Gospel with a Polka Beat

By Gary E. McKee

 Bruce and Shara Repka/Gary E. McKee photo

Bruce and Shara Repka/Gary E. McKee photo

“Circuit Riders” was the name given to preachers in the 1800s who traveled the physical and spiritual wilderness bringing, on horseback, the word of God to the Great American West. Martin Ruter (Rutersville) was a great example, who in 1837 entered Texas with a stack of Bibles and hymnals to preach to and sing with the citizens of the newly founded Republic of Texas.

Among those still carrying on this tradition in the 2000s are Bruce and Shara Repka. However, instead of riding horseback thousands of western miles, they trailer their beloved horses and instead of stacks of bibles and hymnals they are equipped with voices and musical instruments to implement their horse ministry.

Bruce’s family has deep roots in Lavaca County where his father, Henry Repka along with Herbert Kloesel from Schulenburg, founded the music program at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Hallettsville. Bruce’s musical trip began at a single digit age listening to his father performing in a popular polka and waltz band, The Music Kings, around the Houston area. His father would make cassettes of their performances and bring them home, where young Bruce would listen to them and play along on a plastic accordion purchased from Sears.

One day his mother brought Henry to Bruce’s room to hear him play and he was soon playing on a “real” accordion. At the ripe old age of 10, he performed on a Music King “45” rpm record (the ones with the BIG hole in the middle). The song was the Honeybee Waltz. From that point onward Bruce accompanied his father as they played the Mraz Ballroom, Lodge 88, and various KC Halls in a 50-mile radius of Houston. Bruce’s intrigue with music, led him to learn the guitar, steel guitar, fiddle, and keyboards.

Singing with a purpose
As with most great bands, time took its toll and The Music Kings disbanded. Bruce continued playing in several country bands both in Central Texas and Houston. In 1996, Bruce decided to focus on playing and singing about God’s grace and love. Being interested in the western culture, he gravitated towards the cowboy churches that were springing up throughout Texas and the west. In 2001 Bruce was attending the Crossroads Cowboy Church in Yoakum and met a lovely lady named Shara. They realized that they shared more than spiritual feelings and were married in 2003.

At that time Bruce was singing with Mike Ables from Bellville in a duo called The Calvary Cowboys. The Christian Country Music Association of Nashville rated them in the top 5 acts in 2004, 2005, and 2006. When Mike stepped down, Shara took his place, and the Pony Express Ministry singing duo was formed.

Bruce and Shara have been traveling the west performing at different venues focusing on “ranch rodeos” which are events that involve real working cowboys and cowgirls. These rodeos are fundraisers for various charities that assist young cattlemen to continue in their chosen field and action groups that assist in livestock disease prevention programs and the protection of western rangeland among many similar worthy causes. While traveling from rodeo to cowboy churches, Bruce and Shara have released four CDs of their music, most of which are original songs.

Polka On! with God
In the last several years to widen the scope of Bruce’s respect for God and his family heritage (Czech), he teamed up with his father to deliver a great instrumental CD of gospel music performed with a polka beat. Kicking off with spirited versions of I’ll Fly Away, Amazing Grace, and The Old Rugged Cross to name a few, the CD is an intriguing listen. Named S Pánem Bohem: Sunday Polka, it features St. Mary’s Church near Hallettsville, and is the perfect music to listen to on the way to church picnics this summer. (S Pánem Bohem is Czech for "Go with God.")

Visit the Pony Express website to learn more about the ministry and purchase their uplifting music.       

 

Garrett Neubauer: Polka Accordion King

By Gary E. McKee

For almost a decade, Texas Folklife has been hosting a Big Squeeze accordion competition spotlighting young accordionists across Texas. The competition in 2014 marked the first time that grand prize winners would be selected in three categories – polka, conjunto and Cajun/zydeco. Big Squeeze winner in the polka category was Garrett Lee Neubauer of Altair. Garrett has been playing accordion since the age of 12. When his father, Daryl, passed away prematurely, he felt that the best way to honor him would be to pick up his father’s accordion and learn how to play it. His father had been an accordionist in the Tony Janak Polka Band. Between managing a rice farm, and playing, Daryl took time to guide a young Mark Hermes (of the Czechaholics) on the art of playing accordion. When Garrett made his decision, Mark returned the family favor by showing him around the keys of Darryl’s accordion, which had once belonged to Bobby Jones. Lawrence Ruether, Garrett’s grandpa, also played the accordion and taught him some songs. As Garrett’s skill increased, other members of the Czechaholics, Brian Klekar and Greg and Brian Svetlik mentored Garrett on the intricacies of music and performing. I remember going backstage several years ago at a Czechaholics gig at SPJST Lodge 88 in Houston and finding Garrett playing along while behind the curtains, learning the songs.

Down by the Pond    
Down a sandy country road that leads to a lush, serene oak grove that Garrett calls home, he would spend evenings practicing while sitting in the yard or out by the stock pond. He has ample time for this as he works in the maintenance department at Rice School district just five minutes away. Both he and his dad graduated from there. His neighbors, Gladys and Joe Salinas, big polka fans, would enjoy the notes floating across the cow pasture in the evenings.

As Garrett’s confidence and licks improved through the many hours of practice, he was asked more frequently to sit in with the Czechaholics and Texavia. The Tony Janak Polka Band has reformed as the J & S Playboys, and Garrett sits in occasionally to fill his father’s shoes. Though he loves playing all genres of music his favorite is the Czech polkas and waltzes that he grew up listening to his father play.

His desire to learn more about the unique instrument grew and now he owns four keyboard and two button accordions including the one he won at the Big Squeeze competition. In case anyone stops by and wants to jam, Garrett also owns an electric bass guitar, a keyboard, an electric six-string guitar and a set of drums. The six-string guitar is what he spends more time on now as he is still in the learning stage.

Big City Venues
The Big Squeeze competition broadened Garrett’s horizon as he went from playing the smaller Central Texas venues to performing at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin and then in front of thousands of people at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston at the annual Accordion Kings & Queens event. The large audience did not intimidate him. “I just got up there and did what had to be done.” The competition gave him a chance to see and talk to outstanding accordionists his own age playing Cajun and conjunto styles. The 2015 Big Squeeze performance will give Garrett a chance to perform once again at the big venues and to turn over his title as Accordion King to a new young performer. Garrett has some advice for those novices: “The accordion is a difficult instrument to play and the only way to master it is to practice, practice, practice.”

The Texas Dream Band, a country/polka band out of Hallettsville is Garrett’s regular gig now, playing keyboards and accordion in this band composed of the offspring of other country/polka musicians. But whenever he isn’t playing with Texas Dream, Garrett can be found with his accordions ready to take the stage wherever polka is happening. There is no doubt that his father would have been proud.

[Editor’s note: Garrett Neubauer performed at the 2015 Big Squeeze Finals on April 25 in Austin, where Brandon Hodde of Holland, TX, was crowned the new polka accordion king. Both will perform at the 26th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens event on Saturday, June 6, at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston.]

Alfred Vrazel: Humble Man with a Love of Polka

By Theresa Parker

 Alfred played with the Red Ravens at the PoLK of A fundraiser at Sengelmann Hall in February 2014.  Photo by Gary E. McKee

Alfred played with the Red Ravens at the PoLK of A fundraiser at Sengelmann Hall in February 2014. Photo by Gary E. McKee

“Jak se mas,” I ask Alfred Vrazel. “Pomaly,” he says. “Slow.”

He may feel like he’s moving slowly these days at age 74, but his routine since he and the Vrazel’s Band retired in 2009 proves otherwise. A typical day for Alfred begins by rising about 6 or 7 a.m. (earlier in the summer) and having breakfast with his wife of 53 years, Bernice. She then heads into the computer room to manage paperwork for their farming and ranching enterprise. Alfred travels about a mile down the road to the farm shop where he meets his brother, Albert. The two still farm and ranch together. They spend the morning checking and feeding the cattle and also repairing farm equipment.  Brothers Anton and Lawrence, who have retired from farming, usually stop by to visit and no doubt offer their two cents of advice. “We always clicked good together,” Alfred says of his brother partners in farming and music.

It’s busier during the summer as Alfred and Albert still raise corn and wheat. He reports good yields for both crops this past summer.  Sometimes it’s so busy in the summer months, Alfred doesn’t even eat lunch and works until dark, but occasionally he tries to indulge in an afternoon nap when he can. “We don’t farm as much as we used to. We’re slowing down a little bit every year,” he says. Pomaly.

Alfred and Bernice are members of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Marak, and when the church needed someone to manage their parish hall, Bernice and her sister, Patsy Gaines, volunteered, which meant Alfred did, too. It was to be for one year and, “Seven years later, we’re still managing the hall booking weddings and reunions. It keeps us busy,” he says. Managing the church hall seems a natural fit since the Vrazel family managed the SPJST Hall in Buckholts from 1957-1971.

