Three polka bandleaders were inducted into the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall
of Fame at the annual awards ceremony on November 26, 2011. Fred Kuhar of Wickliffe,
Ohio, Bob Timko of Dunedin, Florida, and Hank Thunander, from St. Paul, Minnesota,
were voted for their lifetime achievements in polka music by Hall of Fame members
and trustees. The announcement was made announced at the October 13 semiannual membership
meeting in Euclid, Ohio.
All three honorees are accordionists. Fred Kuhar has led an orchestra for more than
forty years and served as the founding President of the National Cleveland-Style
Polka Hall of Fame and Museum. Bob Timko’s band was a top Cleveland-based polka group
in the 1970s and one of the first to popularize polka tours to destinations such
as Hawaii. Hank Thunander has been a leading figure on the Iron Range polka scene
since the 1960s.
Two all-time Cleveland-Style hits were also chosen by voters. "Save the Last Dance,"
a romantic waltz written by Lojze Slak of Slovenia as “Ne Prizigaj Luci,” has been
a Cleveland-style standard since the 1980s when it was recorded by Cecilia Dolgan
with her English lyric. “Terezinka,” a bouncy polka based on a traditional Slovenian
folk song, has been recorded and played by countless orchestras since the 1920s.
The Board of Trustees added six names to the Polka Hall of Fame Honor Roll. Accordionist
Linda Lee Brown performs at polka events in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and around the
country. Drummer Gus Oswald has recorded on upwards of 700 songs, most notably with
the Hank Haller Orchestra. Drummer John R. Gerl plays and records with several bands
and served as the founding treasurer of the Polka Hall of Fame. Vocalist Angela Zabjek
recorded and performed Slovenian music and is active in the Slovenian-American community.
Bandleader and accordionist Ray Skovenski has recorded and performs in his home state
of Pennsylvania. The late accordionist Al Strukel led a popular Cleveland polka band
during the polka heyday of the 1950s. Mike Dragas, Ray Sterle and Bill Tomsick received
group recognition for their thirty years together as members of the Art Perko Orchestra,
one of the classic Cleveland-style polka ensembles.
The 24th annual National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame awards ceremony took
place on Saturday afternoon, November 26, at Euclid Auditorium, 711 East 222nd Street,
in Euclid, Ohio. This year's all-star program featured a salute to radio personality
and impresario Tony Petkovsek for his fifty years hosting a daily polka broadcast.
A reception, polka mass and dance followed at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Cleveland.
The awards show is the high point of the annual Thanksgiving polka music weekend
hosted by Petkovsek. At the membership meeting, President Cecilia Dolgan announced
that the Polka Hall of Fame would be taking over sponsorship of the Thanksgiving
polka festival in 2012, following Petkovsek’s retirement.
The Polka Hall of Fame and Museum was founded in 1987 by musicians and leaders of
Slovenian and ethnic organizations. The Cleveland style of polka has roots in Slovenian
folk music with influences from country and western, jazz, Tin Pan Alley and other
nationality sounds. America's Polka King, Frank Yankovic, was the leading exponent
of the popular dance music.
The museum features audio exhibits, photographs and original instruments tracing
the Cleveland-style polka to its origins in Slovenia in the late 1800s. The Hall
of Fame portrait gallery pays tribute to significant musicians and prominent individuals,
as voted each year by 1,500 members. The archive preserves 5,000 recordings, dating
to 1917. Each year members nominate and vote for polka musicians and achievers in
categories ranging from best orchestra and best album to promotion and Slovenian
The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 605 East
222nd Street in Euclid, Ohio, in the historic former Euclid City Hall. Hours are
Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5:00, and Saturdays, 10:00 to 3:00. Admission is
free. Polka recordings are available in the museum store.
Joe Valencic, Trustee
Bandleaders Fred Kuhar, Bob Timko and Hank Thunander inducted into the Polka Hall
Article by Joe Valencic, National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, November, 2011