(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
A framed biography belonging to Josef Povolny, a member of the Michigan State Polka Music (MSPM) Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1972, was returned to MSPM Hall of Fame Secretary-Treasurer Joan Smolka (left) on Tuesday, Feb. 4 in Owosso after being lost for more than two decades. Mr. Povolny was inducted into the MSPM Hall of Fame posthumously in ’72, as one of six charter members. Mr. Povolny’s sons, Benny and Bernard, were also later inducted, in 1976 and 1984, respectively.
The framed biography was found by Fowlerville resident Chuck Firman during the summer of 1995, in the trunk of a 1979 Mercury Bobcat that was purchased from a salvage lot in Charlotte. Firman, a longtime auto mechanic, was in high school at the time and stumbled upon the framed biography while he and his father were preparing to work on the recently purchased vehicle.
Firman had not heard of the Michigan State Polka Music Hall of Fame or Mr. Povolny, but the document’s appearance piqued his interest.
“My dad and I were doing the initial inspection of the vehicle after we brought it home,” explained Firman. “We would routinely find things like coins in the seats of the cars we brought home, but when we opened the trunk on that ’79 Bobcat, I saw this award. My dad didn’t know what it was, but I thought it looked pretty official and might be important, so I took it out and saved it.
“Then, when I went away to college, I took the award with me and hung it on the wall in my dorm room. People always thought it was a strange thing to have hanging on my wall, but it was cool looking and interesting. After college I brought it back home with me, where it stayed in storage with everything else from college until last year.
“A little while ago, I was in the basement fixing my furnace when I stumbled upon the award again. I was waiting for my oil furnace to reset and started going through all my junk from college, and I got to thinking, whatever happened to this award? I searched online to see if I could find any of Mr. Povolny’s surviving family members, and that’s when I found an article by The Independent about the Michigan State Polka Music Hall of Fame.”
Firman then contacted The Independent and was put in touch with Ms. Smolka, who was excited to hear of Firman’s discovery.
Josef Povolny was born in 1873 in Podebrody, Bohemia (Austria), which became Czechoslovakia after World War I. He played in an army band, and after being discharged he enrolled in the Prague Conservatory of Music. After completing his musical education, Povolny traveled with bands in several countries in Europe before moving to Chicago in 1906 with his wife and daughter. The couple would have two sons after arriving in America.
Povolny taught his children to play and organized a number of bands, which later broke up and formed new bands. Josef Povolny and his children would team up to play together, as Povolny’s Band, which played parades, picnics, dances, concerts and other programs. Josef was a member of the Flint Symphony Orchestra, and he could play every instrument except the accordion and piano. He had over 65 years of playing experience before passing away in 1958 at the age of 85.
Povolny was inducted into the MSPM Hall of Fame as a member of the organization’s Owosso region. To date, 187 members from the Owosso region have been inducted, with Povolny being among the original six members. The other five regions of the MSPM Hall of Fame have combined to total 61 inductees.
Ms. Smolka was the wife of longtime MSPM Hall of Fame President John Smolka, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 91, and she has served as a MSPM Hall of Fame officer since 1976. John was involved in the creation of the MSPM Hall of Fame in 1972 and became an inductee himself in 1979. John would later be elected the organization’s president, a post he held until his passing.