Still Time for Polka
Alfred also likes to spend time in his music room. He and Bernice just recently had the time to hang all the plaques Alfred and the band received over the years. He also now has time to listen to some of the Vrazel’s recordings. “We played in Washington, D.C., in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration. They recorded us, five days worth of music. Now, 38 years later, I just started listening to it,” he says, noting, “It sounds pretty good.” And, of course, he likes to pick up his button box and play a song or two every now and then. The sax too, but not as much.

One of the plaques Alfred hung on the wall was presented to him this past September in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame. He was honored for his role as a polka DJ for the past 59 years on KMIL in Cameron. What made it even more special was Alfred is the first Texan to be inducted into the hall, which is located in Chicago.

Alfred says he was apprehensive at first about going to Cleveland to accept the award. “They didn’t know much about our brand of polka in Texas and we didn’t know about them,” he says. But that feeling quickly passed as they all gathered to celebrate a common bond – polka. “They were very respectful of Texas polka and the ceremony was first class all the way.”

2015 Marks 60 Years On Air
The Vrazel’s Polka Show will celebrate 60 years on the air this coming summer. The show started as the Vrazel Polka Hour, a live broadcast with the Vrazel’s Band every Sunday on KMIL 1330 AM. The station had just come on the air and needed programming and the Vrazel’s were a young band just getting started and they needed publicity. The show was on the air from 1 to 2 p.m. then the band would head out to a gig. “Back then, they had Sunday night dances from 9 to midnight, so we had plenty of time to do the show and get to a dance,” Alfred recalls.

The band did the live show from 1955 to 1960. “The Sunday dances started being held earlier so we didn’t have time to do live radio performances. Plus, the recording of polka music on labels like TNT was starting to take off,” Alfred says. From 1960 to about 2000, Alfred did the broadcast live. Bernice, and later daughter, Cindy, would come to the station to take phone-in requests and sort through the mailed dedications the station received.  Now the show is mostly pre-recorded.

Wal-Mart Regulars
The weekends have changed for Alfred and Bernice. “For over half a century, we had to be somewhere on Saturdays and Sundays. Now, we enjoy sitting on the couch on the weekend,” Alfred says. At the height of the Vrazel’s popularity, the band was performing 125 dates a year. “We’d play a dance in Dallas on Saturday night, then head to Corpus Christi to play with The Majeks the next day. We were a lot more sturdy back then,” Alfred says laughing.

And as all wives have to make adjustments to their schedules as their husbands retire, Bernice says it’s taken some getting used to having Alfred home on the weekends. “When Alfred was on the road with the band, I had the choice of either going to the dance or staying home to do what I wanted, like shopping. Now, he’s underfoot all the time. But I have to admit, he’s good at steering the Wal-Mart cart,” Bernice says, laughing.

Alfred still goes into the radio station to record his Sunday show, where he has his own recording studio, usually on Thursdays or when it works best around his farming gig. Most of the music is on his laptop, but he also uses a turn table, cassette and CD players. He plays a lot of music by the Texas bands, but also features some music by the out-of-state bands and now gets the bulk of his requests through email. The Internet has broadened his listening audience. People from all over the world can tune in to the show at kmil.com. “It makes me wish I was young and starting the band again. Back when we started, we had to put posters out to advertise our dances. Now, within a few minutes, the whole state knows everything.”

He says he was nervous as heck doing that first radio show. “But as the Sundays went by, I got more relaxed. Just like playing a dance, once you pick up your instrument, tune up, count off one two three, here we go, you get into the music and the nervousness goes away,” he says.

He has always done the show in English, interjecting Czech when announcing song titles. “I knew if I switched to Czech, I’d lose some of the audience,” he says. “It’s a shame really, because Czech is a very expressive, beautiful language.”

Listen at kmil.com
Alfred’s show has expanded to two hours and 15 minutes on Sundays from 12:15 to 2:30 p.m. on KMIL Cameron, which is now 105.1 FM.  He has had some of the same sponsors for many years, such as SPJST, Slovacek Sausage and the oldest – Anderle Lumber Company in Cameron. He credits the success of the program to the loyal listeners who enjoy the music and many who he connects with on a farming level.

“I have always tried to be myself. Anything you do, it’s important to be yourself. I come from humble beginnings, picking cotton and pulling corn. On the polka show, I talk about farming. When we played at dances at Lodge 88 and Bill Mraz, many of the people there had settled in Houston from farming communities in the Praha-Shiner area. I would sometime ask, ‘How many people here have picked cotton?’ Always lots of hands went up.”

