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America’s Polka King - Frankie Yankovic

Article - #3 (By Ray Jablonski)

 

 

 

 

Farewells to Polka King.

Ida Yankovic compared the funeral for her husband Frank to that of another member of "royalty."

"This is bigger than the Kennedy funeral," she said, moments after dancing and singing to one of her husband's biggest polka hits, "Blue Skirt Waltz." For "America's Polka King," as Frank Yankovic was affectionately known, Monday's funeral was appropriately large, with approximately 700 people packing St. Mary's Church on Holmes Avenue in the Collinwood neighborhood of the city to say one last good-bye to the legend. The polka music being played outside the church was also quite appropriate, since it is probably the best way to remember the man whose name is synonomous with the polka music industry. So, too, was the sight of people, including Ida Yankovic, dancing and singing to the Polka King's greatest hits. "He put many smiles on thousands of faces," wrote Yankovic's son Robert, in a letter read during Monday's Mass by his sister, Andrea McKinnie. "He devoted his whole life to music." As Yankovic's casket was carried out of St. Mary's, the somber mood of the occasion turned somewhat uplifting as eight area polka musicians brought out their accordions and started playing ' 'Blue Skirt Waltz" and "Just Because" to serenade the man who made those tunes famous. One of the accordionists, Joey Tomsick of the Joey Tomsick Orchestra, said the scene outside the church was similar to a New Orleans-style funeral, in which jazz music is played in tribute to the deceased. "This is the biggest thing that Cleveland will ever see," Tomsick said about the funeral for the biggest name in polka music. The funeral brought out numerous dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-10, Cleveland International Records president Steve Popovich, Canadian "Polka King" Walter Ostanek and longtime WELW radio host Tony Petkovsek. Inside the church, family and friends of Yankovic paid tribute from a number of perspectives. "I wish I had more time with him," said Yankovic's grandson, Patrick McKinnie. "Not his music, not his words, just him." Robert Yankovic, who was unable to attend his father's funeral, wrote in his letter that his father always took care of his family and was always there to help his children through life's ups and downs. He added that he was impressed with how well-received his father was outside the family. "I truly see what a wonderful legend he has become, and I am truly grateful," Yankovic wrote. St. Mary's pastor the Rev. John Kumse said Yankovic was blessed with many talents. "God gave Frank a special talent for music and he did use that talent well," Kumse said. "I think that Frank's greatest gift was that he knew how to make people happy." Petkovsek said the Collinwood and Cleveland communities were blessed by Yankovic's presence. "Frankie Yankovic was the truly special polka man for all times," Petkovsek said. "The good man from up above placed him just around the corner from here at East 160th and Midland and provided him with the musical talent that he shared with the rest of the world. To be in his presence was truly special. You could feel that glow coming from him." Yankovic was born in Davis, W.Va., in 1915. His family moved to Collinwood shortly after his birth and it was here where Yankovic grew to become "America's Polka King." Kumse said Yankovic got his start at St. Mary's, playing at a dance in the adjacent school in the 1930s. He noted the price for admission to the dance was 10 cents. "This is where it all started: Collinwood, a tight-knit, working class neighborhood where people worked hard and played hard," Kumse said, referring to the neighborhood as "Polkatown." Kumse said even as Yankovic grew to legendary status, he never abandoned his roots. "No matter where he was, he always remained that kid from Collinwood, from Polkatown," Kumse said. Kumse, a Slovenian like Yankovic, gave credit to the "Polka King" for teaching him how to dance during his childhood days in Barberton. "If it wasn't for Frank Yankovic, I wouldn't have learned how to dance," Kumse said, referring to the numerous Yankovic polka albums that were played in his childhood home. "It was part of growing up in a Slovenian house." Popovich said Yankovic's appeal spread further than the Slovenian community. "He's the one guy in polka that, of course, the Slovenians love, but also, all the Polish people love as well," Popovich said. "I went with him one time to the Fleet Avenue festival (the Slavic Village Harvest Festival) and he was treated like a rock star there. All the people there wanted to get his autograph." Petkovsek said Yankovic was more than just a polka singer. "Frankie was more than the leading musician," he said. ' 'He was the ultimate promoter." With his huge success in the music industry and his large number of hit tunes, it was not surprising that some people used popular song titles of his to express their sentiments about the polka legend. "My grandfather now goes to one last show," said McKinnie. "I hope he is not thirsty, for in heaven, there is no beer." Petkovsek speculated on the quote that another deceased polka legend, Johnny Pecon, may have used to greet Yankovic as he ' 'reached the polka gates of heaven." "Frankie, you're finally here after all these years and you deserve to be here  “just because," Petkovsek said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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America’s Polka King Frankie Yankovic