Reader mail: polka, accordions, Vietnam, dinner

WATERBURY INN PHOTO

WATERBURY INN PHOTO

Readers, let’s empty the mailbag!

Fans of polka music sure seem passionate about this style of music.

Jim Lueneburg of Menasha says his dad worked six days a week as a barber, then played drums in a polka band at weddings, anniversary parties and other events. “I would go along with him when I was a junior in high school and help him haul his drums,” Jim recalls. “I was playing the trumpet in the high school band, but I also enjoyed polka music,” so he asked for a concertina and taught himself how to play it.

“Concertina Millie played for our wedding,” he adds. “At one point my Dad and I got on the stage – I played her concertina and my Dad played the drums.” Now Jim is 70 years old and still playing the instrument, especially during summer happy hours at the neighborhood’s gazebo.

“Some very significant polka venues have closed” in recent years, writes Clyde Olson of Bonnie and Clyde’s Polka Palace, Markesan. “It’s a combination of things. Going the way of many small businesses. The economy. Dancers are getting older. Drinking laws.

“There is some effort to interest youngsters but not enough to keep a venue above ground. The places that survive have multiple sources of income to keep the bills paid.”

Clyde says sponsors are needed to ensure that polka events continue: “When business funds dry up, these events also take a hit.” His venue “is still doing OK” because it includes a bowling center and other kinds of music events, “but if you look at our dancers, 70-year-olds would usually be younger than most.”

Rebecca Jungwirth of the Altrusa Polkafest Committee writes to let us know about her charitable fundraiser, July 1-3 at Romy’s Nitingale in Black Creek. The event includes two Masses with polka music and is in its 24th year; more details will be posted at appleton.altrusa.org.

Rebecca also reported that the longtime Ellsworth Polka Fest is history, which an event organizer confirmed. The 2015 event was the community’s 40th and last.

World of Accordions museum, Superior, also has its fans.

“I am an accordion student and a volunteer at the museum,” says Marian Syrjamaki-Kuchta of Duluth, Minn. “I am always interested in bringing in as many people as possible.”

I put John Wardour of Verona in touch with the museum’s founder and curator, Helmi Harrington, after he inquired about how to help an elderly friend in need of a lighter accordion. “The fact that you care about your friend’s musical happiness is admirable,” she told him, before making trade-in recommendations based on instruments in her vast inventory.

Articles about Vietnam as a tourist attraction drew attention, too.

China Beach makes me very reflective of how fortunate I have been and how grateful I am for each and every day,” writes Charles Leicht of Pleasant Prairie, a Vietnam War veteran.

He challenges the notion that a majority of Vietnamese are Buddhists. “The Vietnamese are of no religion,” he contends. “Atheistic but, in my opinion, not thoughtfully atheistic. The communists must be pleased.”

Charles says “the great tragedy of China Beach occurred at the end of the war,” when thousands of Vietnamese fled Danang “on every conceivable means that could float out into the South China Sea, fearing retribution from the victors. Those fleeing did so in anticipation that the American Navy would send ships to rescue them.

His disappointment is that “our government, in acceding to the reality that the war was coming quickly to an end, made no attempt to save the Vietnamese who expected and deserved our help. I served and loved my great nation but, for me, leaving those Vietnamese to die is a stain on our national soul.”

Chris Pillizzi of Pleasant Prairie shares an appreciation for judges who decided her daughter and son-in-law, Jackie and Tom Zernia, deserve a weekend getaway at Goldmoor Inn and Resort near Galena, Ill. “What an amazing, generous gift and respite,” Chris writes. “We are so aware of all the pain and struggles so many people face on a daily basis and are humbled continuously, knowing there are others whose needs and challenges are greater.”

The Zernias earned the getaway because of a succinct essay written by family friend Jane Harrington-Heide, who wrote to say that her writing success continues. She was a semi-finalist in an online humor essay contest recently.

Priscilla Thain of Madison sought medium-priced dinner restaurants within a walk of Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison.

I am a big fan of The Old Fashioned, 23 N. Pinckney St., but no reservations are taken and the wait can be quite long. I like this place because so many of the products come from rural areas of Wisconsin, and the menu is full of traditional comfort foods prepared well. theoldfashioned.com, 608-310-4545

Bassett Street Brunch Club, 444 W. Johnson St., is fun and popular, too. The Food Fight restaurant is not just for brunch. If the wait for seating is long, settle into a roomy lounge in the adjacent Hampton Inn. brunchclubmadison.com, 608-467-5051

Fresco, another Food Fight restaurant, is pricier but so convenient, above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. A bonus is the view of State Street activity and cityscapes. frescomadison.com, 608-663-7374

Phil Sklar of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum announces the unveiling of “the very first Sock Monkey bobblehead” at the recent Sock Monkey Madness Festival in Rockford, Ill. The 1,000 bobbleheads are individually numbered and include 150 randomly placed special edition versions. For more: bobbleheadhall.com.

Jane De Zee of Kenosha reminisces about her family’s station wagon trips to Delavan in the 1960s and 1970s. That’s when Highway 50 was a two-lane road but the excursions – with two brothers and five sisters – “are still fondly in our hearts.”

Last: Meet Juliet, an English bulldog who doubles as a greeter at the Waterbury Inn, Ephraim. “She brings joy to all who meet her,” writes Rose Marie Mastricola of Menominee, Mich., an owner of the business.

“Many guests ask for Juliet if she does not come out to say hello,” Rose Marie notes. “Although the Waterbury is not able to allow pets in rooms at this time, Juliet fills the void for all guests who need a pet fix while enjoying their stay.”

If you know of a pet who is a good ambassador for a business of interest to the average traveler, let me know. Type “minding the store” in the subject line.