Alfred is usually a regular at jams these days and he has sat in with the Red Ravens a few times last year. He and Bernice also like to attend dances to, well, dance. He doesn’t always bring his accordion but if asked, he’ll pick up one of the band’s and join in on a song or two. “I enjoy playing. Now I don’t have to worry about being a bandleader. I don’t have to set up the sound system. It’s great,” he says.

Alfred’s favorite polka is The Bandleader Polka, which he plays to open his radio show. Favorite waltz is At the Spring. And he likes classic country such as Ray Price and Merle Haggard. “Classic country is just good dance music. It fits polka bands real well. Back in the ‘50s we wanted to incorporate something to entice more young people to come to the dances. We were one of the first polka bands to have electric bass and play country tunes,” he says.

When asked how many times he has played A Ja Sam, he just laughs and says, “A whole lot. It’s the standard polka.”

No Fans Like Polka Fans
Alfred says the outlook for polka is good. “We have a lot of young bands coming up. The music is going to stay a long time. Mollie B has done a lot to bring polka to the forefront on a national level,” he says. “Now, we just need more of the young people to come to the dances. Back when we started playing, whole families would go to dances. Now, there’s so much going on, it’s hard to get families together at a dance.  However, there are a number of places that do a good job of pulling in the young folks.”

It all starts with the love of the music, he says. “No other form of music has an audience like polka. They are so loyal and appreciative. We never got rich, but we made a lot of friends, and to the end that’s what counts.  In the Vrazel Band, Anton and I had a great group.  Good musicians, good Christian people, and I hope it showed on stage.”

So is Alfred expecting another pomaly year in 2015? “It will be hard to top last year when I got that phone call telling me I had been chosen for the hall of fame. It really caught me by surprise,” he says. He and Bernice would  like to go to Chicago this year to visit the International Polka  Music Hall of Fame Museum to “see what’s what” and check out his plaque, which, thanks to Alfred and Bernice, also has a copy of the Texas Polka News October 2014 issue next to it, that carried the story about the induction ceremony.  The couple also hope to spend more time with their daughter, Cindy, and grandchildren, Matthew and Jessica.

He plans to continue the radio show, farming and ranching and to Polka On! “Let’s keep supporting the music, bands and dance halls. Let’s keep it going.”

PoLK of A Presents Scholarships

Congratulations to Cody Janak and Kendall Kristynik who received this year's scholarships sponsored by the Polka Lovers Klub of America Texas Chapter I. Each received $500 to help with expenses as they set out on their college adventures.


 2014 PoLK of A Scholarship Winners Cody Janak and Kendall Kristynik with Scholarship Chair James Freytag. The scholarships were awarded at the Klub's meeting on Sunday, July 13, at the American Legion Hall in Sealy.   See more photos  from the event.

2014 PoLK of A Scholarship Winners Cody Janak and Kendall Kristynik with Scholarship Chair James Freytag. The scholarships were awarded at the Klub's meeting on Sunday, July 13, at the American Legion Hall in Sealy.  See more photos from the event.

Cody Janak of Victoria graduated from St. Joseph High School and is the son of Chris and Stephanie Janak and the grandson of PoLK of A members Henry and Carolyn Janak of Yoakum. Cody will be attending Texas A&M at College Station, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.  Afterwards he plans to continue his education by seeking an MBA or law degree. 

In addition to his outstanding academic and athletic achievements, he supported his community and church as a teen leader during activities like blood drives, Women’s Crisis Center fundraisers, ACTS Religious Retreats and nine years as an Altar Server.  Cody is a three-year member of the National Honor Society and has worked as a sod-grass layer, fiber optic technician and performed farmer-rancher duties at his grandparent’s farm where he also learned to can pickles, make sausage and bake kolaches.   

He claims that his dedication to hard work, outgoing attitude and friendly personality, which he inherited from his parents and grandparents, has successfully gotten him this far in life.  And, the fact that he loves to dance has not been a hindrance in any way.

Polkbeat asked Cody:

Earliest memory of a polka dance: When I was 5 years old. I had just learned how to dance, and I was asking every lady around me to dance. I was on a roll, but after nine or 10 dances, I was turned down. I was heartbroken and decided I was done for the night, so I went to sleep on one of the tables at the dance hall.
Polka tunes on your MP3 player: I do not have any polka songs on my iPod, but I do listen to the Yoakum/Hallettsville radio station during the polka hour when I am at my grandparents. 
Favorite polka: Out Behind the Barn and Shut Up and Drink Your Beer.
Favorite polka band: Red Ravens.
How to get more young people to come to polka dances: By advertising on social media and providing food. Because all kids enjoy the Internet and food!

