SHSND will decide on Welk homestead after cost analysis

Burke, Allan. "SHSND will decide on Welk homestead after cost analysis ." Emmons County Record, 18 July 2013, 1 & 3-4.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND) Board of Directors voted Friday at its Strasburg meeting to have the SHSND staff prepare an analysis of the costs involved in making repairs at the Welk homestead and operating it as one of the state’s historic sites.

A special meeting of the board may be called to review the information and vote on whether to purchase the site with the $100,000 appropriated for that purpose by the 2013 session of the North Dakota Legislature. The legislators left the decision on the purchase up to the board and specified that the board could require repairs to be made before the purchase is finalized.

The board toured the Welk site at 9 a.m. Pioneer Heritage, Inc. stationed a tour guide in each of the buildings, and Pioneer Heritage President Adam Baumstarck said he felt the tour went well and that the board members showed interest in the site and the various displays.

SHSND Director Merlan Paaverud, Jr. said the board traditionally holds its July quarterly meeting at an historic site.

“It was a beautiful day, and, with this year’s moisture, the site could not have been more pristine with the green grass and Baumgartner Lake bordering the homestead to the north,” Baumstarck said.

The board reconvened at 10:30 a.m. at the Strasburg Senior Citizen Center where volunteers served coffee and cookies.

President Gereld Gerntholz of Valley City chaired the meeting. After the board dealt with routine business, he opened the meeting to the public input on the Welk homestead purchase. There were about 30 people from the area in the audience, and all who spoke favored the acquisition.

Paaverud read the section of the law relating to the acquisition.

Baumstarck was the first to comment, and he gave some history of the site and why the Pioneer Heritage Board could no longer operate the site, which was established in 1991, on its own.

Sen. Robert Erbele of Lehr, who was the major force behind the legislation in the State Senate, explained the 2011 Legislature approved $25,000 to help Pioneer Heritage keep the site open for two years to give the SHSND time to consider the purchase.

Sen. Erbele worked for passage in the Senate, and State Reps. William Kretschmar of Venturia and Michael Brandenburg of Edgeley won adoption in the House where there was opposition to the purchase.

According to Sen. Erbele, the intent was to provide a pool of funds for SHSND projects, including the Welk homestead purchase. He said local involvement was anticipated and is important to the future of the site if it is purchased by the state.

“The legislation created an opportunity for the state to purchase the homestead,” Sen. Erbele said. “It is more than the birthplace of Lawrence Welk, it is a site that tells the story of the Homestead Act and its impact on North Dakota, it exemplifies the saga of the Germans from Russia (the state’s largest ethnic group) and it can play multiple roles, including the promotion of North Dakota tourism.”

He said the homestead would be the only one in the SHSND’s inventory, and it would have the only sod house at a state historic site.

Sen. Erbele cited local people and area organizations that would help if the site is purchased, including the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, Michael Miller and Tom Isern at NDSU and the dedicated volunteers of Pioneer Heritage.

Rep. Brandenburg said much hard work went into securing the funding in the legislature, and he said the task was major in the House.

He stressed that there is no visitor center or interpretive site on U.S. Highway 83 coming into North Dakota from the south.

Judy Dasovick-Gabriel of Strasburg emphasized the importance of preserving the state’s heritage and agricultural history. She said the state’s purchase of the site would be a boost to local and tri-county tourism.

Verda Seeklander of Hazelton, a member of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, pointed out the impact of having a side that helps tell the story of the Germans from Russia who immigrated to the region.

“The site exemplifies what the heritage was all about,” Seeklander said, “and it will help promote other museums and points of interest in the region.”

Sue Sandwick of the Emmons County Historical Society countered those who think young people have no interest in Lawrence Welk. She recalled a third grade tour where one of the students exclaimed when seeing the Welk exhibit that “he’s on TV.”

Sandwick also emphasized the importance to the state of the heritage of the Germans from Russia.
John Ibarra, who recently moved to Strasburg from Vadnais Heights, Minn., said Lawrence Welk and the Germans from Russia represent the “wholesome values we need to preserve.”

Ibarra said future generations will benefit from what they can learn at the Welk homestead.
Tom Isern, a professor at North Dakota State University, Fargo, said an historic site is hard to maintain long-term with only local involvement. He said state ownership and operation of the site is critical to its future.

He pointed out that south central North Dakota (Emmons, Logan and McIntosh Counties) does not have a state historic site, and the Welk homestead could serve multiple purposes that would benefit tourism, historic preservation and interpretation of the Germans from Russia heritage.

Isern offered to bring student volunteers to help at the site.

Kevin Gabriel of Strasburg said historic sites, including the Native American sites and the Welk homestead, provide a “spiritual connectedness” to history and culture.

Gabriel said people in the area are ready to do whatever they can to assist the state with the acquisition and operation of the site.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, a member of the SHSND Board, told about his family’s homestead near Hebron that now stands in ruins. He noted that very few homesteads remain, and he said the Welk homestead is in good shape and would be an asset to historical preservation.

State Rep. Diana Larson of Bismarck, a board member, said she had never seen so many people at an input meeting, and she said it was a good showing of support.

Several board members expressed concern about the cost of operating the site. They noted the legislation provides for the purchase of the site but does not include operating money.

Baumstarck said Pioneer Heritage had planned to operate through July 31 of this year but he said after the meeting that publicity about the purchase has significantly increased visits to the site. He is encouraged that there could be enough paid admission income to keep it open through Labor Day.

Board member Chet Nelson of Bismarck offered the following motion which was seconded by Board Vice President Calvin Grinnell of New Town and adopted unanimously:

“The board needs some additional information and moves to have the Director and staff of the State Historical Society work with the community to come up with numbers for the site, now and into the future, and get back to the board as soon as possible. There is a sense of urgency to this project and the board should consider a special meeting.”

At the conclusion of the board meeting, President Gerntholz turned the gavel over to Grinnell, the new president.

SHSND Director Merl Paaverud is interviewed by KXMB-TV reporter Stephanie Scheuer. Looking on is Kimberly Jondahl, Director of the SHSND Communications & Education Division.
KXMB-TV cameraman Thomas Palanuk films in the summer kitchen as reporter Stephanie Scheuer looks on.
One of the tour guides for the SHSND Board is Elaine Wald. She stands next to a grain cleaner in the barn.
Visiting during the tour are Pioneer Heritage President Adam Baumstarck, left, and SHSND Director Merl Paaverud.
Visiting are, left to right, Pioneer Heritage President Adam Baumstarck, SHSND President Gereld Gerntholz, Rep. Diane Larson, Rep. Michael Brandenburg and Al Berger.

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