Vi Johantgen was born on September 24, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Stanley and Marie Patla were born in Rzesow, Poland. Her father was a violinist and her mother was a singer of Polish Folk Songs. At the age of five, Vi started to sing and at the age of 11 joined the choir at St. Casimir’s Church on the Southwest side of Chicago, Illinois. Vi was the only “alto’ with 22 sopranos in the year 1926. She graduated in June 1930, took a two-year commercial course at Harrison High School and still kept singing in the choir. By then they had four more altos, so it made it easier for Vi.
She graduated high school in June 1932. She got married December 31, 1934 and worked for Kimball Piano Company. She got her start in polka music with John Nieminski on station WSBC, on the Polish Merry-Go-Round. The program featured the ‘Hungry Five’ polka band starring Steve Adamczyk, Stas Mikrut, Wally Bonasiak and Joe Galas. The show was presented live at Pulaski Ballroom, 17th and Ashland and Marshall Square Ballroom on Cermak Road, Chicago and Wozniak’s Casino – ‘The Canadian Ace’ Show, 19th and Oakley.
Vi decided to become more involved in polka music and purchased a tavern on the north side of Chicago called “Elmer’s Place” and sold it in November, 1947. She bought another tavern at 2755 S. Whipple Street on the south side of Chicago and named it “Vi’s Hideout”. She sold the business in May 1972. In all the 24 years she featured polka bands on Friday and Saturday evenings and sang with many of the bands. In February 1972, she moved to the Chain O’Lakes area called Antioch, Illinois — close to the border of Wisconsin. It was going to be named the “Polka Bunny Lounge,” but a friend of hers, Johnny Hyzny said, “Name it ‘Vi’s Yellow Bird,’” since she sang the song, ‘Yellow Bird’ in English and “Zolty Ptaszek” in Polish for umpteen years. At the new lounge she still continued to feature polka music.
She was an IPA member for 29 years at her induction and was also a member of UPA. She was a member of the Eddie Blazonczyk Fan Club of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was the founder of the N.I.S.W. Polka Club, which started at “Vi’s Yellow Bird.” Northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin – Vi was president for two years. Her interest and involvement in polka music continued when she decided to purchase another lounge. She frequently wrote articles or made other journalistic contributions to the various publications.
During the formative years of the International Polka Association, Vi Johantgen actively participated in the development of the Association. She worked on several committees and frequently served as an ambassador to various polka events throughout the United States.
Among her accomplishments: Awards and Honors:
• 1969 American Legion Certificate of Participation Borlick Post 1109 Lions International – Plaque Radio Artist – Singer and Humanitarian
• 1971 General Theo. Roosevelt Post 4028 Cert. or Merit Veterans of Foreign Wars USA
• 1972 Citation from Congressman Roman Pucinski on the lst Polka Bunny show from WEAW, Evanston, IL; Member of Polish American Charity Travelers White Eagle Plaque, Uncle Henry Cukierka
• 1978 Antonina Blazonczyk Award
• 1988 Woman of the Year Award presented for her promotion of polka music for over 50 years from the UPA
• 1990 LTPA Benevolence Award and Gold Ring
• 1992 Farewell plaque fi-om the musicians for the appreciation and kindness show to all musicians at Vi’s Yellow Bird
• 1950 Johnny Sadrack in Detroit Michigan at all the major ballrooms
• 1965 Sang on the Dunajec in Poland with Klodzia Cukierka and also in Vienna, Austria
• 1970 Milwaukee – summers at Veterans Park with Casey Siewierski, Blue Canary with Barbara and The Karousels and Uncle Jess and The Stardusters; Hawaii – at Kapiolani Hotel, sang with Eddie Blazonczyk and his band. Chicago – Ford City for Easter, Christmas, etc. with Uncle Henry Cukierka and his wife, Klodzia; helped form PACT – Polish American Charity Travelers which promoted polka music; Chicago – Joe Pat Paterek Testimonial Dinner Dance. Libertyville – Lambs Farm with NISW Club, proceeds going to Lambs Farm, Lake Villa Fire Dept., Antioch Fire Dept, and Antioch Lions Club
• 1980 Hawaii with Eddie Korosa, Sr., – Cascade Ballrooms
Vi Johantgen has passed away, a loss to the polka field.