OUR OPINION: Don’t give up on Welk’s farmstead yetMaybe it’s too late. After all, before anyone would sign off on spending nearly $600,000 to fix up a property that’s worth around $125,000, they might have to down a whole bottle of Lawrence Welk’s famous champagne.
By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald
Maybe it’s too late. After all, before anyone would sign off on spending nearly $600,000 to fix up a property that’s worth around $125,000, they might have to down a whole bottle of Lawrence Welk’s famous champagne.
But on the chance that there’s still a little time, then the State Historical Society of North Dakota should answer one more question before it decides whether to buy Welk’s boyhood home in Strasburg, N.D.
The question is this:
If a historical center dedicated to pioneer farming and the immigration history of Germans from Russia were to open on the property, could it be a go?
In other words, is there a reasonable and realistic prospect of such a center being a success?
If the answer is “no,” then the answer to the question of the state and/or historical society buying the property probably is “no,” too.
And the answer about the center’s prospects might very well be “no.” Strasburg is remote: It’s 70 miles southeast of Bismarck and about 50 miles south of Interstate 94. So, it’s a hike from a major transit corridor, and the fact that only 500 visitors showed up at the Welk homestead last year shows that despite his 31 years on television, Welk’s popularity is in decline.
Then again, there’s at least a chance that the answer is “yes,” and the center could work.
That’s partly because the immigration history of Germans from Russia never really has gotten its due. As mentioned before in this space, some 43 percent of North Dakotans have German ancestors in their background, and some 1 million descendants of Russian Germans live in the United States.
Theirs is an astonishing tale, involving migration first from Germany to Russia, then — for a fortunate fraction — from Russia to the American and Canadian prairies.
The story also includes terrible persecution (including deportation to Siberian labor camps) by Stalin of the Germans-in-Russia who stayed behind. But in the Great Plains of North America, it’s an ethnic hardship-and-redemption saga that stands with any in its ability to inspire.
And Lawrence Welk, who was born in North Dakota but spoke German as a boy and carried his German accent through life, personified Germans-from-Russia as did few others.
So, there’s that.
Alas, there’s also this:
“More than $580,000 is needed in repairs to the boyhood home of Lawrence Welk in the south-central North Dakota town of Strasburg,” The Associated Press reported last week.
And without a doubt, that’s a daunting sum.
The North Dakota Historical Society’s board is scheduled to meet Saturday to decide on the purchase. Clearly, Welk’s connection alone isn’t enough to justify the purchase and renovation expense. But could a historical center that highlights pioneer farming and America and Canada’s Germans from Russia heritage be made to work?
Here’s hoping the board pursues a discussion and study, and here’s hoping the answer they arrive at is yes.