Bandleader Lawrence Welk has made his first public statement about a much-debated $500,000 federal grant for his small hometown, saying he supports the plan to build a German-Russian heritage museum.
"Over 90 percent of all museum funding in the United States comes from government grants," he wrote in a letter to the editor published Monday in The Bismarck Tribune. "I believe that this museum, too, will serve as an important resource for the nation."Reports that the grant would be used to restore the homestead at Strasburg where he was born are wrong, he added. The town of about 600 people is in south-central North Dakota, about 60 miles southeast of Bismarck.
"In fact, the restoration of that home has already been completed using only private funds," he said. "I do not own that home and receive no economic benefit as a result of this project."
The federal aid was intended to build a German-Russian museum in hopes of creating a tourist attraction, and to give low-cost loans to ailing businesses, officials said.
Congress approved the money last year, but later voted to withdraw it.
The 88-year-old Welk, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., does not grant interviews. Until now, he has not talked publicly about the money, which has been criticized as pork-barrel spending.
"I think it was more for clarification purposes than anything else," said Shirley Fredrick, Welk's daughter and spokeswoman. "I think the clarification that needed to be made was . . . the appropriation from Congress didn't have anything to do with the house, just with the museum and the town."
Earlier this month, the National Taxpayers Union said Welk did not support spending the money to restore his home. The watchdog group, which has been a critic of the grant, distributed a letter sent from Welk to one of its members as proof of his opposition.
Welk did not address that letter in Monday's letter. But Gary Satern, developer for the redevelopment project in Strasburg, said earlier that Welk merely meant to express his longstanding opposition to the use of federal funds to renovate the homestead where he was born.
Sen. Quentin Burdick, D-N.D., said the legislation that withdrew the grant only prevents the money from being spent to restore Welk's home, but could be used on the town and the proposed museum.
With a lack of specific wording in the legislation, the Farmers Home Administration may be left to make the final decision on the grant.