Kendall graduated from Moulton High School and is the daughter of PoLK of A members Kenneth and Mary Kristynik. Kenneth plays accordion for Red Ravens.  Kendall will be attending Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, with a goal of obtaining a degree in the field of medicine. 

Besides being the valedictorian of her graduating class and homecoming queen, Kendall has been active in Student Council, 4-H, the Lavaca County Council and the Bata Club, holding multiple offices in each of these organizations.  She has served as her class president during each of her high school years and has been on the All-A Honor Roll since first grade.

She supported fundraisers for the Driscoll Children’s Hospital, American Cancer Society and the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church while working with organizations or the elderly and supporting work efforts to “Keep Moulton Beautiful.” 

Kendall’s goal in life is to be 100% happy – and she says that since life can throw unexpected curve balls, it is her intent to live life in a way that she will have no regrets, be able to laugh often and love deeply.  

Polkbeat asked Kendall:

Earliest memory of a polka dance: When I was three or so. My dad played every weekend, sometimes twice, and I went along every chance I could. I remember going to Mustang Hall between Yoakum and Hallettsville and helping my mom sell tickets. When she wasn't looking I would go out on the floor and do what I loved - dance. 
Polka tunes on your MP3 player: Absolutely. Polka is in constant mix. As much as I love Texas Country/ Red Dirt music, when I hear my dad's accordion through my headphones, I can't help but smile and be in a good mood. 
Favorite polka: Looking, Looking Polka by the Red Ravens. At my graduation in May, my class did a montage as our class song. Everyone picked a song that meant something to them, and mine was the Looking, Looking Polka. Everyone's face just lit up. It was amazing. 
Favorite polka band: The Red Ravens, by default and because my dad is an avid polkabeat reader, I am bound to this answer. :) However, I grew up with the Dujka Brothers, the Vrazels, and Fritz Hodde, so all are at the top of my list. 
How to get more young people to come to polka dances: Going to polka dances isn't something that you can force. Polka is a way of life, and if they don't love it, then a person isn't going to do it. Polka is sometimes viewed as something that "old people" do, so teens feel that they are "too cool" to polka. What we can do is keep playing polka music, and there is no doubt that people of all ages will continue to embrace this amazing way of life. Stay Strong and Polka On!


Polkabeat readers write

Just wanted to pass on our sincere thanks from all of us Tomball polka lovers for all you did to support the German heritage festival.  We all look forward to seeing  the various acts.  We particularly enjoyed Alex Meixner and when I saw that you were sponsoring his return here, the least I could do was say Thank You Very Much!!!!  Keep up the great work and I will keep an eye on all the latest polka happenings thanks to polkabeat.com.  Thank you again!!

Regards,
Mark Barnett
The Woodlands

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I would like to say thank you to you and Polkabeat.com, for all of your contributions to the Tomball German Heritage Festival.  I know that is sponsorship, and that you covered the event.  The truth is that you are doing much to further polka music in Texas.  I, for one, am very glad you are doing this.  Once again, I’d like you to know that The TubaMeisters support your cause. 

Ray Grim
The TubaMeisters
San Antonio

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Love ya, Mom! Way to go on bringing Polkabeat this far! You're awesome!

Alec Seegers
Houston

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Happy Birthday!  Wishing you all the luck, good health and happiness.  You are  making so many folks happy and healthy with all the dancing and laughter - best medicine.  

Ann Juricek
Ennis

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It was nice hearing that you are a sponsor of the Czech show on KOOP here in Austin.
Thank you for your great website and weekly dance listing.  We have had a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of Texas while polka dancing - and we have found out about many of these dances through your website.

G. Bacon
Austin

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Thanks for all you do to publicize bands and live music in Central Texas and across the state!

Jerry Haisler (and the Melody 5)

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Mr. McKee,
Thanks a million for all that you do to promote the heritage, my friend.  Was great to see you out again this evening.  Peace to you and yours. 

Greg Svetlik (Czechaholics)

 

 

PoLK of A Presents Scholarships

The July general membership meeting of the Polka Lovers Klub of America Texas Chapter I is my favorite Klub event to attend. That's when we announce the winners of two $500 scholarships given to family members of our members. Each year, I am blown away by what these young people have already achieved. Hearing their plans for the future gives me sense of calm that our country is going to be okay with them in charge. And these are just two outstanding students. The Klub received 17 applications, all to be commended for their achievements and future aspirations. I was also pleased to see these two recipients are proud of their polka heritage, one commenting the the PoLk of A is such a cool club. Meet this year's winners: Michael Laitkep and Abby Sumbera.

