Five Nebraska musicians were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame during the eighteenth annual ceremony and accordion jamboree held at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan, on Jan. 21, 2017. 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 Alan Brunkow, Western; Leonard Lisec, Dorchester; and Dean Fornoff, Springfield.
Honored posthumously were Milo Brchan, Lincoln; and Anton Kvasnicka, Aberdeen, SD.
All honorees are of Czech descent and have made significant contributions in preserving Czech musical traditions in Nebraska and the Midwest throughout their lives.
Alan Brunkow grew up in a family that loved Czech music. As a little child, he was exposed to many polkas and waltzes when he attended dances with his parents. He took piano lessons for a few years, and then chose the tuba as his instrument for the school band. Brunkow was a good tuba player and could play both by ear and by music.
While in high school, he was asked to fill in with various area bands as the bass player, but he played the majority of his dance jobs with The Accordionettes, a local group from Friend. His first job with them was on May 17, 1975, at an establishment called the 10th Inning in Fairbury. He and the band traveled to Geneva, Gilead, McCool Junction, Belvidere, Thayer, Crete, Wilber and many other communities playing for various venues, wedding and anniversary dances and other celebrations. Soon after Brunkow played with The Accordionettes, he played in his home town at the Milligan Legion for New Year’s Eve, Claremont and Angel Brunkow’s anniversary, and Gary Korbelik’s wedding. The Accordionettes played for the Morning Show on Channel 10/11 and numerous occasions on the Big Joe Polka Show. They made a recording at Rene Sound Studio in David City on July 7, 1977 and called the album A Streetfair of Music.
Brunkow’s brother, Jay on tuba, and his son, Jarrod on drums, also filled in with the band on several occasions.
Although Brunkow played mostly tuba with various bands, he had a desire to play the button accordion. His parents gave Brunkow an accordion as a high school graduation gift. Soon Brunkow was playing familiar tunes by ear. Brunkow continued to play dance jobs while attending Southeast Community College. Upon graduation he moved to Colorado to work at Hewlett-Packard Computer Co. where he met and married Debbie Kressler.
In 1982, the family moved to Milford, where Brunkow began teaching electronics at Southeast. The school acquired an antique patriot truck which they used to promote the college. A group of teachers and staff formed a band to ride on the truck, and Brunkow played accordion for this group. The group played at Milford Fun Days, various parades and retirement homes and for open house at the college. Daughter Alison played with the Patriot Band when she was in grade school
In 1994, the Brunkows moved to the family farm east of Milligan. Brunkow joined the Milligan Czech Brass Band and plays the Eb horn. Brunkow plays accordion and tuba with Franklin Hronik several times a year at an assisted living facility in Seward. Brunkow, his wife Deb, Larry and Shirley Skarka, Debbie and Marvin Polacek, and Galen Kuska played a polka service at Zion Lutheran Church in Sutton in the summer of 2015.
Music has been a big part of the Brunkow household. All four of the Brunkow children were in the school band and three of them played more than one instrument. The family played instruments and sang for Christmas parties and rest home activities. Son Jarrod played percussion with the Kansas State Band and also with the Army Guard Band in Kansas while in college.
As a 10-year-old boy, Leonard Lisec found a two-row Hohner accordion in the attic of his grandparents Ed and Mary Andelt. Lisec showed it to his grandmother who soon taught Lisec how to play “Green Meadow Waltz,” even though the bellows weren’t properly working.
Lisec’s parents soon purchased a different two-row Hohner from Frank Mager for $30 and Lisec began to take lessons from Richard Kliment, Sr.
Lisec’s passion for the accordion was instilled when he heard Vernon Belik playing accordion with the Math Sladky KLMS Band. Lisec watched Belik to learn all the fingerings.
During high school and later after serving in the Navy, Lisec played his accordion at many gatherings. Vic and Rose Stitch, friends of Lisec, would sing and harmonize and helped Lisec memorize songs correctly.
Lisec played 1st trumpet in the Crete High School Band under the direction of Lumir Havlicek. He played solos and taps for different occasions.
Lisec played at many venues, wedding dances, funerals, and parties. Accompanying Lisec was his son Darrell Lisec on bass and the late Albert Luzum and Joe Hojer on drums.
Lisec said, “Playing accordion took me to places I would have never seen. I made some of the closest friends through music. If I could do it all over again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Lisec and his wife Darlene have two children, Darrell and Debra Lisec Jurena.
Dean Fornoff grew up near Offutt Air Force Base and attended Platteview High School. Fornoff’s first engagement was at the Officers Club when he sat in drumming at the age of nine with his Uncle Elmer Helwig. His next job took him to Columbus to play a twelve-hour job for $8.
Fornoff took percussion lessons through elementary and high school and in April 1961 he was drumming for the Double B Polka Band with Benny Wolberg, Bob Ulip, Terry Jaros and Kenny Keisinger. In 1963 he went on to play with the Little Orphans. Fornoff was percussionist for the Jay Kay Orchestra from 1966 to 1968. He worked with Frank Hazuka’s band from 1968 -1970 and next, the Don Hamsa Orchestra. He spent nine years playing with the Ambassadors. The group included Ray Dusatko, Ron Nadherny and Don Hamsa.
In September 1973 Fornoff played with Fred Carner, a backup group for Myron Floren at Omaha’s Peony Park for two days. Fornoff also played with the Ron Nadherny Polka Band during this time period.
In 1983 Fornoff worked with a country music group, Backtrack. Backtrack was the opening act at Civic Auditorium for performers like Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Milsap, and Merle Haggard.
