A day with grandparents at school, dancing lessons with Mollie B

Jordan Gerard

Grandparents had the special opportunity to spend a few hours with their grandchildren at Spring Grove Elementary’s second annual Grandparents Day on Friday, May 10.

About 285 grandparents and kids attended the day, which included lunch, a photo booth and a special alumnae guest, Mollie B, who brought curious instruments and dancing lessons ahead of her concert on Saturday, May 11.

Finally, students guided their grandparents on a tour of their classroom and hallways where artwork by the students was on display.

“They love showing them their artwork as they travel the hallways as well as the classroom environment where they learn daily,” Principal Nancy Gulbranson said. 

With the new additions of individualized learning, the classroom environment is quite different than when grandparents went to school. 

Gulbranson added it sparks a great conversation with the grandparents. Last year’s first Grandparents Day had just as much success as this year’s special day. 

Perhaps the most fun and energetic part of the day was learning how to polka, waltz and line dance with Mollie B.

Polka dancing had its start in 1836 in the Czech Republic by a young girl. Then it spread to other parts of the world, including in the U.S. It gained more popularity after WWII because “people needed a pick-me-up,” Mollie explained. 

She demonstrated her valve trombone, which uses valves instead of a slide, and the concertina accordion and the button accordion.

Mollie also brought an alpenhorn, which is most commonly featured in “Ricola” commercials. It was originally used to call cows home.

She also gave a short biography of her RFD-TV show, “Mollie B Polka Party,” which started in 2011. It’s still airing today, though they haven’t taped anything new recently. 

At one point, the show boasted 1 million viewers per episode. Today, it’s still a highly viewed show. 

After Grandparents Day was concluded, Mollie also took time to talk to sixth graders and juniors about her career so far. 

She gave them a brief biography about how she got started in music, citing how she enjoyed dancing to her father’s band and eventually learning to play piano and singing in English, German and Czech.

At 10 years old, she learned how to play the trumpet. Since there were 10 trumpets in band, she started out as the 10th part and she was bound and determined to improve.

Mollie practiced for half an hour each day and by the time Christmas came around that year, she had challenged her way up to the first trumpet part. She started playing the trumpet in her dad’s band when she was in sixth grade.

Eventually, she started practicing three hours a day as she moved up through school grades, and also participated in jazz band, choir, started a swing choir, cheerleading, volleyball, basketball and softball.

Mollie’s favorite thing to do was challenge her classmates during band, especially Kip Otterness.

“I always pushed myself as good as the next player,” she told the students.

In high school she earned several awards including John Philip Sousa Band Award, Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, MMEA All-State Orchestra and National Choral Award.

In Luther College she took voice lessons and had a vocal coach, who asked her to practice more than three hours a day.

While at college, she was known as the “Polka Girl,” which wasn’t a very nice title, she said.

“Polka music isn’t popular, but it brings me joy,” she said. 

Her favorite venue to play so far was in the Dominican Republic while on a band trip with Luther College. They were able to play for the people in local places and stayed with them in their homes.

“It was the best place to play because they enjoyed life for what it was worth,” she said.

Mollie also taught music at Lanesboro Public Schools for a while and had 52 students for private lessons in the area. Current vocal director Bethany Engen was also one of her students.

As she continued through her career, with Squeezebox and her dad’s band, she contented herself with making people happy with polka music.

Then she got a call from a producer in Hollywood to write a song for Clint Eastwood’s movie, “The Mule.” 

She wrote “A Day to Say Thank You,” and Eastwood even changed the scene with her band playing at the VFW so that he could dance with her. 

When she met his family at the premiere, they excitedly exclaimed, “It’s the polka girl!” Mollie said she felt true appreciation for her talents at that moment.

“It really just reminds that I’m glad I stuck with it,” she said. “It allowed me to get places.”

Mollie B returns to Spring Grove on July 10 for Music in the Park with the Jim Busta Band.