Abby Sumbera and Michael Laitkep

Michael graduated from Friendswood High School and is the son of Chris and Donna Laitkep and the grandson of Ernest and Delores Laitkep of Pearland.

Besides being an outstanding student, Michael has aggressively participated in extra-curricular activities and held leadership positions in various organizations while supporting the needs of his school, his community and various church programs. He has participated in sporting events, such as swimming, soccer and track, science fair programs, church activities and played trombone in the marching band. He is an Eagle Scout and member of the National Honor Society.

Michael will be attending the University of Texas at Austin, double majoring in business and Plan II Honors, a broad liberal arts program. Afterwards he plans to continue his education by seeking a master's in business or a law degree.

Polka thoughts Favorite polka memories: Spending time with friends and family and doing the Grand March. Favorite polka: Shiner Polka Favorite polka band: Mark Halata & Texavia

Abby graduated from the St. Agnes Academy and is the daughter of Darrell and Kim Sumbera of Houston and granddaughter of Leonard and Grace Sumbera of Schulenburg.

Besides being an outstanding scholastic student, Abby has held leadership positions for St. Agnes retreats and within the Girl Scouts She was secretary of the Spanish Honor Society and is an accomplished athlete with at least 10 years of competitive soccer. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society.

Abby will be attending Texas A&M, majoring in Biomedical Engineering – a rewarding and important field – certainly for the many veteran amputees looking for new limbs -- an area within her major that she intends to pursue.

Polka thoughts Favorite polka memories: Going to the St. John's 4th of July picnics for as long as I can remember and dancing with my family. I have great memories of learning to dance with my grandpa and my dad. Favorite polka: A Ja Sam (All by Myself) Polka. Favorite polka bands: Red Ravens, Dujka Brothers and Shiner Hobos. Polka on iPod: Vrazels album. Polka promotion: I encourage young people to join clubs like PoLK of A. I intend to try to get groups of my friends together to go to dances so they can see what it is all about.

Thanks for the Encouragement Ben!

By Gary McKee

At the reception in the Schulenburg KC Hall following Ben Sustr's funeral (which was attended by many uniformed members of the Polka Lover's Klub), Shiner Hobos Johnny Barton, Walter Hermis, Leo Rainosek, Larry Krupala and Nathan Loth took the stage.

Larry told the story of how Ben Sustr had just started teaching in the Agriculture Department at Schulenburg High and encouraged them to enter the FFA Talent Team contest as a band. In 1958, Barton, Hermis, Rainosek, Krupala and Elton Kaase participated in the State FFA contest as a quintet called the Offbeats. (Photos A and B) Back in Schulenburg, the future Hobos added Nathan Loth, got spiffed up, and performed for events while in high school. (Photos C and D)

 Photo A

Photo A

 Photo B

Photo B

 Photo C

Photo C

 Photo D

Photo D

Thank you, Jimmy Brosch!

181_PB_SPJSTSigning_20111030_ByHiebert_WR.sizedToday, I said goodbye to Jimmy Brosch. I knew the day would come. After all he was 89 years old. But somehow it hit me hard. I cried through most of the Polka Mass held in celebration of his life. And what a life! He was a pilot, motorcycle rider, speed boat captain, railroad switchman, egg salesman, car salesman, horse rider, bull charmer, molasses maker, boxer, fiddle player, harmonica player, saxophonist, band leader, dancer, singer, entertainer, writer, artist, comedian, beer drinker, Catholic, Democrat, businessman, friend, husband, dad and grandfather. And I probably forgot a few. He packed a lot into those 89 years. I had known about Jimmy all my life as my dad had all of his albums. I was formally introduced when he came to my dad's funeral in 2009 and played some of my dad's favorite polka tunes on his harmonica. Jimmy, as I would learn, never left home without his harmonica. You never knew when the mood would strike for a polka or country tune. Then I saw Jimmy at a dance at Lodge 88 in Houston. I had just started polkabeat.com in honor of my dad and planned to start a "legends" column and wanted Jimmy to be the first person I wrote about. He agreed to be interviewed and invited me to come over to his house. While we were talking, he said, "Why don't we write a book? I have these polka bands I want to write about. People have forgotten them and I think their stories need to be told."

I jumped at the chance and we set on our way to write about 10 Texas Czech Polka Bands. Then Jimmy increased it to 15 and finally 20 legendary polka bands. For a year and a half, we traveled to the homes of the families who shared their stories, photos and hospitality. Little did Jimmy's wife, Lucy, know this would become her project, too as she drove Jimmy to many of the appointments. We also were joined by Mark Hiebert who documented the visits with his camera.

