Eight Nebraska musicians were recently inducted into the local Musicians Hall of Fame during the fourteenth annual ceremony and accordion jamboree held at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan, Nebraska, on January 19, 2013. Throughout the afternoon more than 25 musicians entertained a large audience with traditional Czech polkas and waltzes.
Those honored for their dedication to the preservation of Czech music were Greg Blecha, Pawnee City; Laddie Bruha, Ord; Larry Skarka, Grand Island; and Reynold Woita, Weston.
Honored posthumously were Robert Luksa, Omaha; Joe Prochaska, Abie; Frank Spale, Lincoln; and Ed Svoboda, Sr., Omaha. All honorees are of Czech descent and have made significant contributions in preserving Czech musical traditions in Nebraska and the Midwest throughout their lives.
Greg Blecha excelled in instrumental music while in high school playing the trumpet and baritone. As a sophomore in high school, he was selected for a collegiate band which played and toured in several European countries. He joined his father’s band, Bob Blecha and the Bouncing Czechs in 1978. Blecha soon learned to play the button accordion and in 2006 he started his own group The Goodtimers. Blecha often entertains at the Martin Luther Home in Beatrice. He has also played with the Moonlighters, the Karpisek Band, and the Happy Czechs.
Laddie Bruha followed in the footsteps of his father and older brother by playing the button accordion. Bruha played accordion in the Syl Boro’s band known as the Polka Gems in the 1960’s. He continued to do so until forming his own group, The Bruha Bohemian Band. Bruha joined Kenny Shuda’s Orchestra after 1980 and served as drummer for this group. In 1993, Bruha and his son Dan formed the Bruha Combo. Bruha can be heard on several recordings with the Shuda Orchestra and Bruha Combo.
Larry Skarka began trumpet and trombone lessons in elementary school. As a teenager, Skarka would practice while playing along to recordings of polka bands. In 1973 Skarka began playing with Frank Kucera and Emil Brdicko. He and several family members formed The Czechlander’s Orchestra in 1978. Skarka’s sons, Joe and Steve, joined The Czechlanders while they were still in grade school. Skarka hosted the early morning polka show on KMMJ Radio, Grand Island, and later at KNLV Radio in Ord.
Raynold Woita took button accordion lessons from his neighbor, Ted Simanek, as a young boy. Soon Woita was playing at family gatherings and other functions. In the 1980’s Woita joined the Czechlander’s. Woita and the group played throughout Nebraska and the Midwest. He formed the Ceski Kluci Trio with Randy Skarka and Joe Havlovic. Woita also played with a group of musicians, Bob Palensky, Terry Hynek, Galen Beck, Allen Moravec, Frank Siedlik and Sue Underwood. The group was known as Polkas R Us.
Robert Luksa began playing drums and accordion as a youngster. In his early teen years Luksa took a few saxophone lessons. From that time on, Luksa’s passion was music. He spent many hours teaching himself how to play the saxophone, clarinet, trombone, piano, guitar and drums. In high school Luksa was a member of the Polka Knights of Archbishop Ryan High School in Omaha. In 1965, the Polka Knights became known as Frankie Remar and The Polka Knights. Luksa and the group recorded several records. Later Luksa played with Frank Kostka and the Boys and various other bands. Luksa was posthumously inducted in to the Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in 2012.
Joe Prochaska learned to play the bass horn as a student at Abie, Nebraska and Schuyler High School in Schuyler. He was an accomplished horn player at an early age earning superiors on his solos for competition. Prochaska played in the Silver Moon Orchestra, his music instructor, V. R. Shimerka’s band. After serving in Korea, Prochaska returned to his family farm near Abie and began playing with Math Sladky. Prochaska played in the Ernie Kucera Orchestra for many years. Before Prochaska retired from playing, he played with the Dean Hansen Orchestra, Dean Hansen Trio, the Czechlanders, the American Czech Brass Band and Leo Lonnie Orchestra. He was inducted into the Omaha Sokol Hall of Fame in 1987.
Frank Spale learned to play the button accordion from his mother. Spale attended a “Bohemian School” in the summer months in Clarkson and learned the Czech language and songs. He accompanied his classmates on his accordion. Spale also learned how to play drums at Clarkson Public School. As a young man Spale was the drummer in the Beanie Kucera Band. Spale took time away from drumming to raise his family and later formed the Lincoln Czechmasters/Lincoln Swingmasters in the early 1980’s. Spale also sang with the Lincoln Capital City Czech Choraliers. In later years, Spale played with was Sue and the Blue River Czechs. Spale also enjoyed serenading to Joe’s and Josephine’s on March 17th for St. Joseph’s day, a Czech tradition.
Ed Svoboda, Sr. first began playing the mouth harp. Svoboda soon bought a piano accordion and started playing for audiences in 1937 in South Omaha. Svoboda formed The Red Raven Orchestra in 1942. He played piano accordion for many years until a machine accident severely damaged his fingers. Svoboda switched to the position of drummer in his band and the group continued. The Red Raven Orchestra traveled throughout the Midwest. Svoboda was inducted into the Omaha Sokol Polka Hall of Fame in 1974.
The Musicians Hall of Fame was created in 1999 to recognize the talents of Nebraska musicians for their time and efforts in promoting and preserving Czech heritage. The annual announcement of inductees is made at a winter accordion jamboree. A permanent plaque featuring the engraved names of the inductees is mounted in Ron’s Tavern in Milligan.
To nominate someone for 2014 Musicians Hall of Fame honors, contact committee members Sue Underwood, Wilber, 402-826-2948 , Debbie Polacek, Harvard, 402-772-3451, or Randy Korbelik, Lincoln, 402-416-1300 for more information. Selections are made each fall.