Effort to Build Welk Monument Likely to get Boost by his Death

Bonham, Kevin. "Effort to Build Welk Monument Likely to get Boost by his Death." Grand Forks Herald, 19 May 1992, sec. A1.

Lawrence Welk never saw the restored homestead he left in 1924 to try to make a living as a musician.

And Congress pulled the plug on a $500,000 federal grant that would have built a German-Russian Heritage Center in his hometown of Strasburg, N.D.

But that doesn’t mean that such a museum won’t ever be built.

In fact, his death is likely to strengthen the resolve of people back home to build a monument to their famous son.

“I’m saddened. We’re all saddened,” said Rosemary Schaefbauer, president of Welk Heritage Inc., in Strasburg.

A dedication of the restored Welk Homestead is planning for June 7. But local organizers don’t know now just what the agenda will be. Welk hadn’t planned to return for the event but some family members were expected to be there.

“That’s up in the air right now,” Schaefbauer said. “But we’ll have the ceremony. There’s been too much work put into it to cancel it now.”

The restored homestead opened last summer, attracting more than 7,000 visitors in its first season. It reopened this past Friday, and will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through September.

The Strasburg-based Welk Heritage Inc. has plans of restoring the barn on the Welk Homestead as its next project, Schaefbauer said. And the long-term goal is to raise enough money to build the German-Russian Heritage Center.

She said interest in the Welk Home has increased since it opened, especially among tour bus companies.

“He was sort of a legend to the state of North Dakota, having roots that go back to ancestral parents from the old country, from Russia, coming to North Dakota and making an investment in our country here,” said Clarence Bauman of Bismarck. Bauman has been working to raise money for a German-Russian museum in Strasburg. “His accent always reminded us of where his roots were.”

Welk, whose television show ran on network television for 16 years, drew a faithful audience. When ABC television canceled the program in 1971, a large dose of fan mail prompted the start of a syndicated program that was carried on more than 200 television stations.

Public television stations have been carrying highlights of old Welk program since 1987. The show is a popular offering on Prairie Public TV at 7p.m. Sundays.

“Very seldom do I miss it,” Schaefbauer said. “And people I talk to from all over the country say they watch it regularly, too.”

Schaefbauer isn’t a relative of Lawrence Welk. But she got to know him pretty well over the years.

She figures she’s just like thousands of other people around the country who enjoyed the kind of entertainment Lawrence Welk provided.

“I loved him. I just love his music,” she said. “He always had such an entertaining show, a good clean show you could watch with your family without worrying about being embarrassed.

“Someone once said it’s the shortest hour on television. That’s the way I felt. The music. The singers. The dancers. The choreography. It just makes you feel good.”

Others in Strasburg say he gave people around the nation a glimpse of what life in North Dakota was like.

“He thought there could not have been a better place in this whole world to be raised and understand the vales of life,” said Bob Schreiner, who opened a furniture in Strasburg in 1950. “That’s the way he have felt about it--that’s what he said. Lawrence was one of us.”

Reprinted with permission of Grand Forks Herald.

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