Eight Nebraska musicians were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame during the fifteenth annual ceremony and accordion jamboree held at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan, on January 18, 2014. Throughout the afternoon musicians entertained a large audience with traditional Czech polkas and waltzes.
Those honored for their dedication to the preservation of Czech music were Dan Bruha, Elyria; Vern Belik, Prague; Don Horacek, Brainard; and Bob Stepanek, DuBois.
Honored posthumously were Frank Kostka, Omaha; Milo Palensky, Octavia; Greg Trojan, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Edward Vanek, Malmo.
All honorees are of Czech descent and have made significant contributions in preserving Czech musical traditions in Nebraska and the Midwest throughout their lives.
Dan Bruha learned how to play the accordion at a young age. Too little to strap the accordion on his shoulders, Dan would sit in the middle of his bed with the accordion in his lap so he wouldn’t drop it, and later he began playing accordion with his father Laddie E. Bruha. In addition to his accordion skills, Dan is also a drummer. Dan formed the Bruha Combo in 1983. He has played in many venues in Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Michigan and Ohio. The group has recorded several CD’s. The CD’s include Dan’s vocals in the Czech language. Dan spoke Czech at home with his parents before starting grade school. When Dan isn’t playing his button accordion, he is busy farming and ranching in the Ord area.
Eighty-nine year old Vern Belik has shared his talent of playing the button accordion with others for nearly seven decades. Belik learned how to play drums and saxophone in grade school, and later button accordion. Belik formed his first band in 1939 while in high school with the help of several other Prague students. During his junior year of high school, Belik played saxophone with V. R. Shimerka’s Silver Moon Orchestra. Belik earned $1.00 a night or 25 cents an hour. Belik continued to play with the Silvermoon Orchestra under the leadership of Jerry Havel and Albert Grebnick. Next Belik played for Math Sladky’s KLMS radio polka band. In 1970 Belik formed the Vern Belik trio. The group played their first gig at the Ponderosa in Weston, Nebraska. The trio was made up of Belik on the button accordion, Harold Thege on guitar, and Frank Vyhlidal on drums. In 1989 Belik became a regular player with Moostach Joe making appearances across the Midwest and Canada. On occasion, Belik played with other groups including the Adolph Nemetz Orchestra, Ernie Kucera Orchestra, Bud Comte Orchestra, and the Frank Kucera Orchestra. Belik was inducted into the South Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in 1995.
Don Horacek was in grade school when he acquired a trumpet from a family member, got a beginner’s instruction book, and started learning how to play it himself. In 1944 Horacek began playing with the Brainard High School Band. Upon graduation in 1948 Horacek became a member of the Brainard Municipal Band under the direction of Ben Docekal. In 1957 Horacek started playing an E flat upright tuba owned by the municipal band and next a double B flat sousaphone. He next started playing with the Emil Herms Band at area fish fries, the Seward City Band and with Math Sladky’s KLMS polka band. Horacek also played with Adolph Nemetz Orchestra from Prague. Horacek’s bass horn skills can also be heard with Leonard Havranek, Vern Belik, and Jim Mastny’s Polka Dudes, and Randy Korbelik’s Moonliters. Horacek has played with many groups: Ernie Kucera Orchestra, Jim Kucera, Czechlanders, Frank Hazuka, Hank’s Melody Masters, Al Grebnick, Svoboda’s Red Raven Band, Eddie Janak, Ernie Coufal, Dean Hansen, Leo Lonnie and St. Paul Village Band. Horacek was inducted into the South Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in November 2000.
Robert Stepanek played bass and string bass in high school. Stepanek played a tuba solo at his high school graduation in 1952. He entered the University of Nebraska –Lincoln and was a member of the marching band and the university orchestra. Stepanek joined the National Guard and played in the 43rd National Guard Army Band. Stepanek first began his polka career with Hank Zohourek and the Melody Masters. Next he played with Ladd Tricek of DuBois and Math Sladky. Stepanek traveled across the Midwest and Canada with Al Grebnick and Moostash Joe Spellerberg. In 1963 Stepanek became a charter member of Bob Blecha and the Bouncing Czechs. In 1991 Stepanek played with Blecha’s son, Greg Blecha in Greg’s trio and Goodtime Band. Stepanek has played with over thirty different groups. Some of the groups were Eddie Janak, Steve Stastny, Frank Kostka, Six Fat Dutchmen, Omaha Czech Brass Band, Duane Stehlik, Ron Nadherny, Charlie Dvorak, National FFA Band, Polka Allstars, Dennis Wesely, Blue Jackets, Eugene Benes, and Bobby Lane.
