Thanksgiving Polka Party – Cleveland Ohio USA – November 2009


Article - #4 by Mary Lou Downs & Charlie Tomecek (2009)





Thanksgiving Polka Party – Cleveland Ohio USA – November 2009


We spent the US Thanksgiving with our "polka family" at the Thanksgiving Polka Party held annually at the downtown Marriott Hotel in Cleveland.  This party was a celebration of Tony Petkovsek's forty-ninth year of radio air play.  We can only imagine the work, the hours of volunteer service, and the organizational skills required to pull this event off.  Next year will be the Fiftieth anniversary of America's longest running daily polka program so we know the planning and organizing has started already for the big celebration.  Charlie and I put together a busload of Canadian polka fans for this holiday and every year our waiting list gets longer.  We join the Dan Coppens bus of US polka fans in Dearborn and travel, party and play together the rest of the weekend.  It is a good arrangement because by working together we are able to have a wonderful trip.  It is definitely a group effort, and we would be remiss if we didn't thank all the people who assist during the weekend.  Dan Coppens' US bus is blessed to have Terry and Al Bagrowski, Marilyn and Frank Kwolik, Barb Bruchner and Mary Ellen Kouba who help with the food and refreshments, and the Martin Brothers Plus Band and Bonnie Weber to entertain enroute. Tony Dama and Mike Fritsch were two of Charlie's helpers on our bus.   George & Mary Stasko and Darlene Krill provided additional snacks, and the Button Box Buddies (Andy Miinch, Dennis Uhlik & myself) entertained.  Charlie was too busy to play his button box on the bus, and he certainly appreciated everyone chipping in to help when necessary.  Our first stop of the day was for the renowned seven-course Thanksgiving dinner at Sterle's Slovenian Restaurant where Dan had arranged entertainment by the new "Lifetime Achievement" winner, Fred Ziwich.   Among his many musical skills and talents he is an interesting and entertaining troubadour.   Then it was off to the Marriott Hotel to get ready for the festivities.  The formal program began at 4PM but there was music going on in the lobby, the Ballroom and the Erie Superior Sideroom  - not to mention the jamming going on in rooms throughout the hotel.  Tony Petkovsek invited our bus groups to his hospitality suite for refreshments and an evening lunch and the Martin Brothers Plus and Button Box Buddies entertained.  We were joined by the famous banjo & guitar player Ron Sluga, who is becoming quite proficient on the button box.  We then hurried down to the sideroom to see the fabulous Hank Thunander from Wisconsin.  Hank is one of the most talented accordionists on the planet and one of our favorite people.  He was joined by Fred Gregorich on accordion and Mark Habat on drums.  Then it was across the hall to the Ballroom to see the dynamic young Klancnik & Friends Orchestra.  Brian O'Boyle (the future legend of polka music) is lead accordionist, Eric Stehle on sax, Don Wojtila filled in on banjo, and the effervescent Brian Wiater was vocalist (entertainer and cheerleader) and of course Ed Klancnik pulling it all together on the drums.  Energy personified.  Two music legends joined the band - Joey Miskulin and Walter Ostanek.  Joey Miskulin started his music career playing with Frankie Yankovic when he was fourteen years old.  And Walter Ostanek began his music career at a very young age.  It is almost as if these guys are passing the polka torch to the young generation.  To the younger set we would say that you have big shoes to fill!  We closed the day by watching the jam session in the sideroom that featured Ron Likovic, our button box hero.  We were too tired to join the jamming, but just happy to sit and absorb the wonderful music that they were playing.  Friday is always a big day for us because we put on a two-hour performance in the side room for our bus people.  Dan provided a wonderful lunch (and his helpers arranged it beautifully) and we were entertained by Linda Lee and Wild Bill.  And I do mean entertained!  These two are not only wonderful musicians but they put on a little show that keeps the audience enthralled.  My 13-year-old granddaughter has taken up the violin and I took pictures of Bill playing his violin with Linda Lee on the accordion to show her how violins and accordions mesh.  They do sound beautiful together.  Linda and Bill had to perform without a sound system as there was a problem with the system that was provided.  After Charlie made many calls, Hank Thunander to the rescue with his sound system - and he left it for use by the Martin Brothers Plus who played there in the evening.  Many thanks to Hank for his kind generosity.   We introduced a friend of ours to the bus partiers, Mr. John Hasper who is from the Netherlands.  John has got to be the biggest fan of Cleveland-Style polkas in the world, and he shares his enthusiasm and all his knowledge with the world through his website  If you haven't checked out this website already you are missing a true gem.  