Here is the obituary that will be printed in honor of my grandfather, Joe Czerniak. Again, on behalf of the entire Czerniak family, we appreciate all the kinds thoughts, prayers and condolences. Grandpa Joe lived a full life and he was very appreciative of the many friendships he gained from the Polka family. Thank you, we appreciate your support.
Joseph F. Czerniak, 92, of Duluth, passed away at Benedictine Health Center Monday February 15, 2016 surrounded by his loving family and prayer support from long and far, in strong Polish tradition. Joe was born in West Duluth on Dec 30th, 1923 and graduated from Denfeld in 1941. He started the Polka Dots band while still in high school and began playing for groups at the age of 7. He served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and married “the love of his life” Martha Berlik in Cloquet in 1945. Joe worked in inside sales at Westinghouse retiring early to dedicate himself full time to his music business.
It was not just his unique talent as a concertina performer, but also teacher, repair technician, salesman, and promoter sponsoring many festivals, concertina events, and opportunities for hundreds of concertina students over 50 years to perform throughout the region. Many of the serious talented students formed their own bands and several recorded while traveling throughout the US. This included his son Bill who, with his wife Mary Lou, brought “Polka Soul’s” unique sound to thousands over 25 years. With many students, and side men still active today, and over 35 albums recorded, the Polish tradition was not only strengthened but lessons learned have endured beyond just music. Family, music & his Catholic faith remained as the center of his life.
Joe played at hundreds of weddings, anniversaries, benefits and club dates. He became a jack of all things concertina spreading the “Polish Style” of music with some of the top players in the country sending their boxes for tuning, electronic enhancement or repair. In 1981 Joe was inducted into the World Concertina Congress Hall of Fame followed by the International Polka Association Hall of Fame in 1989. Ironworld awarded him a similar honor in 2000.
He was a very active volunteer and performer at 11 senior facilities. Joe was a life member of the Duluth Musician’s Union, a member of West Duluth Post 71 American Legion, Friars of St. Francis, Knights of Columbus and a member of St. Benedicts Church.
Joe was preceded in death by his parents Ignatz and Jozefa, his siblings Mary, John, Helen Burak, and Martha O’Brian, daughter JoAnn Nesgoda, son Bill and son-in-law Michael Nesgoda.
He is survived & will be dearly missed by his devoted wife Martha; son Greg (Julianne) of Houma, LA, daughter Annette (Bob) Meyers of Anoka, MN, daughter-in-law Mary Lou Czerniak of Shoreview, MN., 9 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren, many close nieces, nephews, and students who considered Joe a second father.
The family wants to thank the staff at Westwood Terrace, BHC, NTC and St Luke’s Hospice, along with students who supported Joe during his final years.
Visitation is 5-7 p.m. Thursday Feb 18 at Dougherty Funeral Home. Visitation is Friday February 19 at 9:30 am until the 11 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Benedict’s Church, 1419 St. Benedicts St. Duluth. Burial at the Polish Catholic Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please keep Joe’s music in your heart and celebrate his spirit! Arrangements by Dougherty Funeral Home, 600 E. 2nd St., Duluth, (218) 727-3555.
Jill Czerniak Krzeszewski