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Polka legend plays last dance

Lorren Lindevig poses for a minute after a Wednesday dance at the VFW in April. Pine Journal file1 / 4
Lorren Lindevig plays a Wednesday Senior Dance at the Cloquet VFW in April. Pine Journal file2 / 4
Longtime friends Lorren Lindevig and Florian Chmelewski share a laugh at the annual accordian show at the Carlton County Historical Society in 2012. Courtesy of Carlton County Historical Society3 / 4
Lorren Lindevig plays with his band at the Wednesday Senior dance in the Cloquet VFW in April. Pine Journal file4 / 4

The last button has been pushed and the last note played on the squeezebox of a local legend. There is an empty spot on the stage as well as in the hearts of area polka fans.

Lorren Lindevig, 86, of Scanlon, died from Parkinson's disease Tuesday, Sept. 25.

The lifelong music lover began playing instruments at the tender age of 2. When he was 8 years old he began playing the instrument that would make him a household name and favorite at wedding dances for generations.

He had a television show in the early 1960s, as did fellow accordian player Florian Chmielewski. When the shows ended, the two began playing together. While they had their own bands over the years, they continued to entertain together off and on, including in the Chmielewski Funtime Band.

"We met in 1958. He is the only person who stayed 60 years with me," Chmielewski said. "We traveled so many miles together and played in so many television shows. We must have played at the Minnesota State Fair about 30-40 times. It was like we were meant for each other."

According to a previous Pine Journal story, "In 1965, Lindevig started playing with the Chmielewski Funtime Band, sometimes as many as four times a week while working full time as well. The group had a television show from 1965 to 1986, and they went on tour each year, performing in such far-flung locales as Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands."

Lindevig was honored in many ways over the years, including as grand marshal for the Cloquet Fourth of July parade in 2016; he was inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame at Ironworld USA in Chisholm, Minn; and he was also inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm.

Chmielewski was impressed with his friend's ability to play a variety of music genres. He played in the Westernaires Band for many years as well as polka.

"He had a perfect pitch," Chmielewski said. "That's unusual."

Chmielewski remembered Lindevig's love of jokes. He said his friend had two popular jokes:

"I was dreaming about mufflers last night. I woke up exhausted."

"I wonder if the Lipton Tea Factory employees have coffee breaks.'"

"People always laughed," Chmielewski said. "Then he would turn to me and said, 'Now you tell some jokes.' People still laughed, even after 60 years."

Chmielewski incorporated lutefisk into his jokes to amuse Lindevig.

"We called him "The Happy Norwegian," Chmielewski said.

About 25 years ago, Lindevig and Roland Kunze started a dance tradition at Cloquet Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The dances grew in popularity and are still offered the first and third Wednesday of the month. They include a potluck lunch and a variety of contests.

Lindevig continued playing the accordion in the band even after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago.

The other members in the band helped Lindevig so he could continue to entertain at the dances he loved.

Drummer Mark Macham said he picked up Lorren, hauled his equipment into the VFW and tore it down when it was time to leave.

"I learned how to be a professional and how to keep going," Macham said.

He remembers his first dance with the band when he began three years ago.

"Lorren said, 'Turn the lights down low and away we go,'" Macham said. "I thought that was really wonderful. He would never say it again."

Macham was setting up his drums Tuesday, Oct. 2, for the celebration of life for Lindevig on Wednesday, Oct. 3, during the senior dance.

"It really hit me today," Macham said. "It's an empty feeling."

When Lindevig began to struggle in the end stages of the disease, Chmielewski, 91, came back to help his old friend so he could continue playing at his beloved Wednesday dances. Lindevig would start playing at the beginning of the dance, but tired quickly. Chmielewski would pick up where he left off and play the rest of the dance.

Accordions are not light instruments. Many weigh about 25 pounds, depending on the style and how many buttons are on it.

"It was an old one with bellows and must have weighed about 40 pounds," Macham said.

In addition to the Wednesday dances at the VFW, Lindevig and his band traveled to nursing homes, weddings, funerals, birthday parties and even yard parties.

"He played at my second wedding on the Vista Queen," Teresa Trout said. She has been dancing to Lindevig's music for 55 years.

"We were very good friends," she said. "He played at my yard parties. Lorren never missed a party. Even if I had someone else to play at the party, Lorren started playing anyway. I have so many memories I could write a book."

He had a decades-long loyal following group of dancers who went to the various venues to listen to him play and to polka or schottisch their way around the dance floor.

"I knew Lorren for over 60 years," Sylvia Randall said. She remembered he played at her 75th birthday party, where her granddaughter, Jennifer Hardison, sung the song "The Rose." It's Randall's favorite song and she said her granddaughter did a great job singing it.

Randall and Paul Vaineo rode the bus with Lindevig when he traveled to his gigs. They both laughed as they shared a story about a bus ride about five years ago.

"Lorren started to play his accordion on the bus," Randall explained.

"Then his head started to nod," Vaineo said as he demonstrated.

They said Lindevig never missed a note and continued to play the song until he woke up. Everyone on the bus clapped and cheered.

"I don't remember a time that I didn't know him," Randall said. "He had sisu."

Dancers also came from Duluth and even further away to dance to his music in Cloquet.

Jim and Sharon Fairchild often drove from Hibbing to dance to Lindevig's Scandinavian-style polka music. Sharon is a fellow accordion player.

"He is the reason I started playing again," Sharon said. "I was petrified at first, but I felt like I owed him that."

They remember the beautiful cards Lindevig would send his faithful followers and friends. If anyone fell ill or was in the hospital, Lindevig would send a card and call to talk to the person. He also sent cards for birthdays and anniversaries as well as remembered to announce them at the dances.

"That's a really special thing for a man to do," Sharon said. "We loved him a lot."

Lindevig attended the Wednesday dances until he went into a hospital in June. Even then, the dances were on his mind.

"He would call us from the hospital and make sure they were playing the music right at the dances," Jim Fairchild said. "Now there is an empty feeling."

"The world lost a great musician," Sharon added.

"He gave everything he had to everything he did," Chmielewski said. "He never missed a beat."

The weekly Wednesday dance at the VFW will continue, but it will be called "Lindy's Dance." Chmielewski will play and keep the dances going.