How do you say thanks to so many wonderful musicians who come together to make an event successful?  For our jam session we were fortunate to have among others John Gerl on drums, Mike Masten on tuba, and accordion players Frank Svet, Lou Sipka, and Frank Stancic joining Dennis Uhlik and Andy Miinch.  And none other than Canada's Polka King, Walter Ostanek, joined us and led us in many songs.  It was a wonderful start to the afternoon.  Then we were whisked off by John Gerl and Kathy Paulenich to the Podboy's Reunion in Euclid.   Mike Podboy's tavern was something of a fixture in the Euclid/Cleveland area for years, watering hole for anybody and everybody who loved polka music.  Mike has passed on and the bar has changed hands (and format) but Eddie and Kim Rodick wanted to recapture some of that old magic.  They organized a reunion, open to anybody who wanted to join in the jamming and the camraderie.  The present owners prepared and provided a free snack buffet - and the party was on.  Musicians playing and waiting in the wings were (among others) Eddie Rodick, Hank Thunander, Brian O'Boyle, Kim Rodick, Joe Wojtila, Terry Skovenski, Gary Byndas, Eric Heins, Mark Habat, Johnny Koenig, and our group, John Gerl, Kathy Paulenich, Andy Miinch, Dennis Uhlik, Charlie and me.  It was a really fun time and just might take place again next year, you never know!  We hurried back downtown to the Marriott so Andy Miinch could get ready to go on stage in the Ballroom.  He was invited by Hank Haller to join in on a few songs and we had to be there to cheer him on.  Then it was across the hall to the Superior Room where the Martin Brothers Plus Band was performing for a full house.  We joined in on the big half-hour jam session led by Joey Tomsick for ALL the musicians who want to play.  The big stage is packed with musicians - probably about 40 altogether.  This was followed by the powerful Don Wojtila Orchestra featuring Chris Hibbs as vocalist.  The four Wojtila Brothers, Al Bambic, Dave Skrajner, and Eddie Klancnik filling in on banjo - wow!  Our two buses were off to the Sokol Czechoslovakian Club for a tour and a jam session in the beautifully restored ballroom.  It is nice to see these old buildings so lovingly cared for.  Members of the club provided a delicious meal, and then we left to go to the 23rd annual Polka Hall of Fame Awards Show.  The theme of this year's show was, very appropriately, The Accordion.  The Fairport Jammers entertained as people filed into the hall.  A list of award winners will be in a column in the Polka Times on the Polka Hall of Fame website or on so we won't go through them all again.  However, we will mention some of the highlights of the show that were very interesting.  It opened with "Dueling Accordions" - Joey Miskulin and Brian O'Boyle - two very talented accordionists, and the show ended with a grand finale performance by twelve wonderful accordionists playing piano accordions, chromatic and diatonic button accordions.  Ray Somich was again the Master of Ceremonies, a job he does so well, and Jack Tady was Music Director of the All-Star Band.  Two music groups entertained with their original music - our very own Martin Brothers Plus Band played the Rene Martin song, Bella Fiesta, and the Alaska Polka Chips played their M & P Bungee Polka.  And don't you just love Joe Fedorchak?  He came to the podium to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Fred Ziwich and proceeded to unroll a 5-foot long piece of paper - his speech!  John Gerl and Kim Rodick were presenters of the "Sideman of the Year" awards.  John said that this was because Kim was the most beautiful lady and he was the handsomest gentleman they could find to do the job.  However, we think it might have been because John has won this award many times himself and because Kim was the first and only lady to ever do so.  Congratulations to Gary Byndas who won after being nominated for about ten years in a row.  We have said it before but it is worth repeating:  They are all winners here.  Just to be nominated in any category is an incredible and well-deserved honor.  It is so hard to choose any one musician over another as these people are all so blessed with the gift of music.  If you can possibly make it to Cleveland Ohio for the Thanksgiving Polka Party in  November 2011 you should.  The big fiftieth anniversary celebration of Tony Petkovsek's radio show will be a special event.

Mary Lou.









Mary Lou & Charlie



Hank Thunander, Fred Gregorich & Mark Habat


Fred Ziwich serenading at Sterle's Restaurant


Joe Fedorchak - introduced Fred Ziwich


Kim Rodick & John Gerl - Awards Show


Martin Brothers Plus - Ken Dowling, Rene Martin, Rudy Martin, Frank Sabo on drums


What A Little Polka Can Do, we hope to see you next year!  


Award Show Finale


Entertaining our two bus groups in the Sokol Ballroom


Jamming at the Podboy's Reunion


Mary Lou - The Ultimate Jam


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   Thanksgiving, Cleveland 2010