2023 polka party series
at zcbj czech hall
du bois, nebraska
This series follows a successful first try in 2022 which established a polka party on the afternoon of every fourth Sunday, January through April. Each began with a potluck, with entree and table service provided by the lodge, followed by a free dance. Sponsors make the free dance possible.
In 2023, 4 bands were scheduled. Here is the flyer with the information.
In 2023, 4 bands were scheduled. Here is the flyer with the information.
A form of this article by Sharla Sitzman was submitted to the Humboldt Standard and the Pawnee Republican. Photos follow this article.
Two baritones played sweetly backstage, Greg Blecha and Galen Beck eased into the Chimney Sweep Polka as a duet. The dance was over, most of the crowd gone, and these two couldn’t stop. Jonnie Halama on the bass horn listened a bit then quietly joined in. Those left on the dance floor came forward and stood and swayed with the music and knew that this was something special.
Greg looked away and nodded at Brad Husak, the band leader, who had begun packing up. Brad looked and listened, then picked up one of his accordions and added his own notes from where he stood. Terry Hynek on the drums delicately tapped a snare drum. When the song finally came to a close, there was a collective sigh. A day that had started in the bitter cold was ending with a glow.
Greg and Galen had been grinning like school boys all afternoon. They had been playing polka together since they were schoolboys of 12 or 13 years old, and they are not young now, so they’ve had a lot of practice. They were pleased to be there playing with the Brad Husak Band. But wait, you say, aren’t they with Bob Blecha and the Bouncing Czechs. Well, yeah, but if you know Czech musicians, you know they play around, filling in here and there, stepping in to sing or play a song even if they’re not part of the band.
As I drove toward Du Bois that morning, I wondered, “Would anyone come?” Events were being canceled right and left because the weather had turned bitter cold. Brad had called Rob Tichy, the president of the ZCBJ lodge, to be sure the dance was on. “I guess so,” Rob told him.
When I got to the Hall, which is a mile north and ½ mile west of Du Bois, I found that Mary and Mary (Mary Barker and Mary Droge) and their obedient and helpful spouses had the potluck table already set up. We sat on one of the built in benches that 100 years of dancers at rested on and waited. At quarter till Noon, in walked a man and he was greeted very warmly for having come out in the cold! All breathed a sigh of relief, as more and more arrived bearing casseroles and cakes. The party was happening!
The food of the potluck stretched down two tables, and everything was homemade but the chips. Two roasters of soup, Hash brown potato soup & chili, and Rob brought a crock pot of hot chili,. There were many sides, with a couple different kinds of cornbread, and then scalloped potatoes, mushrooms on rice, macaroni salad, orange jello with shredded carrots. Then in a side room there were the homemade desserts – including two big pans of cinnamon rolls.
The band showed up not long after Noon, carting in case after heavy case. The stage was soon strewn with speakers, microphones, chairs, music stands, and instruments. It was the full band of five, not the usual trio, and not only was there the trap drum set and bass horn but also extra horns – trombone, a couple of trumpets, a couple baritones – and Brad’s three accordions.
As they set up, I talked with Terry Hynek, the drummer and asked if he had ever played the Hall before. He had. “It was a while ago,” he said. “How long?” “I remember they had a generator outside for electricity.” I told him the hall had been wired about 30 years ago, and abandoned for about 10 before that. “It was that long ago?” he asked, and added. “Uh oh.” Yep, we all get older.
It turned out that everyone in the band had played the Hall except the leader, Brad Husak. Brad was stoked. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” he said. Brad has been playing for over 30 years and played a lot of places. He said, “Playing the Hall has been on my bucket list since way back.”
The historic proscenium curtain was lowered as the band finished its set up then headed out to join the potluck and to get a beer. The proscenium curtain is a painted canvas curtain 100 years old and someone sitting behind me noticed it for the first time. “Oh, they’ve got the curtain down!” It is a “new” feature of the hall. The curtain had sat back stage for decades until the Pawnee County Promotional Network paid to have it, and a mid-stage curtain, rehung in late 2021.
Finally, it was 1 o’clock. The band was tucked away behind the curtain. I made a last minute check. “Ready?” Brad nodded.
