Hall of Famer
Harry Wojahn of Fairfax was
A self-taught musician, Wojahn is still playing in his 80s, entertaining at nursing homes and assisted living center, playing for church services and other events throughout the area.
Story, photos by Fritz Busch
(unless otherwise noted)
Fresh out of the U.S. Navy 60 years ago, Harry Wojahn was living with his parents farm when he started working in his brother’s tiling business, weather permitting.
Undeterred by the fact he knew nothing about music, other than that his father Henry played an accordion, guitar and mandolin, Wojahn pulled out an old accordion, some music and began teaching himself to play.
Before long, he was playing polkas and other music on the accordion but wanted to do more. Wojahn went to a New Ulm music store that didn’t have accordion music but had concertina music, so he bought it and decided to learn to play the concertina.
He took a concertina lesson from one of the best musicians around, the late Leroy “Slivers” Dewanz of New Ulm, who was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
“He (Dewanz) told me I was doing well,” Wojahn said. So well, in fact, Dewanz said he didn’t even think Wojahn needed any more lessons from him.
“I spent most of my time practicing the concertina during the winter months,” Wojahn said. “I suppose I drove my wife crazy.”
He taught his daughter Patti to play concertina when she was eight years old.
Wojahn had his own polka band from 1969 to 2003. The band played at barn dances, church services, wedding dances, anniversaries, birthday parties and at other events.
He was inducted by New Ulm’s Donnie Klossner into the World Concertina Congress (WCC) Hall of Fame, based in Merrill, Wi. in April.
“It’s quite an honor to be inducted into this group. There are only 275 people inducted in that Hall of Fame since 1975,” Wojahn said. “Thousands of people have played concertina and still do.”
At 85, Wojahn said he has no plans to stop playing music. He belongs to the Sleepy Eye Area Concertina Club that performs about 30 times a year. The Sleepy Eye-based band includes musicians from as far away as Northern Iowa and Rochester.
He plays solo 20 to 30 times a year at churches, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and in schools.
“Not long ago, I played in a Fairfax school. The kids just loved it and I like performing for them too,” Wojahn said.
Harry said he has no plans to quite playing the concertina or with the Sleepy Eye group. This summer, he will perform with them three times in Springfield, twice in Sleepy Eye, including July 4th and twice in Winthrop.
“I keep getting calls from people asking me to perform,” Wojahn said.
Music isn’t all that he is about. Harry has a large rock collection that includes Keokuk Geodes, fossilized coral which he found while tiling a farm field near Hector, and many agates, among other types of stones.
“Finding fossilized coral around here is proof the area was covered by water,” Wojahn said.
His daughter Patti found a fair number of his rocks while fishing with him decades ago.
Wojahn was a Machinist’s Mate on the USS Remey (DD-688), a Fletcher-class destroyer of the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He also served on another destroyer, the USS Hawkins (DD-873). All of his brothers served in World War II or the Korean War.
Wojahn and his music can be found on a YouTube interview with “Smiley” Wiltscheck. Type “Concertina Styles and Smiles with Harry Wojahn.”