Oshkosh parish staff members team up to form ‘The Polka Saints’

By Sam Lucero

Trio to perform for first time during livestream concert Jan. 28

OSHKOSH — Whistling while you work is a practice made popular in a Walt Disney movie. At St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, three staff members have one-upped Snow White’s seven whistling friends.

Fr. Kevin Ripley, parochial vicar, Mark Lindekugel, business manager, and Howie Frank, facilities manager, have formed a polka band. Although they don’t actually play and sing polka tunes while working, they are making their work environment more exciting for themselves and others.

Howie Frank, left, Mark Lindekugel and Fr. Kevin Ripley hold a practice session to prepare for a virtual concert Jan. 28. Fr. Ripley, parochial vicar at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, said the three formed “The Polka Saints” after the pastor, Fr. Tom Long, encouraged him to “do something fun” for the parish. (Michael Coonen | For The Compass)

On Thursday, Jan. 28, the polka band will hold its first concert, a virtual event beginning at 6 p.m. The concert can be viewed at raphael.org/media/live. Billed as “The Polka Saints,” the band will perform five songs. “We will also talk about our music background and the background of the songs we are doing,” said Lindekugel.

The livestream concert is part of the parish’s “Choir Connection” program held on Thursday nights.

According to Lindekugel, forming a polka band came up in conversation with Fr. Ripley after he was appointed to the parish last summer.

“When we first talked, he said he was from Pulaski — polka land,” he said. “I said I played the accordion and he said he played the trumpet and suggested we start a band.”

Lindekugel said he began playing the accordion when he was 6. He also plays the alto saxophone. “I have also been singing barbershop for about 20 years,” he said. “I formed a barbershop quartet that sings here at Masses and other church events.”

Fr. Ripley’s Pulaski roots were the impetus for forming “The Polka Saints.”

“Growing up in Pulaski, there were the Pulaski Polka Days every summer,” Fr. Ripley said. “My family would go enjoy the music and dance at least one of the days, but every night I could hear the music across town while falling asleep.”

Fr. Ripley said he began voice lessons and playing musical instruments in grade school.

“I took piano lessons on and off for several years, and started playing the French horn in sixth grade,” he said. “Trumpet was something I picked up for high school jazz and marching band.”

He also played in a polka band that was formed through Pulaski High School, “so I had some interest in doing that again.”

While attending Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., Fr. Ripley played in a brass ensemble that provided music during Masses and social events. “So I knew that God would (again) open doors for me to use my talents,” he said.

After arriving in Oshkosh following his ordination in July 2020, he said Fr. Tom Long, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, approached him for suggestions on church social events.

“Fr. Tom asked me if I had any ideas for the parish to do something fun,” he said. “I thought about forming a polka band and Mark had been thinking the same thing.”

Frank, who has been working as facilities manager for five years, is also an accomplished musician.

“I have been playing bass (guitar) since the early ’90s,” he said. “It started when I was singing in a worship band for a different church. … Mark invited me to be in the band once he heard I played bass guitar, since we work together at St. Raphael.”

Frank also plays the acoustic guitar and mandolin and sings tenor in a barbershop quartet.

“I play in an acoustic trio band called ‘Maintenance Men.’ All of us sing and I also play the mandolin on a few songs,” he said. “Truth be told, I am not much into polka, but just thought I’d help the guys out. My family just laughs because none of us are into polkas, but, hey, music is music.”

Fr. Ripley said that after Frank accepted the invitation to join the band, the plan was to hold an outdoor concert in the church parking lot last summer.

“That never materialized with the virus restrictions,” said Fr. Ripley. “We also realized that we needed a lot of practice, so Mark spoke with Karen Moehn, our liturgy and music coordinator, about the idea of doing it later, as part of the weekly livestream event called ‘Choir Connection.’

“We haven’t performed for anybody yet, but Jill Eaton, our front desk secretary, has given us rave reviews, as she can listen to our rehearsals,” Fr. Ripley added.

Lindekugel said he’s received mixed reaction from his family on forming the polka band. “My wife thinks it’s cool. My kids think I am a nerd.”

“Having music as something to bring us three together as staff members has been fun and a good morale booster in times like these,” said Fr. Ripley.