This year marks the 40th anniversary of Central Wisconsin Polka Club and their 25th anniversary of presenting The Saturday Morning Polka Variety Show on Merrill’s WJMT radio station. Those milestones will be celebrated with a dance at Rib River Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 2 from noon to 8 p.m. Brian and the Mississippi Valley Dutchmen will perform from 12-4 p.m. and The Music Connection will perform from 4-8 p.m.
A half-barrel of free beer will be tapped at 3 p.m. The $12 admission also includes food, door prizes and raffles.
The history of the Central Wisconsin Polka Club goes back to 1972, when a few couples met at the Union Hall in Merrill. The Merrill Polka Club was formed with Bud Schmitz as the first president. The club membership grew rapidly and they built dance floors and beer bars and put on the first polka festival in 1973. It was a two-day event held under two large tents at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Merrill. Financially, the club just broke even on the event. In order to generate more funds, the club rented out the dance floors and Eugene “Fuzz” Krueger gave “polka hop” lessons throughout the area.
As the membership spread throughout central Wisconsin, the club incorporated in 1974 as Central Wisconsin Polka Club, Inc. The adopted the theme “I Love to Polka” but ran into legal difficulty as the name was already registered, so they changed it to “We Love to Polka.
The club crowned a “Polka Queen” for the first several years, based on the sale of buttons.
When buildings were erected at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds, the original floors were sold and hardwood floors from a roller skating rink were purchased and built into two new floors. The polka festival had expanded to three days with 12 bands and drew fans from all areas of Wisconsin and other states. Over 100 campers with ample parking enjoyed the fest at the fairgrounds.
The club moved the “Central Wisconsin Polka Festival” to the Smith Center in Merrill in 2009 because it was less labor intensive. This year, the event was renamed “Central Wisconsin Music Festival” and relocated to the Rothschild Pavilion. The move to the Rothschild Pavilion has freed the club of the hassle and expense of toting their own dance floors to the event. The floors and the trailer they were hauled in have been sold.
The club currently has over 90 members, seven directors and four officers. They meet the first Tuesday of the month (except January and February) at Schmidt’s Bar & Ballroom, Wausau. The main focus of the club is sponsoring dances: Spring Dance, Annual Meeting/Banquet and Dance, Holiday Dance and others.
The club also sponsors the Saturday Morning Polka Variety Show on WJMT AM730 in Merrill from 6-9 a.m. every Saturday. Hosted by Lynn Krause, the show has always been live and never been missed in all 25 years. Fellow club members or other DJ’s – all volunteers – have filled in whenever Krause has been on vacation.
For more information, call Lynn at 715-675-2601.