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   Thanksgiving, Cleveland 2011

Tony Petkovsek is to Northeastern Ohio polka fans what Dick Goddard is to weather followers.

Both have been on the air for 50 years, and both have loyal listeners and viewers, but Petkovsek is retiring at the end of the year.

“I turned 70 and basically I want to enjoy more personal time,” said Petkovsek, who lives in Fairport Harbor. “I want to look for a warm place in winter and have an opportunity to travel.”

Petkovsek has the longest running daily show on radio in the country — two hours a day, six days a week, since 1961 — and has decided to retire from the show on WELW-1330AM, at the end of the year. He will be heard on a Saturday afternoon polka show beginning in January.

He has mixed emotions about the near-retirement.

“I’ll feel it in the new year,” Petkovsek said. “It’ll take a while to get used to not doing as much.”

Petkovsek, dubbed the “polka ambassador,” for leading polka tours all over the world as a travel host with Kollander Travel, sponsors a huge, annual Thanksgiving polka party, on that Thursday and the following Friday night at the Marriott Hotel Downtown Cleveland. He hires more than a dozen polka bands to entertain people from 20 states, Canada, and an entourage from The Netherlands.

The dances this year will be his last.

Kathy Debevits has been attending the Thanksgiving dances since 2005.

“The event is like a candy store of the best polka music in the world,” said Debevits, a Chester Township resident..

“I go there because you see the most wonderful polka jams anywhere,” she added. “I saw Eddie Rodick playing the button accordion — I didn’t know he could play one. The saxophone man Eric Stehle was from Colorado, and Joey Miskulin, on piano accordion, from Nashville — that’s something unusual and great that you can only see in Cleveland.”

Polka fans who have been attending the Thanksgiving dances for nearly 50 years wonder what will happen next year. In 2012, the National Cleveland Style-Polka Hall of Fame and Museum will sponsor the Thanksgiving polkafest in conjunction with the Awards Show and Meet the Winners Dance.

The Polka Hall of Fame celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.

Petkovsek, who is the founding chairman of the board of the organization, will retire as a trustee when his term ends in March.

Ray Somich, who is Petkovsek’s partner in ownership of the radio station (WELW), praised his importance to the community.

“Over the last 50 years, Tony’s radio show has been at the forefront of providing service to the polka-loving community, especially those of Slovenian heritage,” Somich said. “He has been their main link to all events, from births, weddings and anniversaries to fundraisers to dances and parties.

“People asked and expected him to attend all the events in the Slovenian and polka communities,” Somich added. “Sometimes this meant being at six to eight different events in a weekend. Long-term for the community, Tony was instrumental in raising thousands and thousands of dollars to build buildings and organizations.”

In reflecting on his radio career, Petkovsek said being a disc jockey was something he dreamed about doing since childhood.

“I heard polka music on the juke box in my dad’s bar, from the time I was very young,” he said. “I would pretend I was a DJ by playing 78 records. The music motivated me.”

As far as highlights, Petkovsek has had many — more than 100 plaques and trophies from community organizations and institutions are proof. He said two of the awards stand out in his mind,.

 

“I really treasure being the youngest person named the Slovenian Man of the Year (1967), and being inducted into the Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame,” he said.

Petkovsek is also in the St. Joseph High School Hall of Fame, the Cleveland International Hall of Fame, and National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.

“More important were the friendships I have made and the camaraderie of the polka travel tours,” he said.

 

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Polka radio host Tony Petkovsek to retire

 

Article by Cecilia Dolgan, News-Herald, November 23, 2011