In front, I took one of Brad’s microphones to introduce the small crew who keep the Hall going. President Rob Tichy, Vice President Roy Mullin, Mary and Norm Barker, Gary and Mary Droge, Dollie Shafer, and Macy Coffey.
I introduced a man who needed no introductions, Joe Stehlik. Joe had taken up both sponsorships for this dance, and dedicated it to the ineffable Eddie Hanna. He started, “I didn’t expect to talk today. When I was asked to say a few words about Eddie Hanna, my first thought was…No. No, I can’t say a few words.” He went on to explain that probably no one alive could possibly describe Eddie in a few words. He was, well, ineffable, i.e., too great to be described in words. Still he tried. Many a person in that room – if not virtually all – had danced to Eddie Hanna and his Tommy Bishop Orchestra, had listened to Eddie’s charming stories about growing up in Table Rock, and had admired him. He was beloved.
On cue, the band started playing and Trey Blecha slowly raised the curtain. It was a stirring sight. “I just love that,” Greg Blecha had said when I told him we were going to do the curtain raising again. The curtain rises on the band playing – it’s like something from a movie!
And so on a bitter cold Sunday afternoon in the country, folks sat at tables and listened to the band and munched on glorious leftovers from the potluck. Outside, the day was gray and white, inside it was not.
Not everyone stayed the whole time. Bob Stepanek, my favorite bass horn player of all time, stopped in and sat in the back to listen. Old friends went to greet him and chat. Edna Wittwer, who used to play with the Steve Stastny Band, sat and they smiled together, nodding as they remembered things I’m sure. Bob left early. Then Lennie and Bonnie Blecha came late. Then someone else left, and someone else came in.
Milan Tomek, also another of the old Stastny Band, was there with his lovely friend Leona Pepper, daughter Pam Sunneberg, and grandson Matt. Joe Stehlik is an old time musician, too, and often played with the Lad Trecek Band. And of course there were the Bob Blechas, both of them, Bouncing Bob and Table Rock Bob. They are cousins, and they and Milan and Bob are 4 of the original Bouncing Czechs, which was started back in 1963. At one point, the dance floor was clear except for the Bobs, one dancing with wife Frances and the other with granddaughter Natalie.
Meanwhile on stage, the three musicians in front were grinning up a storm. Gregg Blecha and Galen Beck acted like kids in the back of a third grade classroom, getting away with a prank. Brad looked out over the crowd as he played and sang and beamed.
The crowd mostly sat to listen but enough dancers were out to make it interesting. Alan and Julie Fritch, who met at a dance right in this building, danced almost every dance, and Bob and Frances Blecha spent a lot of time out there, too. By the end of the dance, as I was visiting with Fran, Bob (her husband “Table Rock” Bob not “Bouncing” Bob) came swooping across the dance floor after having danced with someone else. He gestured to Fran to get out on the floor with him. “No. I’m tired,” she said. He pleaded and looked unhappy but finally went off for another partner. Fran showed me a picture she had just taken of Bob and Bob together. “I’ve been wanting to get them together in a picture for a long time,” she said.
At 4 pm, the scheduled time for the dance to end, the band kept playing. And playing. At 4:15, Brad announced they were having too much fun to quit, and they played another set. Enthusiastic applause left them basking into glory and then they strolled off the stage.
Then, as Brad leaned over to start packing up his accordions, Greg and Galen got up and went over to stand by Jonny Halama at the bass horn and the sweet baritone duet of the Chimney Sweep Polka came wafting out to the dance floor. Brad paused. Greg gestured. Oh heck. And Brad headed over to join. And that’s how it all ended with a glow. The first polka party of the season.
Thank you to the series sponsors, the Pawnee County Promotional Network and the ZCBJ Lodge 101, and thanks to Joe Stehlik for sponsoring this most excellent of bands! The next dance is Sunday afternoon, February 26, with the Mark Vyhlidal Band. It’s gonna be good!
Swaying to the music after the dance is over
more pictures from the january 29, 2023 polka party
2 Bob Blechas on the dance floor
Just some darn good music