Growing up with Jack Ropoleski – Westsider
“As a young kid, I’d listen to polkas on the radio on Sunday. I instantly got inspired to play a sax. I played a right- handed guitar, left- handed since I was about 7 yrs old. When I was in School at Harrison Park in Grand Rapids, I wanted to play in the school band, but the teacher said that the school didn’t consider a guitar a musical instrument and handed me a tenor sax to play and I refused. So I didn’t play in the school band. But when I was in art class in the 6th grade I asked the teacher if I could bring my guitar in and play a song from a record player, and she said yes. The song was “Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers. So the next day I came into the class and there were two classrooms of kids that the teacher brought in to see me play. I was scared to death, but I played the solo to the song. Playing a guitar up-side down kind of freaked people out. But after I played the song I got a standing ovation. It was the most inspiring experience I ever had. My oldest brother Pat and I used to sing by the record player and my mother would listen to us. My brother and I did that right up until he passed away in 1998. He was a good dancer, and showed me all the steps.
When I met my wife Connie, I already knew how to dance. We met in 1972 at a bar called “The Bank” in the Pantlind Hotel, in downtown Grand Rapids. We started dancing and we have been together ever since. We both love music. I started going to Pulaski Days in 1973. Just as it was beginning . I was a member at Diamond St. Hall on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. As a member at Diamond Street Hall I bartended a couple of times at the club when the polka bands were playing. My wife Connie and I were newlyweds. I decided to take saxophone lessons in 1974, at Middleton’s Music Store. I was trying to read music. I was up to band level 4, and getting frustrated. So one day I brought in my ghetto blaster with a music tape of the band “Bill Haley& the Comets.” I started playing and the instructor came in and said that the music lessons were over. I asked why. He said that I can play by ear, and can play in any band, and I am wasting his time, and he’s wasting mine. He said just step in with some bands and you will catch on. So I did. During the years I stepped in with these bands: The Weekenders, the Polkchops, Bob Brock & the B-tones, and other bands of which I can’t recall the names.
Now I play at the 830 V.F.W. Post on 11th Street N.W. in Grand Rapids on Saturday nights. We play Country, old R&R, and Blues. I haven’t played a Polka in Years, but I still love it.”