NDSU contingent shores up the barn at Welk Homestead

by Allan Burke

Photographs by Michael Black

Emmons County Record, Linton, North Dakota, May 1, 2014, pages 1 & 3.

The NDSU team who spent the weekend repairing the barn at the Welk Homestead at Strasburg include, back row, left to right, Prof. Tom Isern, Justin Kiesow, David Nigon, Ethan Rostvedt, Keaton Leymon, Michael Black, Duane Powell and Foreman Clarence Herz; front, Theresa Daly, Mitch Herzog, Typhanie Schafer, Kayla Haas and Melinda Deugan.

For a man who didn’t attend high school, Lawrence Welk surely would have been proud. A contingent of 13 volunteers from North Dakota State University, including a professor, a Ph.D. candidate and 11 undergraduate students, spent the weekend repairing the barn on the farm where he was born and raised.

It’s not the same barn where Welk practiced his accordion, but it’s been on the farm since the 1930s and is part of the historic site that will be operated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota beginning July 1, 2015. Pioneer Heritage, Inc. and the Tri-County Tourism Alliance will manage it until then.

Leading the team of “service learning students” was Tom Isern, University Distinguished Professor of History at North Dakota State University.

Prof. Isern’s students are taking his class, History of the Great Plains 431, this semester, and one of the options is helping with a service project. About half of his class made the trip to Strasburg, and the other half will be volunteering at the historic Hutmacher Farm near Killdeer.

The crew’s foreman is Clarence Herz, a Linton native and Ph.D. candidate, and assisting Isern at the Center for Heritage Renewal and driver of the truck that brought lumber from Fargo is Michael Black, 62, an NDSU junior and former resident of Sonoma, Calif., where he had a career in sales and marketing.

Hosting the group were Pioneer Heritage and Tri-County Tourism, and they stayed two nights in the Strasburg School where they had breakfast both mornings in the teachers’ lounge. John and Bonnie Wiskus of Lehr brought stew in an antique cast iron kettle on Saturday, and on Sunday NDSU Extension Agent Acacia Stuckle of Linton and her mother, Lourie Jonas, of Wishek served knoepfle soup, borscht, homemade bread from Sue Balcom of Mandan, sausage and dessert by Angie Ibarra.

“We found the barn to need more stabilization than we thought based on earlier visits to the site, so we got a little nervous as we started pulling things apart,” Isern said. “Some of the cross beams were no longer attached to the outside walls and were floating free.”

They replaced the loft floor with sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood, reinforced the pillars by doubling them with new wood, doubled the lateral beams and shored up the cross beams under the loft decking.

“We have one corner of the floor to finish, and we hope to do that and other work later this summer,” Isern said.

Isern said the tentative plan is to organize a work party in July or August after harvesting is completed, and local people as well as volunteers from around the state will be invited to participate as part of the state’s 125th anniversary.

“We’re thinking about calling it ‘Proving Up the Welk Homestead,’ and there is talk of having a sausage contest and polka music,” Isern said.

He also plans to bring another student group to the site this fall to do cleanup work.

“Once the barn is finished, the rest that needs to be done at the site is mostly cosmetic work,” he said.

Isern said he is excited about involving students in historical preservation and other service projects.

“We need to tap the power of 14,000 students to do good things in the state,” Isern said.

At the closing lunch at the school, Isern thanked the students for their “good-hearted and talented service” and said he was glad they had the opportunity to experience “German-Russian Country.”

The foreman

Clarence Anthony Herz, Jr. is known to his Linton friends and high school classmates (LHS 1985) as Tony but is Clarence at NDSU. His parents are Peggy Herz, who recently retired as the Elementary Principal at New Town, and the late Clarence Herz.

After high school, Herz suffered a broken neck in a car accident while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and retired from the Marines.

His varied career includes graduating from NDSU with a degree in economics, serving on a crab boat in the Bering Sea, driving a semi-truck and time as an economist in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. He had his own construction company in D.C. before becoming a petroleum landman in the Bakken in western North Dakota.

Herz returned to NDSU in the fall of 2009 and earned his Master’s Degree in American History. He is in his first year of a multi-year Ph.D. program in Great Plains History. His Master’s thesis is titled, “Petroleum Exploration History in North Dakota to 1951.”

“We had a great crew at the Welk Homestead, and they accomplished a lot in a day and a half,” Herz said. “I look forward to coming back to my home area to do more work at the site.”

He said the back of the barn needs some work, including the replacement of footers. There is also some concrete work to do.

The crew

Members of the crew, in addition to Isern, Herz and Black, are:

  • Theresa Daly is from Las Vegas, Nev., and is a sophomore majoring in History.
  • Melinda Deugan of Vining, Minn., is a senior studying Music with an Equine Science minor.
  • Kayla Haas is a native of Lemmon, S.D., and is a junior with a major in Criminal Justice and Psychology.
  • Mitch Herzog of Osakis, Minn., is a sophomore majoring in Crop and Weed Sciences.
  • Justin Kiesow of Goodrich, Minn., is a freshman majoring in Agricultural Systems Management.
  • Keaton Leymon of Warren, Minn., is studying Natural Resource Management and is a senior.
  • David Nigon of LaCrosse, Wis., is a freshman majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
  • Senior Duane Powell is from Clearwater, Neb., and is a French major.
  • Ethan Rostvedt of Minot is a senior in Criminal Justice.
  • Junior Typhanie Schafer is a junior in Public History and is from Audubon, Minn.
Sheets of plywood for the new loft floor are lifted up by hand.

Courtesy of Emmons County Record

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller