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German polka band lives up to playful moniker

Staff writer

Glenn Goertz of Hillsboro was looking for lively music for the “tame German community of Hillsboro” when he came across some German polka music in Wichita 67 years ago.

He thought Hillsboro needed something like Marion’s Rube Band to liven its parades. He got an instrumental group together, and they marched in a 1949 parade wearing entertaining costumes.

Steve Hanneman of Peabody, leader of the current Snigglefritz Polka Band, said he was a young boy at the time and could not understand why the band was marching down the street in the opposite direction from the other parade entries.

Now, after playing in the band for more than 35 years, Hanneman understands. It’s all for fun.

The band performed Friday at Tabor’s Lifelong Learning session, entertaining the crowd with its lively music and dry jokes.

“We were concerned there might be some Mennonites here that might want to dance,” Hanneman announced jokingly. “We didn’t want any responsibility if someone got hurt.”

The band members included David Vogel of Hillsboro on trombone; Ralph Vogel of Inman on tuba; Hanneman on trumpet; Adolyn Bartels of Inman on first clarinet; and Suzanne Thole of Marion on second clarinet. David Vogel is the youngest at 26 and Ralph Vogel and Bartels are the oldest at 79.

Hanneman said he first played in the band in the 1970s as entertainment for a traditional Mennonite supper served at Tabor’s annual homecoming.

“They were looking for some German music, and Tabor band leader Lon Richards organized the band,” he said. “That’s how polka got infested in this Mennonite area.”

Richards, who now resides at Parkside Homes, led the band until a year ago.

“I had a problem with Parkinson’s, and I just couldn’t keep it up anymore,” he said, “but I tried to keep the band together.”

Richards said the name he gave to the band came from an incident in which his father called his 8-year-old son, Brad, a Snigglefritz, an affectionate term for a playful or ornery kid.

The polka music follows the Oktoberfest tradition established in Germany in 1810. The music is written specifically for five instruments and is compiled in five small booklets specific to each instrument.

The uniforms the band wears feature elaborate fancy suspenders imported from Germany along with white shirts and red vests trimmed in black.

“We don’t wear lederhosen, the short black pants,” Hanneman noted.

He said the band doesn’t need to practice because the music is “in the heart,” but when young David Vogel joined, they did have a practice session to acquaint him with the music.

The band has provided entertainment at the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair, historic festivals at Lindsborg, and Kansas Sampler Festival, to name a few. The band rode two years on a Hillsboro promotional float in the Wichita Sundowner Festival.

Thole said she was asked by Richards to join the band five years ago. She was a schoolmate of Bartels at Bethany College, Lindsborg.

“I hadn’t played in years, and this just keeps me going and helps out the community,” she said.

David Vogel said he isn’t sure how long the band can keep going.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Last modified May 12, 2016

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