The 41st annual National Polka Festival parade will have a very special grand marshal this year as Johnnie Mensik leads the parade through downtown Ennis.
As with past years, recipients are chosen based on their contributions to the preservation of the Czech culture and traditions and Mensik easily fits that category. A native of Ennis, he formed his love of Polka music at an early age while listening to his father play the trumpet in various local bands. His mother loved to sing and music was a predominant theme in his childhood so it seems natural that he would grow up with a fondness for music, but it does not explain his talent.
“He learned to play by ear and never took a lesson in his life, he was just that good,” Mensik’s wife Lydia proudly said.
Mensik followed in his father’s footsteps and played in local bands while in high school before starting his own band, called Johnnie Mensik and the Playboys, in 1968. His band consisted of local talent, including Mensik on trumpet and saxophone, Jo Valek, Louis Valek and Tony Vitovsky on accordion and keyboard. Andy Potiska played push button accordion, Randy McCluney played electric bass and David Dalbay played drums.
Mensik’s band was kept very busy, being in demand not only in Ellis county but the surrounding counties as well. Due to their popularity, the band put together an album, which has been remised as a CD recording titled, “Meet Johnnie Mensik and his Orchestra.”
The band enjoyed many years of success and were a crowd favorite at the National Polka Festival events held throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1980s, health issues and a shift in musical tastes caused the band to part ways and the hectic lifestyle was also taking its toll on Johnnie.
“It was a tiring thing working all week and playing music every spare minute. He was worn out and his health went downhill so he had to stop but that doesn’t mean his love for the music ever went away,” said Lydia.
Having been married to Johnnie for almost 56 years, she knows full well the effect the music has on him.
“He still gets energized whenever he hears a polka band, his health issues don’t allow him to play anymore but they can’t stop his love of the music or his Czech heritage. I always knew music was his first love, I have always teased him that I fit further down the line than that, but that’s OK with me,” she said.
The Mensiks have three children that all inherited their father’s love of music and are very proud that he was chosen as this year’s grand marshal.
“The kids and I have talked about it in the last several weeks and Johnnie is known for starting a show by yelling, ‘Let’s go boys,’ and we are thankful and proud that he will get to experience that feeling again during an event he is so proud of,” said Lydia.
The parade will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. and will have participants lining up at the Junior High School and starting from Clay Street where they will turn right on to West Ennis Avenue and travel east and finally turn left on Northwest Main Street where the parade ends.