The 600 people of Strasburg, the prairie hometown of band leader Lawrence Welk, are still mad.
They feel they have been maligned, embarrassed and subjected to national ridicule because of a $500,000 federal grant.What members of Congress, the news media and others got wrong, Strasburgers say, was the idea that they were after a quick $500,000 to fix up the Welk family homestead so it could become a tourist attraction.
"They got the wrong story right off the bat and kept repeating it," says Gary Satern, 50, curator-coordinator for Welk Heritage Inc., the organization that is restoring the homestead where Welk was raised by his German-Russian immigrant parents.
"I don't think they got the right information," says Mayor Egidi Roehrich, 63. "It must have been a misunderstanding."
Members of Congress held up the grant as the worst example of pork-barrel politics, an ill-advised piece of spending at a time when penury is official Washington's password. The money was deleted from the legislation but later put back, and may eventually get to Strasburg. But, residents say, it will not be spent on Welk's home, and was never intended to be.
In fact, not a cent of the taxpayers' money has gone into the Welk home, located about 31/2 miles northwest of town, Satern says. None of the politicians - including Utah's 1st District Rep. Jim Hansen - who criticized the project - ever bothered to get any facts about it, he said.
The $220,000 that was spent to restore the home all came from private donations, including $105,000 from the bandleader's family.
The $500,000 grant sought by the community was for a German-Russian museum that will be located next to the Welk house, a structure originally made from clay and straw blocks.
The federal grant was designed to provide a revolving loan fund to help stimulate small businesses to accomodate the tourist trade.
The publicity hasn't been all bad. Satern expects between 15,000 and 20,000 tourists this summer because of it. He is scrambling to get the Welk barn fixed up by June for dances and an accordian players' competition.
Welk, now 88, said through his family in Los Angeles that he doesn't want any federal money going into the restoration. But the ripple effect persists. Townsfolk claim that no matter where they go, they get needled.
"Last night when I went to my Lamaze class reunion (in a nearby town)," said schoolteacher Thora Hanson, 38, "there was a comment made about it again. A woman said, `What's Strasburg doing with all that money?' "
Others say that when they travel to other states and tell people where they are from, they get teased.
"I think it is pretty stupid of some people hollering about the $500,000 going here," said Lori Carlson, 28, a grocery store clerk, "especially when the state and federal government spend thousands and millions on all those stupid surveys."
"I think there was a lot of misunderstanding," said Postmaster Matt Lipp, 47. "The publicity that got out on it started it on the wrong foot."
Even so, townspeople hope the Welk home will bring enough tourists to help the local farm-based econmomy, which has been battered in recent years by a continuing drought.
"We started out trying to save a house and wound up trying to save a town," Satern said. "The economy here has been absolutely terrible. People are having to move out."
The Welk homestead, which has been nominated for the National Historical Registry, was already drawing tourists - about 2,000 came last year - even before volunteers began fixing it up.
The rural development grant was necessary to have the seed money for a restaurant, antique shops and perhaps even a motel, backers say.
"Lawrence Welk's parents were German Russians who migrated here in the late 1800s," Satern said. "His name will draw people for the next 10 to 15 years."
When Welk last visited Strasburg in 1976, Satern's group had a painting made of him sitting in a late-model car at the family farm. The painting has been turned into a postcard that will be sold along with T-shirts and key chains.
Welk has supported the town for years, donating $4,500 for a new cover for the local swimming pool and $14,000 for repairs on the pool, among other things.
"He doesn't forget where he comes from," Eiseman said.