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Residents of Lawrence Welk’s Hometown Feel Cheated By Congress

March 9, 1991

STRASBURG, N.D. (AP) _ Even champagne music can’t soothe residents bitter about Congress’ move to rescind a $500,000 grant to develop a tourist trade around Lawrence Welk’s birthplace.

″It’s like we were hit by a ton of bricks,″ Sharon Eiseman, executive director of Welk Heritage Inc., said of the 71-11 House vote Thursday to take back the grant to Strasburg, Welk’s hometown. Many legislators called the pork-barrel project a national embarrassment.

Evelyn Schwab, Welk’s niece and a Heritage Inc. board member, called the action ″kind of a slap in the face.″

The Senate has yet to vote on the matter, and Sen. Quentin Burdick, D-N.D., who was instrumental in securing the funds last fall, said he would fight to keep them in the federal budget.

And fight he should, say many residents of this quiet town of 600, where a church steeple, a water tower and a grain elevator rule the skyline and the Prairie wind throws tumbleweeds across Main Street.

″If you cut one (pork-barrel project), you cut them all,″ Al Kramer, owner of the Pin Palace and Cafe, declared Friday.

The area has suffered through nearly three years of drought and hard times. Residents are banking on the Welk connection to spur tourism.

″People from other states have gotten money for museums, why is this any different?,″ asked Rosemary Schaefbauer, president of Welk Heritage.

Most of the Welk homestead itself has been restored with private money and is scheduled to open May 15. It includes the original sod house covered with wood siding, a summer kitchen, outhouse and blacksmith shop. A barn will be reconstructed this spring.

Of the $500,000 grant, $254,000 was to be used to build and furnish a German-Russian heritage museum at the Welk homestead. Another $35,000 was planned for marketing and tourism development, and $210,000 for a revolving loan fund for economic development in Strasburg and Emmons County.

The House action ″shoots all the revolving loan funds for tourism and economic development in this county,″ Eiseman said.

Local residents are going ahead with a birthday celebration for Welk on Sunday.

The veteran bandleader, famous for his accordion and ″champagne music,″ on his old television musical variety show, turns 88 on Monday.

Welk, who no longer grants interviews, moved from Strasburg at age 21. He now lives in Southern California.

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