HUMBOLDT – You can’t have a proper Polka Fest without a bit of royalty to liven up the action on the dance floors.
Gene Hendrickson, of Spring Park, Minnesota, and Mattie Spiess, of Medelia, Minnesota, took care of that at the 26th annual Midwest Polka Fest on the Humboldt County Fairgrounds.
The two are the official Polka King and Queen of the Polka Club of America.
Unlike real royalty, the pair were elected.
“We ran for it,” Hendrickson said.
They will serve a one-year term, maybe.
“Unless they can’t get someone to take it,” he said.
Their main job is to promote ballroom and polka dancing, the Polka Club of America, and raise awareness that there are fewer and fewer places for polka fans to, well, polka.
“We’re losing our ballrooms,” Spiess said. “We’re trying to keep them. In the last several decades, about 50 percent of them have gone defunct.”
Hendrickson is a late polka bloomer. He’s been dancing for about six years.
Spiess has been at it a bit longer.
“All my life,” she said. “Since I was about 6 years old.”
The two friends take great pride in their dance skills. They’ve placed second and third in a recent competition.
Dick and Jean Weaver, of Greeley, Colorado, were gracefully making their way around the dance floor Saturday, enjoying the Polka Fest they found after driving all the way.
“We’ve never been here in Iowa before,” she said. “But we do travel all over.”
The couple has been doing polkas and waltzes for 30 years.
“But we’ve been together for 61 years.” she said.
Rollie Jensen, of Humboldt, grew up on a farm in South Dakota hearing polka.
“I grew up on a polka farm,” he said.
The retired Pocahontas High School band director plays drums with Karl and the Country Dutchmen. He’s been keeping the beat for about 10 years with the group.
Jensen offered up his own opinion of what makes for happy polka, besides beer.
“It’s the drummer,” he joked.
Polka music is not the sort of music one would select for a sad occasion.
“It’s happy music for happy people,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. You don’t see any sad people here.”
It can also bring back happy memories, like it did for Harlan and Carol Marx, of Clinton.
“That’s where we met,” she said. “At a dance. It was Wayne King and his big band. He was good.”
He remembered something else, besides meeting his future bride.
“I had a ’51 Ford,” he said. “I was 14 and I drove myself to the dance.”
Molly Hall, of Badger, got some dancing lessons at the Polka Fest from Alvin Borofka, of Plymouth, Minnesota.
“I’m teaching her, but I didn’t have to teach her much,” he said. “She’s a natural born polkateer.”
Hall, who brought along her grandmother to enjoy the music, was surprised to find herself on the dance floor.
“I was a little surprised to be asked,” she said. “He’s a perfect gentleman, yes, he is.”
While it was her first polka experience, odds are, she’ll be back.
“I think I will,” she said.
The music and dancing continue today from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is $15 per person. Nine bands are scheduled to play through the day. There is also a Polka Mass today at 10 a.m.