Helen Shimek and Laddie KurtzThese were interviews, but they seemed more like visits - remember how people used to go visit friends and spend the afternoon talking? I had the privilege of not only breaking a kolache or two with some of the most down-to-earth people I have ever encountered, I was there for personal concerts - Jimmy jamming with Alfred Vrazel, singing and jamming with Helen Kurtz Shimek and Laddie Kurtz, playing harmonica to Clarence Baca's percussion, singing while Dan Pavlas played accordion and Bernice Migl Dobecka played piano and watching June Krenek on the dulcimer.

Once all the interviews were done, I started getting the calls. Have you written any of the chapters yet? Do you have some more for me to read? I would tell people at polka dances, "Don't tell Jimmy I was here. I'm supposed to working on the book!" I worked with Jimmy's son, Jeff, who designed the wonderful cover for the book and laid out each chapter. To keep Jimmy busy while we were working on the book, I suggested he create a companion CD to the book featuring a song from each band. After all, we were writing about music, you should be able hear it!

Book_Cover_Final-1Jimmy liked telling people, "While you're reading a chapter on Joe Patek you can cue up his song and listen to his music." He researched printing shops and calculated and recalculated what we should charge for the book and the combo price for the book and CD. And hardly anyone qualified for a "free" copy of the book. I had to pay for mine!

We enjoyed the book signings. The best was at Cactus Music. Folks were lined up to get his autograph on the book. Some brought albums they wanted him to sign. All had a story about how his music touched their lives, or the lives of their parents. It was a great day! Jimmy always signed the book, "To my good friend..."

Dance and performance at the Czech Community Center in the Houston HeightsI will miss Jimmy's early Saturday morning calls to give me his "weekly report" about how many books he had sold and how the stores on his route were doing in selling our book.

The Polka Mass was wonderful. I lost count of how many musicians showed up to play one last song - the Corn Cockle Polka. You've heard the saying, "they played their hearts out." Well, they did. It was a rousing version and we didn't want it to stop. I was so glad to hear Willie Bohuslav announce that the Polka Lovers Club of Texas Museum will plant a bed of corn cockles in Jimmy's honor.

Polka Mass for Jimmy BroschI feel very honored to have known and worked with Jimmy and wonder who he's rounding up for his heavenly band -- Joe Patek, Lee Roy Matocha, Henry Brosch, Bill Mraz, Wence Shimek........

See Remembering Jimmy Brosch. See Jimmy's Last Polka Dance. Read the Houston Chronicle story.

Thanks for Promoting Polka Mister John!

John Zavadil, polka DJ at KCTI Gonzales has discontinued his polka show due to health concerns. John, known as "Mister John" by his listeners underwent gall bladder surgery and complications and had spent time at Gonzales Memorial. Methodist San Antonio and New Braunfels Regional Rehabilitation hospitals. The 1450 Polka Club with the most "live" polka music in Texas for 17 years, five days a week, three hours a day.

In a statement issued by KCTI 1450 Program Director Egon Barthels said, "Mister John will be dearly missed by all of us. I want to thank John for his many years of service to KCTI AM 1450 and the Gonzales County community. We have enjoyed many great moments with Mister John as the host of the 1450 Polka Club. Mister John was also a huge asset in helping gather community news, rainfall reports, birthdays and anniversaries, obits as well as helping with day-to-day operations at the station."

John received the Texas Polka Music Awards (TPMA) Polka DJ of the year in 1996 and was nominated again in 1997.

John is of Czech, German and Swiss heritage. He served his country for 10 years with the 36th Infantry Division Army NG at Fort Hood and Fort Polk obtaining the rank of Sgt E-5.

John taught public school 30 years, all in Gonzales County, never using a "sick leave" day.

John married Erlene Kubečka Pšenčík December 17, 1997 at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gonzales.

Mister John and ErleneA very proud moment for John and Erlene was receiving the 100 years Family Land Heritage certificate presented to the Zavadil Ranch south of Gonzales from Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on November 8, 2012. The ranch was founded in 1910 by Inocenz Zavadil.

I will miss Mister John's polka show. He was one of the first to get onboard with what I was trying to do in establishing polkabeat.com. He promoted my site and helped Jimmy Brosch and I sell lots of our book -- Jimmy Brosch Remembers Twenty Legendary Texas Czech Bands. It would be a shame to not play the impressive library of music Mister John built. That's why I was glad to get an email from Egon saying the polka tradition continues with the KCTI-AM 1450 Polka Club airing between 5 and 7 PM every day. He says the reason for the time change is because it was the only way he could conduct his daily operation duties but still keep the tradition of having polka music on KCTI-AM 1450. AND I was glad to hear he still does "Dance Dates" from polkabeat.com just like Mister John! Thanks Egon and thanks for keeping polka alive on KCTI! For more information go to kcti1450.com.

