference committee was slated to begin work Thursday to reach a compromise.

The State Historical Society had requested the $135,000 over the next two years. State director Claudia Berg said the agency may now have to find the funding "in existing budgets and make it work."

In the meantime, Berg said Thursday that the repairs by volunteers are still going on and should be completed sometime this spring. The purchase has to be finalized by July 1, she said.

Welk left Strasburg at age 21 to start a musical career that took him from dance halls in the Dakotas to eventually a national television show carrying his name that aired from 1955 to 1982. 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."

His nieces, Evelyn Schwab and Edna Schwab, who are both in their 80s, own the property. 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.

North Dakota's planned acquisition comes two decades after Congress earmarked $500,000 in federal funds to buy the home to develop a tourist industry in Strasburg. Lawmakers later withdrew the money when the idea was mocked as a national symbol of wasteful spending.

The National Taxpayers Union said at the time it was "hard to imagine a more inappropriate use of taxpayer funds."