Math Sladky

My Dad bought me a piano accordion in Fremont on which I started playing in the 1940’s.  I had to take a bus once a week from Wahoo to Fremont for lessons.  I didn’t take very many lessons because of seasonal work.  When I did have the time to go again, I lost interest in playing accordion.  I really always wanted to play
the drums.  I remember whenever my folks went to a dance, they didn’t have to worry about me.  I could always be found on the stage near the drummer.

My aunt from Omaha found a bass drum that was all metal, with a foot pedal.  She got a snare drum from the dime store and gave it to me for my birthday.  The thing I will never forget is that the bass drum had “Maxwell House Coffee” printed on it.

I played along with polka music on the radio every day at 6:15 from WNAX, Yankton, South Dakota.  Finally, Dad got me a cheap set of drums that had real skins like the real thing. I took them to parties, CYO meetings, etc., and played with accordion players and some other kids who played other instruments.  As time went on, I wanted to play in a band.  No one needed me at the time so I decided I would start a band by myself.  I don’t know how I got enough money together but I bought music and some old music stands.  I looked for bookings and found one here and there that would pay me as much as $21.00 for an eight piece band.

Little by little we improved and became interested in playing on the radio.  That was the thing for bands those days.  I found out that the Blue Jackets, run by Gene Benes and Val Hruska were giving up their polka band as well as their spot on radio KLMS in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I filled their place and from then on things got better and better.

I had good men approach me to play because we were on the radio. This resulted in playing for more dances.  I had the radio show on Sundays live for over seven years, rain or shine, sleet or snow, and we always made it.  Some of the time we came home late from a job and had to be back in Lincoln from Wahoo by noon to start playing at 12:15.  Soon there were more sponsors and we ended up being on the radio seven days a week, 45 minutes on week days and one hour and 15 minutes on Sundays.  Weekdays it was recorded but live on Sundays.  We started out with a Ford station wagon and a trailer but with fast depreciation, we decided to get a bus.  I found an old 21-passenger one in Omaha.  I had to pull it home to put the engine in it from a truck.  We used this bus many years until someone took the cotter key out of a front wheel nut and we lost the wheel.  Needless to say, the bus was wrecked. We then got a four seated car we called the “weiny car,” and carried our gear in the last seat, the trunk and on a top rack.

I decided to get out of the band business in 1959 because we averaged over 300 jobs a year.  Our peak years were 1955-1956.  I got called into the military service in 1951 and had to stay for a year.  When I got back and jobbed around a little, many people encouraged me to start my own band again.  This second time I started with a three piece group (accordion, tuba and drums).  Little by little I added a trombone, then a trumpet.  For the bigger places that want a six piece band, I use a banjo.  That is what my band consists of today. When I started, my family and I lived on a farm southeast of Wahoo, Nebraska. In 1956 we moved to a farm north of Valparaiso, Nebraska.  After coming back from the service in 1962, we lived in Ashland and then moved to Waverly, our present address.

I am a licensed helicopter and airplane pilot and licensed mechanic since leaving the farm.  I don’t fly solo anymore as it is too expensive.  I presently work for the Nebraska State Patrol.  We have played for nearly all the festivals around at least once:

  • Wilber Czech Days, Wilber, NE
  • Polka Days, Sioux City, lA
  • Dwight Czech Days, Dwight, NE
  • Polka Days, Norfolk, NE
  • Pla-Mor Czech Days, Lincoln, NE
  • Kolache Days, Verdigre, NE
  • Czech Days, Norman, WI
  • Polka Days, Wahoo, NE
  • Gibbon Polka Days, Gibbon, NE
  • Neb. Polka Days, Peony Park, Omaha
  • Polka Days, Sokol Auditorium
  • Omaha Durant Polka Days, Durant, IA
  • Labor Day Polka Day, Swisher, IA
  • Labor Day Polka Day, Wagner, SD
  • Czech Days, Tabor, SD
  • Central Kansas Polka Days, Wichita, KS
  • Czech Days, Wilson, KS
  • Winter Polka Days, Bel-Rae Ballroom, Moundsview, MN
  • Mini-Polka Days, Milligan, NE
  • Czech Festival, Gateway, Lincoln, NE
  • Octoberfest, Norman, WI
  • Czech Day, Cuba KS

We play primarily Czech polka and waltz music with Czech vocals. We do play some modern music for those who want a variety.  I usually do all the singing with our band in Czech, and some in English.  We have played in all the surrounding states: South Dakota, Minnesota,Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Oklahoma, lowa and of course all over the state of Nebraska. We have played in virtually every place that can have dances and then for some parties and concerts. We have a mixed audience sometimes but usually it is largely Czech or German.

We made two records with the first KLMS Polka Band which were on 78 rpm only in those days.  With the present band we are on eight LP albums with a new one.

I am married to Geraldine Meduna.  We have one son and one daughter.  Our son is married and has three daughters.  Our daughter is married and has one son. My wife came from the farm also, north of Valparaiso.  Our son lives in Waverly and works there at Brownie Manufacturing.  Our daughter lives in Bruno and they are farmers. My mother is still living in Wahoo. I have three brothers and one sister all married with their own families.  I was born in Wahoo on September 12, 1930.  I helped organize the chapter of Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln, along with Mr. and Mrs. Jake Hamsa and Dorothy Stepan.

Source: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony