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Early History of the Polka Club of Iowa
by
Duane Pichelman
Founder of the Polka Club of Iowa

This article was written by Duane Pichelman some time before he passed away in 2006
   

    In 1975, the Polka Club of Iowa was organized as a result of three cancer research benefit dances.  At that time, I was a VP of the United States Polka Association (USPA) headquartered in Conn.  A lady in that organization had defeated cancer and encouraged every state to promote a cancer research benefit.  I looked for three places that would donate their hall, and found three bands that would perform for no charge. I asked Jim Wangemann to get a backup band together for me, and we played at all three dances.


    The first dance was January 12th, 1975 at the Vittoria Lodge south of Ankeny. The bands were, Malek's Fisherman, and my band.  There was a snow storm in the northern part of the state.  Bob Malek had to travel thru the storm to get there.  He got behind a snow plow, arrived a little late, and got a standing ovation when he came thru the door.  In spite of the weather, we had a full house.

    The next step was publicity.  I appealed to the local TV stations; and KCCI-TV agreed to help us.  Jim Wangemann and I taped a show on February 24th, 1975, which was aired Sunday, March 3rd on the Mary Brubaker Show.  This was an informative type talk show.

    The second dance was held at Eddie Webster's, in West Des Moines.  this was a motel and restaurant with a nice dance floor.  Again my band played, and Eddie Mathiason and his "Jolly Home Brewers" came from Harlan, IA to perform.

    I made a sign asking if anybody was interested in forming a "Polka Club" to write their name and address on a provided card.  This was how my survey was conducted at all three dances.  The people from the cancer society furnished at least one person to help sell tickets.

    The third and final dance was at the Slavic Center on the Des Moines south side.  My band was the only one to play this time.  Again the hall was filled.  Later, I presented a check for over $1100 to the cancer society for research.  Many thanks go to the bands and dance halls that donated their talent and halls.

    At last the time had come to get this group of polka music lovers together to get organized.  An invitation with a map to my home was mailed to all the names I had.  At last, we had the first meeting in my home on Sunday, May 18th, 1975; and all agreed to form the "Polka Club of Iowa".  Of the 22 people at that first meeting, some are deceased and some have moved away.  There may be about five of us left.

    My goal was to have 1,000 members within the first year.  Well, that took a little longer.  We peaked out with over 1100 members sometime later.

    On June 9th, 1975, a special meeting was held to adopt a constitution and by-laws.  On November 14th, 1976,  there was a meeting to form chapters.  The chapters did not have any boundary lines.  the chapters that were formed were:

Eastern - March 16, 1977
Central - April 23, 1977
Western - November 17,1977
Little Switzerland - January 29, 1978
Cedar Valley - May 7, 1978

Western and Little Switzerland dissolved later.  The remaining chapters are Central, Eastern and Cedar Valley.

    It is difficult to recruit new, young members; which is what keeps any club moving forward.  Apparently this is because polka music is not the most popular music in most parts of the country.  However, we do have many loyal members of our generation, and we promote polka dances to have a good time and enjoy the music we love.  Polka music will be here until the last couple stops dancing.

    The Polka Club was organized as an educational and social organization for the preservation and advancement of polka and related music.  Our goal was to encourage and pursue the study of polka music and related folklore.  the club supports and assists Iowa communities in charitable and civic projects.  the Polka Club entertains at the Iowa State Fair, ... , Amana Colonies, town celebrations, Veterans home, hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes.  In the past, they have performed at about 700 places in one year.

    When I was with the U.S.P.A., I paid several visits to Gov. Ray to get a proclamation naming January as Polka Month in Iowa.  this was done every year with Gov. Ray, and later with Gov. Branstadt.  I became friends with both men, resulting with a booking to perform at one of Gov. Ray's Inaugural.  In 1981, this was continued by the Polka Club.  Many years we met with the Governor to have a signing proclaiming January as Polka Month in Iowa.  After that we would gather at the Bavarian Haus for lunch and I would play a few tunes since my equipment was  there because I was booked there five nights a week.  Sorry to say, the current governor has been less cooperative.

    Our constitution states that we have a hall of fame.  President Sharon Neinkark facilitated the origin of the hall of fame, and it was established in 1982.  We had two categories with four people in each category.  We did not have a public place to display our hall of fame.  When my wife and I were in new Ulm, Minn. to have some repairs on my accordion, she saw a sign announcing the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame displayed in a restaurant.  We went there with the camera and took some pictures.  Then I got the idea that the Bavarian Haus would be a good place to display our hall of fame.  I spoke to Vince, the owner; and he agreed.  At the next meeting every one was in favor to have our hall of fame there.  A local group was appointed to meet with Vince to work out the details.  The Polka Hall of Fame had a home at the Bavarian Haus until it closed in May, 2000.  Now it's stored in my home; and we are searching for a new place to have it displayed.  In 1983, a Founder's Award was presented to Duane Pichelman.

    After we had the Hall of Fame established in the Bavarian Haus, we wanted to advertise the fact.  We decided to try to get our flyers in at rest stops and welcome centers.  I contacted the Iowa DOT and was referred to LuAnn Reiders at the Iowa Division of Tourism.  We had to send a copy of our brochure to be approved for content and size.  there were 21 locations.  We had several printed; and Noreen Steenbock, our state secretary, mailed copies when the centers requested a new supply.  This continued until the Bavarian Haus restaurant closed in 2000.

(Note: The Iowa Polka Music Hall of Fame is now located at the Duncan Community Hall in Duncan, Iowa)

    The first Iowa Polka Festival was held in Marshalltown in 1988.  For several years we have sponsored the Iowa Polka Fest on a Saturday in June at the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, IA.  We see a lot of people that are not members, but enjoy the music.  There are always two bands; and thru the years, a great variety of bands have appeared at the Iowa Polka Fest.

    It seems strange that in the 60's when I lived in Waverly, IA, I mentioned to a polka musician about forming a polka club and was advised to forget it, "because it would never work".  Therefore, it is interesting for me to note that the polka fest is in Waterloo and the Cedar Valley chapter has the most members.

    At one time we were so broke and lost money on a dance that we couldn't pay the band in full, and had to have various fund raising projects to raise the money to pay him.  We may still lose money on a dance occasionally, but we are in pretty good financial condition, and we continue to have polka dances, and have fun, which is important for our members.  Since we have some money on hand, we can keep going.  Our downfall will be the fact that not enough people agree to be officers.  When you are asked, please give it your careful consideration. We are only as strong as our leadership. - Duane Pichelmann
 

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