A rollicking good time was had by members of the Sunflower Polka Club Sunday, June 3, at the Great Bend Columbus Club. Around 150 people attended the dance marking the 31-year anniversary of the club, according to Wayne “Buzz” Banks and his wife, Betty Banks, Great Bend.
“It was really a great big bunch of fun loving people from all over,” Betty said. Recent knee surgery kept Betty from participating in the dance, but she enjoyed watching. The group included many local dancers, but also members from all over the state and some visitors from Colorado.
Hanging in there
The Bankses are founding members of the club which began when five couples got together at the Great Bend Elks Lodge and the idea of a polka club was born. A small collection was taken up amongst the couples, and invitations were mailed out to friends and acquaintances, urging them to come to a meeting so they could gauge interest. When around 90 people attended the second meeting, the group elected officers and began making plans. Buzz was elected president of the club, and he and Betty have been supporters ever since.
As the size of the club grew, the membership divided into four state clubs, Buzz said. Sunflower Polka Club is the sole surviving club of the original four.
‘Younger members joining’
Today, Jane Friess, Salina, leads the club, and is responsible for organizing the dances and putting together the printed newsletter mailed to members six times a year. The club continues to thrive with its old-school ways, proving that friendliness and fun still trump the digital world.
“We are the only polka club in Kansas, with a far-flung membership of 400,” Friess said. “And we’re starting to get younger members now, which is exciting.”
Each newsletter includes information about independent dances at locations around the state like Hill City and Salina, as well as club-sponsored dances held in different locations on the first Sunday of each month. For those who are rusty or need to learn how to polka, dance lessons are available an hour before some of the dances are scheduled to begin. Those dances are noted in the newsletter, Friess said. Membership is $10 a year, and Friess is happy to provide information over the phone at 785-819-2246.
The club throws two parties a year that also include a meal, one marking their anniversary in June and one for Christmas. With the recent closure of the Elks Lodge in Great Bend, the club reached out to the Great Bend Knights of Columbus for its anniversary dance.
“Everybody was impressed with the hall and the food,” Friess said. Knights members cooked the meal. “It was a great time.”
June and July this year offer two club dances each, she said. Sunday, June 10, the Hot Shots are the featured band, playing at the Russell VFW hall. Then, at St. Michaels Catholic Church in LaCrosse, dances will be held July 8 and 22.
Family and fun
Marion Oborny, Hoisington, has been a member of the Sunflower Polka Club for about six years now. Polka has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. From a family of 17, his father and some of his uncles, in fact, played together in a polka band before Oborny was born. They disbanded in 1951, but he grew up hearing stories of how the band would travel distances to play live on different radio stations from Hays to southern Nebraska.
“For the members who attend regularly, it’s a lot like a big family,” he said.