BGSU University Libraries

Polka musicians celebrate the music’s home at BGSU

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The man who would be Polka King came to visit Bowling Green last week. Jan Lewan, whose life story inspired the Jack Black Netflix film “The Polka King,” was part of a celebration of Polish American polka last Sunday (Dec. 9, 2018) at Bowling Green State University.  The event wasn’t just a celebration of the music.  It celebrated the music’s growing presence in the BGSU’s Music Library. Alumnus Steve Harris  donated the library of the Vitak-Elsnic company to BGSU. From the late 19th century through the 1970s, the company was the leading publisher of polka music. Now BGSU has arguably the leading collection of polka scores.  Joe Oberaitis shares some of his polka story at BGSU Not only was Harris on hand, but so was his brother Todd. They brought their horns, Steve, valve trombone, and Todd, a vintage 100-year-old silver cornet. The brothers had a band together, but it dissolved after the death of their brother Kent. They were just part of a crew of musicians who joined the headliner Alex Meixner and his band on stage in the student union ballroom. They presented a living history lesson in polka. Meixner’s polka roots go back three generations. Joe Oberaitis, who was a guest on accordion and vocals, is a historian of the music with a large collection of recordings. Meixner, who sings and plays accordion and trumpet,  has also donated music to BGSU. Steve Harris (right) and his brother Todd (third from right) join Alex Meixner (second from right) and his band. These donations of material came with monetary donations to help pay for the processing of the music. That’s crucial, said Library Dean Sara Bushong. The library is seeking more donations to the Polka Preservation Fund to help maintain the collection. Then there was Lewan, the Polish immigrant whose drive to be an American success story landed him in prison. He was convicted of conducting a Ponzi scheme, and bilking his large fan base. In remarks at the show, he blamed people who worked for him for free and then turned against him. He blamed his ignorance of American laws. And bad fortune. There was the collapse of financial markets after 9/11….


Polka runs in the veins of BGSU guest Alex Meixner

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Though Alex Meixner has degrees in jazz and classical trumpet performance from Ithaca College and Penn State, accordion is the instrument that’s closest to his heart and polka is the music he’s devoted to performing.  Meixner will visit Bowling Green State University Sunday, Dec. 9, for A Celebration of Polish-American Polka, from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom in Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Tickets are  $25 for dinner and music and $10 for BGSU students. The university libraries has what may be the largest collection of polka sheet music in the world, Meixner said. That’s thanks to BGSU grad Steve Harris who two years ago donated the library of the Vitak-Elsnic company to the library. Meixner is adding to the stash with a donation of his library. Meixner, who turns 42 the day before the BGSU event, can trace his ties to polka back three generations. His love of music started early. Growing up in the Austrian enclave of Copley, Pennsylvania, he was surrounded by ethnic sounds. His father, who was born in the US but taken care of by his grandparents, didn’t speak English until he was 5. The Austrians were just one of several ethnic groups from central and Eastern Europe to populate the area, and each had its particular twist on polka music. While Meixner was surrounded by music he was never pushed to play. Not that his parents could have stopped him. “I was never forced to do this,” he said in a recent telephone interview.  “I’d drum on anything, from the kitchen table or myself. I was just following in my father’s footsteps and my grandfather’s as well. It resonates with me,” he said. “I’ve been really blessed to have had the opportunity to study and perform in so many different contexts.  There’s just something about that 2/4 beat of the polka that created its own heartbeat for me.” At 3, he started piano lessons, before moving to accordion. By the time he was 6 he was on stage, and hasn’t left since. A track he recorded with his father was included on a Grammy-winning album. He collaborated with Jack Black on the soundtrack for the movie “The Polka…


Pop culture scholar recalls when comics were considered the scourge of the nation’s youth

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Banning books never seems to go out of style. To make that point, before Charles Coletta started his talk “The Seduction of the Innocent: The Anti-Comic Book Crusade of the 1950s and Beyond” he listed entertainments his students in Popular Culture classes have been forbidden to read or watch. Those include Harry Potter, “South Park,” “The Simpsons,” and  “Sponge Bob Squarepants,” a recent addition. Then he quizzed his audience in Jerome Library. “The A-Team” was a surprise, but “Family Guy” and “Bevis and Butthead” were staples of the do-not-watch list. Recently the reprinting of a classic comic story   “The Monster Society of Evil,” which hasn’t been reprinted in 30 years, was canceled because some of the characterization are racist, including depictions of Japanese from World War II and stereotypes of African-Americans that are “horrible,” Coletta said. And when just over a year ago the United Nations tried to name Wonder Woman as its fictional good will ambassador, there was an outcry over her skimpy outfits and that the superhero was not a good role model for women. Those complaints echo what was said about her 70 years ago. Because banning stuff never goes out of style, every year the Friends of University Libraries hosts an event to mark Banned Books Week.  Coletta’s focus on Thursday was on a crusade led by psychiatrist  Wertham against comics for all manner of offenses, particularly promoting violence. Superheroes, he said, was fascist role models who promote the idea that problems were solved with superior strength and violence. “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry,” he once stated.  Wertham also complained about unrealistic body images projected by female and male characters, racism, and embedded sexual messages. Wonder Woman, he claimed, was into bondage — a claim that proved not so outlandish when it learned that her creator William Moulton Marston was as well. But Wertham also said that her strength and independence, and hanging out with Amazons indicated she was a lesbian. And Batman and Robin’s relationship, he said, was “like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” He also said that comics were harming youngsters’ reading skills.   Wertham had a…


Artist gets to the heart of Jerome Library with sculpture

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News In celebrating the largest piece of art on the Bowling Green State University campus, Jerome Library welcomed a new piece to its collection. The wood, Plexiglas, and LED artwork by Vince Koloski pays tribute to the towering murals that decorate the east and west facing walls of Jerome Library. As with the murals, though, what’s inside the new work is what’s important, Koloski said. From the interior unfold five panels with phrases that praise libraries and books. “It’s a nice building,” Koloski said, “but what’s important is what’s in the building, the knowledge, the content.” That’s what those panels represent. The quotations were collected by the other important element in his view, the librarians. Those librarians, retired and active staff, together with the campus and Bowling Green community gathered Friday afternoon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Jerome Library. Library Dean Sara Bushong said this was 50 years to the day that the ceremonies marking the dedication of the library in 1967 began. The formal dedication was held the next day on Nov. 4. In her talk on the history of the Donald Drumm murals, Librarian Amy Fry noted that the building was not intended to have the murals. But BGSU President William T. Jerome was “keenly interested in beautifying the campus.” To that end, Fry said, he invited Donald Drumm to serve as an artist in residence. His first project was creating a cast aluminum sculpture for the lobby of the administration building. The original design for the university library did not have any decoration on it, so Jerome asked Drumm to design murals for the two faces. He sandblasted those onto the walls and put in stainless steel pins that protruded three inches from the face. The play of shadow and light was supposed to bring the design to life. But, Fry said, Jerome and Drumm were disappointed with the subdued effect. So some areas of the mural were painted brown, and the artistic landmark visible from I-75 took final shape. The work was done over the summer of 1966 and when students returned their reactions, Fry said, ranged from “fantastic” to “grotesque” and “inappropriate,” or “better than a…