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'Big Joe Polka Show' host dies at age 80

Article - #1 (By Julie Anderson, World-Herald

For more than five decades, Joe Siedlik of Omaha brought what he called “happy music for happy people” to listeners — and dancers — not just in Nebraska but all across the country. His “Big Joe Polka Show” aired on radio for more than 25 years, becoming a Sunday fixture for many. At one time, he was on 30-some stations from California to New York. He hosted TV shows and polka festivals, promoting the music he loved and polka bands along with it.Siedlik, 80, died Thursday at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, said Janie Romero of La Vista, his daughter and former TV co-host. He’d been diagnosed in mid-December with an aggressive form of cancer. “Polkas are just part of our life,” she said. “It was just what he believed in, ‘happy music for happy people.’ ” The Rev. Kenneth Borowiak recalls his father tuning in every Sunday from the time the family got home from Mass until the show ended for the afternoon. “He was Mr. Polka for the United States for half a century,” Borowiak said. “He was a household name not only for a lot of Nebraskans of his generation but for many, many people across the United States.” Borowiak said Siedlik had a “unique ability” to tie together family, faith and tradition in a way that he’s not sure the nation will see again. Siedlik also was known for helping out, broadcasting from parish festivals and serving as MC for ethnic festivals. And when someone needed help, Siedlik would get on the radio and help raise money. His first big promotion, according to his family and the Big Joe Family Shows website, came when he was still living in South Omaha, an area then largely made up of people of Polish, Czech and German descent. A neighbor youth had been injured in an accident. Siedlik got four polka bands to come in and perform a benefit concert. As recently as mid-September, Siedlik filled a two-hour slot on Spirit Catholic Radio’s fall fundraising event. “He was in his old form,” Borowiak said. So many people called in that Siedlik more than doubled the fundraising goal organizers had set for his two-hour run. “He just blew it out of the water,” Borowiak said. Siedlik served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958. He was a chef and once made a birthday cake for President Dwight Eisenhower. He owned a nursery — Siedlik Nursery near 72nd and Pacific Streets — in the late 1950s. The nursery sponsored a half-hour polka show for a time on KOIL radio in Omaha. Then he sold the business and moved to Columbus, Nebraska, where his involvement in polka promotion took off. He married his wife, Martha “Marty” Monteforte of Snyder, Nebraska, in 1960. Mark Vyhlidal of Fremont, leader of the Mark Vyhlidal Orchestra, said Siedlik helped him get into the music DJ business nearly 30 years ago in Council Bluffs. Vyhlidal later succeeded Siedlik on the Big Joe Show, now the All Star Polka Show on KJSK in Columbus. Vyhlidal said Siedlik encouraged young people to become involved in polka and to maintain their heritage. Romero said her father had the largest collection of polka music in the country. He also ran a mail-order business for music and videos. Many recognized him when they were out in public. “People always came up to him,” she said. “He was always happy to see them and tell them a story. He never turned anyone away.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siedlik, 80, died Thursday at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, said Janie Romero of La Vista, his daughter and former TV co-host. He’d been diagnosed in mid-December with an aggressive form of cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siedlik, 80, died Thursday at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, said Janie Romero of La Vista, his daughter and former TV co-host. He’d been diagnosed in mid-December with an aggressive form of cancer.

 

 

“Polkas are just part of our life,” she said. “It was just what he believed in, ‘happy music for happy people.’ ”

 

 

The Rev. Kenneth Borowiak recalls his father tuning in every Sunday from the time the family got home from Mass until the show ended for the afternoon.

 

 

“He was Mr. Polka for the United States for half a century,” Borowiak said. “He was a household name not only for a lot of Nebraskans of his generation but for many, many people across the United States.”

 

 

Borowiak said Siedlik had a “unique ability” to tie together family, faith and tradition in a way that he’s not sure the nation will see again.

 

 

Siedlik also was known for helping out, broadcasting from parish festivals and serving as MC for ethnic festivals. And when someone needed help, Siedlik would get on the radio and help raise money.

 

 

His first big promotion, according to his family and the Big Joe Family Shows website, came when he was still living in South Omaha, an area then largely made up of people of Polish, Czech and German descent. A neighbor youth had been injured in an accident. Siedlik got four polka bands to come in and perform a benefit concert.

 

 

As recently as mid-September, Siedlik filled a two-hour slot on Spirit Catholic Radio’s fall fundraising event. “He was in his old form,” Borowiak said.

 

 

So many people called in that Siedlik more than doubled the fundraising goal organizers had set for his two-hour run. “He just blew it out of the water,” Borowiak said.

 

 

Siedlik served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958. He was a chef and once made a birthday cake for President Dwight Eisenhower.

 

 

He owned a nursery — Siedlik Nursery near 72nd and Pacific Streets — in the late 1950s. The nursery sponsored a half-hour polka show for a time on KOIL radio in Omaha.

 

 

Then he sold the business and moved to Columbus, Nebraska, where his involvement in polka promotion took off. He married his wife, Martha “Marty” Monteforte of Snyder, Nebraska, in 1960.

 

 

Mark Vyhlidal of Fremont, leader of the Mark Vyhlidal Orchestra, said Siedlik helped him get into the music DJ business nearly 30 years ago in Council Bluffs. Vyhlidal later succeeded Siedlik on the Big Joe Show, now the All Star Polka Show on KJSK in Columbus.

 

 

Vyhlidal said Siedlik encouraged young people to become involved in polka and to maintain their heritage.

 

 

Romero said her father had the largest collection of polka music in the country. He also ran a mail-order business for music and videos.

 

 

Many recognized him when they were out in public. “People always came up to him,” she said. “He was always happy to see them and tell them a story. He never turned anyone away.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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