University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Libera, John

John Libera Collection, 1934-1988
1 flat box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 048
John Libera Collection image
Polish Tigers baseball team, ca.1935

A member of the Polish community in Southbridge, Mass., John Libera (1919-2007) was a long-time employee of American Optical Company, but was best known as a promoter of polka music and dancing. A performer, song writer, and host of a radio show for over thirty years, Libera was inducted into the Polka Music Hall of Fame in 1982 and invited to perform at the American Folklife Festival in 1988.

The Libera collection consists of four photographs of the Polish community in Southbridge during the 1930s along with fourteen photos, a videotape, and some correspondence and ephemera relating to the American Folklife Festival.

Background on John Libera

A well-known figure in Southbridge’s Polish community and polka promoter, John Libera was born in Southbridge, Mass., on April 20, 1919, the son of Joseph and Mary (Slupek) Libera. After serving in the Navy during the Second World War II, Libera enjoyed a long career as a researcher at American Optical Co., becoming a member and president of both its Quarter Century Club and Wellsworth Athletic Association.

A passion for polka music led Libera into a career as a radio personality. For over 33 years beginning in the mid-1950s, he hosted a Polish radio show on WESO radio in Southbridge, earning the nickname “Mr. Polka Man.” An instant hit, his show expanded to WNEB in Worcester and eventually onto FM broadcasting, and it spawned other programs, including the “Polka Jamboree” and “Sunset Polkatime Show.” Libera was not simply a disk jockey, however, he was a talented musician, songwriter, recording artist, and for many years a dance instructor. In recognition of his efforts, Libera was made a member of the International Polka Association and was inducted into the Polka Music Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1988, he was selected to take part in the American Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, where he and the Massachusetts band, Bay State IV, demonstrated their beloved music. Libera died in Worcester on Aug. 27, 2007, at the age of 88.

Contents of Collection

The Libera collection consists of four photographs of the Polish community in Southbridge during the 1930s along with fourteen photos, a videotape, and some correspondence and ephemera relating to the American Folklife Festival in 1988.

Collection inventory

Semi-pro baseball team originally sponsored by the Southbridge Pilsudski Polish Club, later by the Polish National Alliance, where the name was changed to the PNA team before reverting to the Polish Tigers. The team lasted about 15 years between the late 1920s and World War I. Pictured here: top row (l. to r.): Joe Migala, Fred Noga, Walter Remijan, Walter Brzys, Ray Matte, Ovie Desrosiers Matt Mietowski, Walter Damian. Bottom row: Lou Decatalki, Andy Remian, Al Lango, Steve Liro, Ignac Zarzucki, Alex Lesniewski, and Joe Lesniewski. Eddia Wolecka, mascot.

Festival of American Folklife: Polka performance and dancing
1988 July
14 images

Snapshots of Libera and relatives dancing at the Fesitval of American Folklife, Southbridge.

John Libera dancing with granddaughter Krista Bajgier (age 7).

Jan Bajgier and father John Libera teaching the Domino, a figure dance done at local polka dances.

Festival of American Folklife: ephemera
1988 July

Also includes some newsclippings relating to John Libera and his son Jack and their polka performances.

Images of girls who attended evening class where they studied Polish history and grammar; dressed for a parade honoring Polish Constitution Day (May 3), wearing handmade outfits. Antonia Grzesczczak, the leader, is front center in Harcerstwo uniform.

Women of the Polish Women’s Club dressed in comic outfits: the group had presented a play at the Pilsudski Hall in Southbridge where women played all the parts. This group was established as a benefit organization as well as a social group. Death benefits were given to members in time of need; the amount was never large, just token amounts.

Videotape: 1) Polish Tigers town 1940 (40 min.); Rededication of Kosciuszko Garden, West Point, N.Y., by Polish American Vets, Aug. 15, 1971 and Aug. 17, 1991 (35 min.); New England All-Stars Polish Orchestra, Ludlow PACC, Jan. 27, 1991 (95 min.)
1940-1991

Three vidoes.,.

Administrative information
Provenance

Gift of John Libera, 1985.

Processing Information

Processed by Linda Seidman, 1986, and I. Eliot Wentworth, Sept. 2015.

Copyright and Use (More informationConnect to publication information)

Cite as: John Libera Collection (MS 048). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Subjects
  • Baseball teams--Massachusetts--Southbridge--Photographs
  • Polish Americans--Massachusetts--Southbridge--Photographs
  • Southbridge (Mass.)
  • Women--Societies and clubs--Massachusetts--Southbridge--Photographs
Contributors
  • Libera, John
Types of material
  • Photographs

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