One of the more contentious budget issues before the 2013 legislature was the question of whether or not the State of North Dakota should buy the birthplace of famed band leader Lawrence Welk.
The farm is located well off the beaten path, and it’s not at all clear that Welk himself cared much about it. “He often donated money to Strasburg, but specifically requested that none of it go to the farmstead restoration,” Roadside America reports. “He was invited many times to view the work in progress, but refused every offer. He died in 1992 in sunny, southern California, the year the restoration was completed. It is not recorded that he cared.”
But for some silly reason the taxpayers of the State of North Dakota now own the homestead. Lawmakers approved a $100,000 appropriation to purchase the farm in 2013, funds the State Historical Society used to do just that in 2014, and another $100,000 during their session earlier this year to operate it between 2015 and 2017.
In the first full calendar year of the state’s ownership of the “attraction” it drew paltry number of visitors.
“Between July 1 and Oct. 16, we had 853 people,” Diane Rogness, historic sites manager for the State Historical Society, told the Bismarck Tribune.
That works out to less than 8 visitors per day. A total so tiny it hardly seems worth the cost of opening the place and staffing it.
And it’s not at all clear that things are going to improve. The generation which knew Welk’s body of work is dying out, and while some have made noises about how Welk’s farmstead can serve a larger purpose in illuminating the history of settlement in the state by Germans coming from Russia. That’s history worthy of illumination, I think, but it seems there has to be a better way to do it than buy a farm Welk himself left in his early 20’s and doesn’t seem to have cared about afterward.
To be fair, what the state has invested in the farm so far is a relatively paltry sum relative to the overall budget, but I’m afraid the impulse in coming years is going to be to try and fix poor attendance by putting more money into an attraction few care about.