Frank Kostka was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1917. Kostka started playing accordion at the age of 10. When he turned 13, Kostka started his own combo and the group was made up of Kostka on accordion, a saxophone player and drummer. When he turned 17, Kostka was playing jobs in Omaha with two of his brothers, Charlie and George. The Kostka Brothers’ Band started in 1950. Members were Frank Kostka, piano and button accordions; Charlie Kostka, drums; George Kostka, bass and vocals; Jimmy Kostka, trumpet; Jimmy Hulibar, trumpet; Frances Menousek, sax and clarinet; and Tom Kunhart, tenor sax and clarinet. The group played together for 15 years. Next Kostka played accordion in Frankie Remar’s polka band for two years until Remar decided to disband his group. Kostka decided to put together his own group under the name the Frank Kostka Orchestra. Members were Kostka on accordion, Kostka’s son Frankie Joe, trumpet; George Havorka, trombone; Rudy Dvorak, bass; Bob Luksa, trombone, sax and clarinet; and Ernie Kucera, drums. Bob Zbylut was later hired to replace Kucera as Kucera became busy with his own band. The group became known as Frank Kostka and the Boys because Kostka liked to refer to the band members as “his boys.” Kostka and the Boys played throughout the Midwest and neighboring states. Kostka died at the age of 94 on September 27, 2012.
Milo Palensky attended grade school and high school in Prague, transferred to Schuyler High School and received his diploma. He served in the Army and was involved in the D-Day invasion of France. Upon returning home from the service, Palensky started drumming for the Silver Moon Orchestra. Palensky’s father had been the previous drummer for the group. When the band was sold to Jerry Havel, Palensky was part of the live weekly polka show broadcast every Sunday on radio station KHUB in Fremont. Palensky’s skill at keeping the beat was always in high demand. He played with Al Grebnick, Dennis Wesely, The Cracker Jacks, Allen Valish, The American Czech Brass Band and Vernon Belik. At one time Palensky had a family band with three of his sons. He was one of the original Cesky Kluci, several members of the American Czech Brass Band who did comedic skits between musical numbers. Palensky was inducted in the South Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame. Palensky died in 1989.
Greg Trojan, born in Omaha in 1953, grew up surrounded by relatives who played button accordions and other instruments. At the age of 6, Trojan was drumming to tunes played on the button accordion by his father. Soon his parents purchased a piano accordion and Trojan took lessons from Ray Dusatko. Trojan would play along to recordings by Ernie Kucera, Eddie Janak and other bands. When Trojan was 14, he started playing with Joe Benak’s Orchestra. In 1970, Trojan became the drummer for Frankie Remar’s band. At the age of 19 Trojan switched to the piano accordion and played with the Bored of Directors. Some of the members were Charlie Dvorak, Ron Nadherny and Don Hamsa. Trojan also began arranging music. One of his first charts was Briza Zelena for the Bored of Directors. The Basement 3 was created with Rudy Dvorak, Rich Janak and Trojan. The three musicians practiced in the basement of Dvorak’s house. Hence the name, The Basement 3. Other bands Trojan played with were Terry Kalina Trio, Sparta Orchestra, Eddie Janak, Dick Janak, Al Grebnick, Jim Bochnicek, Ernie Kucera, and Leo Lonnie. Trojan also played on six recordings with various bands. Trojan was inducted into the South Omaha Sokol Hall of Fame in 2007. He served in the U. S. Navy for 22 years and reached the rank of commander. During his years of service to his country, Trojan took every opportunity to return to Nebraska to play his beloved polka music.
Trojan was inducted into the South Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in 2007 He died on December 15, 2012, after a year and a half battle with cancer.
Edward Vanek was playing with his family’s polka band when he was 10 years old. Vanek played bass in the Vanek Family band and with the Malmo Community Band. Vanek played with numerous groups: Charlie Kucera, Ernie Kucera, Jerry Havel and Al Grebnick. Vanek was busy playing with bands most every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He played on the live polka music show on the KFGT radio station in Fremont. During the 60’s and 70’s Vanek formed the Polkateers. The group included Vanek, Jerald and Melvin Holtorf, Dennis Novak, and Leonard Odvody. Vanek not only played bass, but also the button accordion, baritone, drums and trumpet.
The Musicians Hall of Fame was created in 1999 to recognize the talents of the many local Czech-American musicians for their efforts in promoting and preserving the Czech heritage. The Musicians Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals who may not achieve regional or national recognition for their conscientious contributions to Czech music and culture. The annual announcement of inductees is made at a winter accordion jamboree held at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan. A permanent plaque featuring the engraved names of the inductees is located at Ron’s.