Apple Valley couple to host ‘Funtime Polka Party’ on public television

Patty Chmielewski and Michael Bell, of Apple Valley, are producing and hosting the 39th annual International Polka Fest May 19-21 at Grand Casino Hinckley. Video from the event will be used to create 26 episodes of “Funtime Polka Party” on Pioneer Public Television. (Photo submitted)
Patty Chmielewski and Michael Bell are producing and hosting the 39th annual International Polka Fest May 19-21 at Grand Casino Hinckley. Video from the event will be used to create 26 episodes of “Funtime Polka Party” on Pioneer Public Television. (Photo submitted)

Those who know polka are probably familiar with the Chmielewski family.

Apple Valley resident Patty Chmielewski traces her family’s involvement in polka to the late 1800s when her great-grandfather, Frank, played his fiddle at barn dances and weddings.

Her father, Florian, and her uncles hosted the polka-themed television show “Polish TV Party” starting in the mid-1950s, followed by the nationally syndicated “Chmielewski Funtime.”

At one point in the 1970s, she said, “Chmielewski Funtime” became so popular it topped the hit show “All in the Family” and “Monday Night Football” in the ratings.

Chmielewski is continuing the family tradition as leader of Chmielewski Funtime, the polka band that includes three of her kids — Nick, Lexy and Kati. She’s also the host, with husband Michael Bell, of the KBEK-FM radio show “Funtime Polka Party.”

Now, Chmielewski and Bell are looking to bring polka to a wider audience as hosts of a TV version of “Funtime Polka Party” on Pioneer Public Television.

The couple recently reached an agreement with the public station, which reaches 2.5 million homes in the Midwest, for two seasons of “Funtime Polka Party.”

The episodes will be filmed at the 39th annual International Polka Fest May 19-21 at Grand Casino Hinckley. The TV incarnation of “Funtime Polka Party” is scheduled to begin airing in the fall.

The festival — which Chmielewski and Bell are hosting and producing — will include a 90th birthday celebration for Florian Chmielewski, who has been playing accordion for 72 years and whose autobiography, “0-90,” will be released at the event.

Bell, who until about four years ago worked in retail management, said he got involved in the polka scene through Patty. In addition to their radio show and concert events, they also organize motor-coach tours to Branson, Missouri, and other destinations.

“We’re able to work together, which is what we wanted to do,” he said. “We just like to entertain people and see the smiles on their faces. There is never a fight at a polka dance — it’s happy music.”

“Polka to us is fun,” Patty added, “and we want the generations to pass it down.”