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Dancing tradition continues at Cloquet VFW

Lorren Lindevig and Florian Chmielewski play accordion and sing with the band as dancers polka around the floor. The Cloquet VFW senior dances are the first and third Wednesday of the month. Photos by Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 5
Lorren Lindevig and Florian Chmielewski pose together after a recent gig at the VFW senior dance. The two have known each other since they began their music careers in the 1960s. 2 / 5
From left: Mark Macham on drums, Eleanor Vorderbruggen plays banjo and Lorren Lindevig and Florian Chmielewski play accordion at the VFW senior dance on a recent Wednesday. 3 / 5
A couple at a recent Cloquet VFW senior dance. 4 / 5
A line of people patiently wait for the potluck buffet at a VFW senior dance. The band takes a break and everyone eats and re-energizes for more dancing.5 / 5

Almost 25 years ago, Lorren Lindevig and Roland Kunze started a new tradition at Cloquet Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Since then, senior dances have been offered the first and third Wednesday of the month, including a potluck lunch and a variety of contests over the years.

"There wasn't any dances nearby for seniors at the time," Kunze said. "The music was always great."

After more than 20 years of organizing the event, Kunze stepped down a few years ago.

Lindevig continues to be active in the band. He still plays the accordion, even after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago. Parkinson's is an untreatable disorder in the central nervous system that causes uncontrollable trembling, stiffening of the body and other issues.

"We missed one time (since the dances started) because of a bad snow storm," Lindevig said. "One woman made it. She was 94. She let me have it."

Lindevig is looking forward to turning 86 on May 1.

The other members in the band help Lindevig so he can continue to play. Mark Macham, 61, has been a drummer with the band for three years. Besides playing drums, he helps Lindevig stay steady when he walks and assists with tasks like taking off his jacket.

Banjo playing Eleanor Vorderbruggen from Floodwood has been making the drive to play at the dances for 16 years.

A recent addition to the band at the VFW is another local accordion-playing polka legend, Florian Chmielewski.

"I have played with Lorren over 50 years," Chmielewski said. "We met in 1960 when we both had television shows. He was channel 3 and I was channel 6. They both ended and we got together."

According to Chmielewski, his show was more popular than "All in the Family" in 1972.

"I don't know where I'd be without Lorren and Pat Cadigan," Chmielewski said, referring to a past member of the Chmielewski Fun Time Orchestra and popular KDAL radio host for decades.

Chmielewski, who recently turned 91, keeps busy. The peppy musician plays several times a week all over the state.

When his schedule allows, he joins the band Wednesdays to help his old friend at the VFW dances.

The senior dances pull in an average of 60 people, according to current coordinators Lil LaVoy and Carl Schenk. The majority are polka lovers and Wednesday regulars.

"I love to dance," Jan Obeidzinski said. Pat Anderson agreed. She began dancing at 5 years old.

"I come to all of the dances when I can," Anderson said. She told how her parents would bring home a few musicians after a night out. Anderson said she would dance in the living room at 2 a.m. to polkas and waltzes and whatever else the musicians played.

The senior dances are 1-4 p.m. with a potluck break in the middle to reenergize the dancers for the last half of the afternoon. As the music comes to an end, the last few dancers swing their partners one last time before slowly drifting out the door until next time.

"It's the friendliest dance," Kunze said. Lindevig agreed.

"It feels good to still be playing here," Lindevig said slowly.

The next dance is April 18. The next contest, May 5, is for the most creative hat.