Music lovers came from nine states this weekend for Polka Days. The music and dancing that started Friday evening with the Wes Windholz band continues through Sunday at the Great Bend Convention Center.
Doors open at 9 a.m. Sunday, with a Polka Mass at 10 a.m. There will also be a parade of flags, with 69 flags representing the states and countries of participants over the years.
Three bands will take turns playing Sunday until 6 p.m.: The Country Dutchmen, Paul Kothe band, and Lazy Farmers.
LeRoy and Marilyn Degenhardt, Great Bend, helped organize the first Polka Days in 1987 with the Po.L.K. of A. (Polka Lovers of America Klub) Kansas Chapter, after more than a year of planning. Members built a 60-by-80-foot wooden dance floor which is still used. According to the club’s history, the first Polka Days were held at the Great Bend Expo, but with no air conditioning, the dancers demanded a cooler venue after a 100-degree day. Ever since the third year, Polka Days has been held at the Convention Center.
The first festival lasted two days and featured the Blue Notes, Paul Wendinger, Polka Nuts, Pete Polka-timers and the Dutchmasters. Polka Days expanded to a three-day event in its fifth year.
Members recall the year the Highland Hotel laid new carpet at the Convention Center and all the dancing caused the wooden dance floor to shift. And in 2005, a tornado came through the area and knocked out electricity in Great Bend, but the Harold Dorzweiler band played pool-side at the hotel by candlelight.
Couples like Mel and Pat Propost from Jefferson City, Mo., attend the Great Bend event year after year.
“We enjoy coming down here,” Mel said. “We both just really enjoy music.”
They also enjoy celebrating their German heritage. Pat wore a traditional dress called a dirndl and Mel wore lederhosen as they danced to polka music and modern songs performed by Kothe’s big band. Polkas, waltzes, fox trots and German shoddishes are all dances they’ve been doing together since they were married, Pat said.
The Degenhardts are also long-time dance partners who learned the steps as children, attending wedding dances and other polka events.