National Polka Festival King and Queen Are Ready for Westfest

It was great to see a young couple crowned king and queen at the National Polka Festival in Ennis, Texas this past May. Jake and Jessica Holland won the dance contest to claim the prize. They love dancing and their Czech heritage. One of their duties is to attend other polka festivals to promote the National Polka Fest. They're looking forward to attending Westfest over Labor Day weekend. Over the summer, I had a chance to visit with the couple who just celebrated their second wedding anniversary on June 26.

Why did y'all enter the dance contest? We entered for fun with hopes of winning! We really enjoy dancing together.

You've entered before, right? Yes, this was our fourth consecutive year to dance together in the contest. (Before that Jake danced with his sister, April.)

What's your favorite polka/waltz? Jessica: Seven Step Polka because she grew up dancing it with her dad, and Black Gypsy Waltz. Jake: Pretty Dancing Girl and Hastrman by the Vrazels.

Do y'all go to polka dances often? Yes, we both grew up going to weddings where polka bands played and go to dances if there are any in town.

What are your day jobs? Jessica: pre-k special education teacher in Ennis. Jake: construction manager for the Beck Group in Dallas.

Born and raised in Ennis, right? Yes. Jessica's entire family is Czech and still lives in Ennis. Jake was born and raised in Ennis and is a fitfh generation Czech Texan.

What are some of your best memories of National Polka Festival growing up? Jessica - My favorite memories are being in the parade. I have dressed up as a Girl Scout cookie and handed out candy, rode four years as a high school cheerleader, and rode in my grandparents Vera & Wesley Betik's Model-A wearing a kroj that she had made when she was 16. It made me feel proud to represent my Czech heritage and happy to see so many people enjoying themselves at the parade. Jake- I remember as a kid always looking for the booth that sold rubberband guns, those were a lot of fun, and wanting to ride the carnival rides but mom wouldn't let me saying they were dangerous. (Now that I'm older I realize that she was right.) I also enjoyed riding on floats in high school when we had a float for the football team and again when I rode in a corvette as the SPJST State King. It was fun to spot and wave to my friends and family in the crowd. A specific favorite memory was when my great grandma Annie Martinek dressed up in her kroj and rode on a float in the parade. She was in her 90s at the time.

What do you think would attract more young people to attend polka dances? For us, we grew up going to weddings that had polka music and listening to the Sunday morning polka show. Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, instilled in us an appreciation for our Czech heritage including polka dancing. We think it is up to the families to keep the young people interested in polka dancing and promote it at a young age.

Polka on! Jake and Jessica

Polkabeat Fan Yodels Her Way to Germany

Lufthansa celebrated its first flight of an Airbus 380 from Houston Intercontinental Airport with a German-style polka party and yodeling contest. The festivities were held on August 1 at the airport terminal with entertainment by Das Ist Lustig. Polkabeat fan Andi Meckna, much to her surprise, won the yodeling contest. Andi and her husband, Robbie, heard about the contest from Valina and Ross of Das Ist Lustig. The group has a standing gig most Thursday nights at King's Biergarten in Pearland where they offered patrons yodeling lessons to prepare for the contest. "We both tried yodeling about two weeks before the contest," says Andi. "I was awful but surprisingly Robbie turn out to be pretty good (even though he is not a great singer). Our plan was that he would yodel and I would do the costume contest."

When the couple arrived at the terminal, they were the only ones out of about 500 people who had bothered to dress in costume. "So I knew we had the costume contest in the bag and we won that," says Andi, noting the prize was a dinner for two at Rudi Lechner's Restaurant in Houston.

The yodeling was a different story. "They drew 10 names to compete in the yodeling contest and as fate would have it, my name was drawn and Robbie's wasn't," Andi says. "I was terrified because I have extreme stage fright. As I was on the stage, I looked at Robbie and knew that I had to win for the family so I belted out my best attempt at yodeling. Thank goodness there were no professionals competing."

Andi made it to the final three and ended up winning with an altered version of The Hills Are alive with the Sound of Music. She says it was like a dream and can't believe they now have two round-trip tickets to Germany on Lufthansa A380. "It was such an incredible gift because I've never been and it was high on my bucket list," Andi says. "I have to thank Ross and Valina for their support and I could never have done it without Robbie!"

The couple plan to take their trip in the spring of 2013. "Dreams really do come true," Andi says.