Fornoff has served as drummer for a wide variety of Nebraska polka bands: Eddie Janak, Jeff Janda, Omaha Czech Brass Band, Wendingers, Old Tyme German Band, Kenny Shuda, Czechlanders, Vern Luddington, Bored of Directors, Dean Hansen, Allen Valish, Six Fat Dutchmen, Elmer Scheid, Adolph Nemetz, Polka Kings, Frank Kostka and the Boys, Frankie Remar, Barry Boyce, Bob Blecha, Charles Svagera, Greg Trojan, Lonnie Pitz, Nebraska Czech Brass Band, and the Kenny Janak Orchestra.
Fornoff has also been a percussionist for a variety of modern bands: Dick Wickman, Dennis Wesley, Greg Spevak, Pat Mitchell, Del Haman Combo, Jimmy B., Wayne McDermott, Lambert Bartak, Leo Lonnie and Street Car Railway Jazz Band.
Fornoff has recorded with eleven Nebraska bands and has four VHS recordings with Nebraska bands.
Fornoff is a 1972 graduate of Peru State College. Fornoff and his wife Cindy have three children: Kyle Fornoff, Nicole Fornoff Jansen and Michaela Fornoff Bidrowsky.
Honored posthumously for their contributions to the preservation of Czech music were Anton Kvasnicka, Aberdeen S.D., and Milo Brchan, Lincoln.
Anton Joe Kvasnicka
Anton Joe Kvasnicka was born in Crete, on May 6, 1910. Music was part of the Kvasnicka family as Anton learned how to play the accordion and most of his seven sisters played piano by ear. Later Anton wrote most of his own music and played every instrument except the guitar.
Kvasnicka organized and led the group the Golden Harvest Orchestra which originated in 1928. His fellow musicians were from the Crete area: George Elias, trumpet; Arthur Bauer, trumpet; Steve Akasmit, clarinet; Otto Kubicek, baritone; Edward Sicner, bass; and Longin Prokop, drums. The Golden Harvest played for Czech plays and in many communities: Wilber, Crete Sokol Hall, Omaha Sokol Hall, Grand Island, Ravenna, Comstock, Sargent, the Ord Bohemian National Hall, Columbus and Tabor Hall, rural Dorchester. The group traveled to Cuba, Narka, Munden and Dodge City, Kansas, Oklahoma City, Texas and Winter, S.D. They played the very first battle dance in Milligan with Joe Sinkule’s Orchestra at Jicha Hall. The group also played for Radio WNAX, a very popular station in Yankton, SD at the time.
Before Kvasnicka was drafted in WW II, he ordered an accordion from the former Czechoslovakia. Clarinet Polka became his favorite number on the accordion.
Kvasnicka served in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific in the Solomon Islands and the Guadalcanal Campaign.
The Golden Harvest Band disorganized after the war, and Kvasnicka returned from the service and married Helen Kolb on July 31, 1945. Kvasnicka and his wife moved to Aberdeen, SD where he worked for the Milwaukee Road Railroad, presently the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Kvasnicka was also employed at St. Luke’s Hospital and Presentation College in Aberdeen.
Kvasnicka died November 1, 1980. He is survived by son Tony and wife Carol, son Eddie, daughter Nancy and step son Alfred Kolb. Family members recall Kvasnicka as a super nice guy, his rendition of the clarinet polka on his accordion, his love of Czech food and his horses.
Milo Brchan was born in rural Dorchester on December 16, 1921. Brchan began playing baritone horn with the junior high band in Dorchester. Later he attended Crete High School and joined the marching band. Following high school, Brchan entered the U.S. Army during WW II where he served in the Philippines, playing in the army band. Because the army band had no trombone players, Brchan volunteered to learn to play the trombone in order to give the band a more balanced sound.
After the war Brchan returned home and moved to Lincoln in the early 1950’s. In 1951 Brchan married Helen Mares. To this union, one child, son Larry was born.
Brchan taught himself how to play saxophone and clarinet. The tenor saxophone became Brchan’s major instrument and he played sax with numerous bands. Brchan played with Val Rustin, U-Neta Orchestra, Hank Zahourek and the Melody Masters, OK Jones Band, Fay Hitchins and the Swing Crew, and the Lou Arnold Orchestra. Brchan continued playing into his late eighties with the Lincoln Downtown Senior Center Band.
Brchan’s wife Helen accompanied him on many of his Saturday night dance jobs leaving son Larry to stay with his grandparents. Larry Brchan said, “I spent many Saturday nights in the 1960’s at my grandparents listening to the Lawrence Welk Show and Jackie Gleason on television.”
Brchan and son Larry played together with Fay Hitchens, the elder Brchan on sax and the younger one on drums. Brchan also played with his grandson Jason Brchan at the talent contest during Wilber Czech Days. Grandfather and grandson received a trophy for their saxophone duet.
Brchan died October 23, 2012. Larry Brchan said, “Music was my dad’s life. He had other hobbies like fishing and gardening, but one word could sum up his life, music.” Brchan is survived by son Larry and wife Rodene and two grandchildren Jason and Jessica Brchan McCarthy.
About the Musicians Hall of Fame
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 the third Saturday of January at Ron’s Tavern in Milligan. A permanent plaque featuring the engraved names of the inductees is located at Ron’s.
Contact committee members Delores Becwar, Crete, 402-366-5078; Randy Korbelik, Lincoln, 402-416-1300; Debra Polacek, Harvard, 402-772-3451, or Sue Placek, Swanton, 402-641-0669 to nominate musicians for the 2018 Musicians Hall of Fame inductions. Selections are made in the fall.