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Published: Sunday, 12/12/2004

'Polka Party' host reveled in playing music for Toledo

Chester Zablocki, in his studio, displays a plaque honoring his induction into the International Polka Association's Polka Hall of Fame in Chicago in 1994. Chester Zablocki, in his studio, displays a plaque honoring his induction into the International Polka Association's Polka Hall of Fame in Chicago in 1994.
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Chester J. "Chet" Zablocki, whose almost 60-year "Polka Party" radio show became such an institution that a North Toledo senior center was named in his honor, died Friday in Flower Hospital. He was 84.

Mr. Zablocki died of congestive heart failure, his wife, Sharon, said.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Zablocki was getting out his Christmas polka albums to play on the popular Sunday morning radio show - Sharon & Chet's Polka Party on WTOD-AM 1560.

The show began in 1947 as The Polish Festival with all announcements and songs in Polish. It later was known as Helen & Chet's Polka Party.

When he wasn't "looking at the old clock on the wall" during his broadcasts, Mr. Zablocki was playing polkas the only way he knew how: fast and for as long as he could.

"If he could've, he would've played all night. The show was his left hand, and he's left-handed," said Sharon, his wife and co-host on the 3 1/2-hour show for 31 years. "People would say to him, 'A Sunday was not a Sunday unless the show was on.'‚óŹ"

His show first was broadcast from a downtown bank building for several months, before being moved for a couple of years to a house on Detroit Avenue, which doubled as a music store known as Ideal Radio.

But for the last 55 years, the show has been broadcast from Mr. Zablocki's brick house on Hill Avenue.

"You come into our home, just past the kitchen, down the steps, and there's the studio," his wife said. In nearly every closet and spare room are thousands of polka records.

Sitting at a giant audio mixing board littered with dials, Mr. Zablocki was D.J., engineer, and everything in between. Request calls came in on the home's single phone line, "but mostly people wrote us," his wife said.

On the walls above his mixing board are awards, plaques, and certificates of appreciation - foremost among them one labeling him a "pioneer" and member of the International Polka Association's Polka Hall of Fame in Chicago - an award he received in 1994.

Three years later, the Lagrange Senior Center on Lagrange Street was renamed the Chester Zablocki Senior Center in recognition of Mr. Zablocki's achievements.

Mr. Zablocki did not take a weekend off until the death of his first wife, Helen, in 1968. The show was then broadcast with his sister, son, and daughter until he married Sharon in 1973, and the show's name was changed accordingly.

Mr. Zablocki ended each show by saying: "Please stay tuned - remember we love you, you're all important to us, be good to yourselves. We would hate to lose you."

When Mr. Zablocki was a boy growing up in the area of Buckingham and Hamilton streets, his wife remembers him repairing old radios in his father's garage, rigging outdoor speakers, and playing music loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. He graduated from Macomber High School and later fought in World War II.

Mr. Zablocki was a member of the Polish National Alliance, the Toledo Area Polka Society, the International Music Association, and American Legion Post 642, and Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 5530.

Surviving are his wife, Sharon; sons, Cennis Zablocki, Ronald Kusz, and Donald Kusz; daughter, Debra Obrock; brother Eugene, and 11 grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 3 p.m. today at the Sujkowski Funeral Home. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

The family suggests tributes to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation or the American Cancer Society.



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