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Friends, fans turn out to honor Polka Joe on his 50th anniversary

BARNESVILLE – The celebration of Polka Joe Manjack’s 50th anniversary on the radio airwaves hit a snag, when one of the bands scheduled to play had their bus break down.

But Manjack’s loyal fans would not let the setback prevent Manjack celebrating his anniversary Sunday at the Lakeside Ballroom.

When the bus carrying the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra broke down off the Montage exit of Interstate 81 near Scranton, one of his faithful fans – McAdoo Fire Chief Bob Leshko Jr. – quickly put on his fire chief’s hat and rescued the band.

“I had my Suburban (vehicle) here, so I went back and got my command car, and we went to get them,” Leshko said.

When you talk to Leshko, you find out why he was so anxious to help Manjack with his big day.

“Every Sunday, my dad (the late Bob Leshko Sr., McAdoo’s former fire chief) would listen to Polka Joe while we were eating Sunday dinner,” Leshko remembered. “That’s the way I grew up. It was a family tradition.”

It wasn’t just the Leshko family who were fans of Polka Joe.

“He brings a lot of goodwill to people,” said Hazleton Fire Chief Donald Leshko, Bob’s younger brother. “He brings polka cheer to so many people, You can see it by all the people who are here.”

The day began with Polka Joe doing his show live from the ballroom. Then the Pennsylvania Villagers took the stage. They ended up staying past their appointed time to allow Sturr and his band to get there and get set up.

“I was thinking as I was driving here,” said fellow lifetime broadcaster Joe Krushinsky, “You will never see anything like this again – breaking into radio and then being on the air for 50 years.”

Manjack’s interest in radio began when the original owner of 105,5, then called WSVB, invited then-10 year-old Joe to see the studio a block away from his home in Tamaqua’s Dutch Hill section.

Then he was hooked.

At 15, he obtained his Third Class Radiotelephone license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – which enabled him to go on the air – and started DJing in the afternoons after school and on weekends as JJ Michaels.

In 1974, the station needed someone to jock a hour of country music on Saturdays and an hour of polka music on Sundays.

The polka show expanded, and lasted through four more owners and three sets of call letter changes. Manjack subsequently became a radio engineer, installing new equipment and enabling 105.5 to move from Dutch Hill to the WLSH building along Route 209 in Nesquehoning in 1990.

Chris Crumbliss, co-owner and chief engineer of Magic 105.5 WMGH and AM 1410, WLSH, said even Sturr’s bus breaking down didn’t interrupt the mood of the afternoon.

“Despite any challenges, we still made today happen,” Crumbliss said. “It’s not about the event, but about the music that has meant so much to this area.”

Ann Marie Calabrese, Magic 105.5’s Saturday night “80’s Guru,” has worked at the station for 34 of Manjack’s 50 years.

“I’m overwhelmed with the amount of support for our Polka Joe, who has touched more lives than he will ever know,” she said.

State Rep. Tim Twaardzik (R-123), said, “I’m here to celebrate 50 years of the polka music dynasty of Polka Joe.”

Musicians have even been inspired to write songs about and for Polka Joe.

The Pennsylvania Villagers, one of the bands that performed Sunday, wrote and performed “DJ Polka Joe,” and the Feizziwig Express did “Our One and Only Polka Joe.”

Brian Legutko, a member of the local band “Toolshed Jack,” wrote a song entitled “Don’t Spoil-O the Recipe for My Boil-O.”

“Joe called me and said he wanted the song for his show,” Legutko said.

Keith Heffner wrote a song called “Boy-O Boy-O Boil-O” after being introduced to polka music by a former Hazleton area resident, Tommy Kusek.

“Joe was so kind to play the song on his show,” Heffner said, “Tommy was in a hospital bed, and he woke up just in time to hear the song.”

Frank “Blazer” Blozovsky wrote “The Halupki Polka.”

“Joe plays it on his show every week,” Blozovsky said.’

Of course, the food served Sunday was the traditional halupki, halushkie, pierogies and bundutkie, which is a Lithuanian pork meatball. The food was served by Rolling Mac-a-Roll of Ashland.

Polka Joe’s accomplishments were recognized by proclamations from the U.S. Congress, Pennsylvania Senate, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Schuylkill County Commissioners, the Carbon County Commissioners, the boroughs of Tamaqua and Lansford, and the Lansford Historical Society.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Polka Joe said of Sunday’s turnout. “I expected maybe 200 people. But there are people here from all over – Arizona, New Jersey.”

By the way Sunday’s event did not mark the end of Manjack’s career.

“I intend to keep going,” he said.

A cake marks 50 years of Polka Joe Manjack being on the radio. JIM DINO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
This is a vest made for Polka Joe. This type of vest is commonly worn by people who polka dance regularly.
Joe Manjack is all smiles as the guest of honor at his celebration Sunday in the Lakeside Ballroom.