John Check was born near Rosholt, Wisconsin. When he was 14, he had saved a total of $15 from picking cucumbers on his father’s farm and used this money to purchase his first single reed concertina. Within several days he had learned to play several simple melodies. Buying additional concertina music from the Vitak-Elsnic Company, he learned to play these new selections with the usual pattern of reading numbers instead of notes. Within a short while it became obvious to him that playing the concertina by numbers was not an adequate approach to becoming versatile on the instrument. Without the aid of an instructor, he mastered reading musical notes and transferring these to the music he had in his possession.
John’s musical career really had its inception in 1935 when he entered the local high school. There he assembled three other boys and formed his first band. Soon after John joined his cousin in a small 4-piece group called Tom’s Live Wires.
In 1939 John entered college at Stevens Point to work on his degree in teaching. That same year he organized his seven-piece polka band. Also at this time John had begun not only composing his own music but also writing simple arrangements for his orchestra. Throughout his undergraduate and graduate work he maintained his band. After receiving his Doctor’s degree in June of 1959, he sold his band and moved to Flint, Michigan to accept a professorship with the University of Michigan. After several months had lapsed, Dr. Check prepared new arrangements for the seven piece band which he called the Michigan Dutchmen.
After an interview with the program director of WJRT-TV and an auditioning of a 20-minute show, the Michigan Polka Party had its debut over WJRT Channel 12. The show ran until September of 1966.
In 1966 Dr. Check left Michigan to accept a position as Chairman of the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. Soon after moving to Wisconsin John Check researched the field for competent musicians and by December had formed a new band. It is interesting to note that almost all of the band personnel had their Master’s or Doctor’s degrees.
On January 28, 1967 the premiere show of the Polka Festival was introduced over WLUK, Channel 11 in Green Bay. The show continued until December, 1971, after which the Polka Festival moved to WFRV channel 5 in Green Bay.