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The North Dakota Historical Society has agreed to buy the boyhood home of bandleader Lawrence Welk. The home is near Strasburg, N.D. (Photo courtesy Tom Linn, Welk Homestead)

Volunteer event set to spruce up Lawrence Welk homestead

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BISMARCK, N.D. -- As North Dakota officials continue to haggle over the purchase of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk's boyhood home, preservationists are inviting volunteers to help fix up the homestead during an old-fashioned, barn-raising-style event in August.

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State Historical Board members voted 6-5 in January to buy the homestead near Strasburg from Welk's two nieces, Evelyn and Edna Schwab, contingent on certain repairs being made beforehand.

The State Historical Society plans to assume control of the homestead on July 1, 2015, as a state historical site to showcase pioneer farming and homesteading, the Germans from Russia who settled the area and the accomplishments of Welk, North Dakota's most famous native son.

Merl Paaverud, director of the State Historical Society, said he hopes to have the purchase agreement finalized yet this summer. The attorney general's office is negotiating with a Welk family attorney on the details of the agreement, including which repairs must be made.

"I know everybody's getting a little bit concerned and short about it, but we're hoping that it gets done," he said.

On Thursday, those supporting the state's purchase and preservation of the site announced a volunteer effort Aug. 1-3 titled "Proving Up the Welk Homestead," a nod to how Homestead Act settlers had to "prove" their claims by building a home and making improvements.

Volunteers will help fix the barn — which needs major repairs to its hayloft, roof and foundation — and do painting, scraping and other cosmetic upgrades to the site's other buildings, said Carmen Rath-Wald, president of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, which promotes and preserves the area's German-Russian culture in Emmons, Logan and McIntosh counties.

Also coordinating the volunteer effort are North Dakota State University history professor Tom Isern, who as director of the Center for Heritage Renewal at NDSU organized a service learning project in April by NDSU students who completed about 40 percent of the barn repairs, and Adam Baumstarck and Kevin Gabriel of Pioneer Heritage Inc., which developed the Welk site more than 20 years ago and will operate it through June 30, 2015.

Paaverud said because the purchase agreement hinges on repairs, "We're happy that they're not holding back on that. That'll help a lot."

Organizers have launched a fundraising campaign to offset the cost of materials, estimated at about $6,000.

A public celebration with a German meal and music — and a possibly a re-enactment of "The Lawrence Welk Show" — will start at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2 to cap off the second day of the volunteer effort, Rath-Wald said. The caterer has been told to prepare food for 200 people, "but the enthusiasm is running high and strong, and so we may have to increase that later," she said.

State lawmakers approved $100,000 last year to purchase the Welk homestead. The State Historical Society estimates it will cost $80,000 annually to operate the site, so it's asking for $160,000 for the site in its budget request for 2015-17, Paaverud said.

The operating dollars will cover the cost of seasonal staff, which will likely consist of a supervisor, an assistant and possibly some temporary workers, as well as lawn and building maintenance, electricity and security, he said.

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.

HOW TO HELP:

What: "Proving Up the Welk Homestead" volunteer effort to repair and refurbish buildings on the Lawrence Welk homestead near Strasburg.

When: Aug. 1-3. Volunteers will start working Friday. Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday morning is cleanup.

To volunteer: Call Clarence Herz at (701) 799-4081.

To donate: A fundraising campaign has been launched to offset the estimated $6,000 cost of materials. Donations may be dropped off at the Strasburg State Bank, Emmons County Record in Linton and First Community Credit Union in Napoleon. Online donations can be made at www.indiegogo.com/projects/proving-up-the-welk-homestead. Those donating $100 or more will receive a lithograph depicting Welk, which can be viewed at http://heritagerenewal.org/docs/WelkPerk.pdf.

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