Though Welk returned home often, "He never lived to see the place restored," she said. "That was the sad part."
Not a fan of farm life, Welk left North Dakota when he was 21 after performing at barn dances and other community events. His big break came when ABC picked up his eponymous television show in 1955. The show, famous for its bubble machine and Welk's phrases "Ah-one, an' ah-two" and "wunnerful, wunnerful" in his German accent, ran until 1971 and is still shown in reruns.
The Schwabs said Welk's farmstead drew more than 7,000 people in 1992 but attendance has slipped to about 500 last year.
"For the first few years, we were swamped with people but as the years go by attendance has dropped — younger kids have their own types of music now," Evelyn Schwab said. "If it wasn't for reruns, it would have died out a long time ago."
The Schwab sisters and Sen. Erbele, whose district includes Strasburg, said the state's purchase of the farmstead would preserve Welk's musical legacy and bring in much-needed tourism dollars.
"We think $100,000 is a drop in the bucket for the state," Evelyn Schwab said. "It would help with economic development because we're not benefiting from the big (oil) boom out west."
Visitors still trickle in to see Welk's home but many are at least as old as the 80-something Schwab sisters. Fans from Canada and Alaska visited this week, along with an elderly Iowa woman who'd always wanted to see where Welk grew up.
"She cried when she arrived and said, 'I cannot believe I'm here,'" Edna Schwab said.