Polka maven 'Mollie B' helps Park Elementary raise $5,000
SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT | PARK ELEMENTARY

Polka maven 'Mollie B' helps Park Elementary raise $5,000

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CROSS PLAINS — The students at Park Elementary School in Cross Plains last week learned how to polka with the help of two icons — one in the polka world and one right at the school.

As part of a fundraiser, Mollie Busta Lange, who goes by “Mollie B,” and others came to the school to teach the students how to polka Friday during the school day. Then the students were joined by their family members for more dancing that night and on Saturday the public was invited to come to the school for a show and dance. About 350 came for the sold-out event and the entire fundraiser brought in an estimated $5,000.

Busta Lange appeared with her SqueezeBox band in “The Mule,” a Warner Bros. film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. She also hosts a show called the “Mollie B Polka Party” on RFD-TV and on Channel 147 of SiriusXM Radio.

While Mollie B has national star power, Rod “Peanuts” Esser, the driving force behind the event, shines a bright light around the school, where he is in his 55th year as head custodian.

Esser came up with the idea for the fundraiser, which raises money for special education and other school needs. It was an offshoot of a similar fundraiser he requested when the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District said it wanted to do something to honor him after he had reached 50 years of employment at Park Elementary. That earlier fundraiser featured country music at the Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School and benefited the MCPASD Education Foundation.

“’Peanuts’ is an icon in this school and this is something he was really passionate about,” Park principal Monica Schommer said about the polka fundraiser.

Not only has Esser been the only head custodian the school has ever had, his parents, Herb and Hyacintha Esser, used to farm the land it was built on.

“The deal is I just went with the land so I got the job,” said Esser, who will turn 80 on Dec. 9. “So I never left the farm.”

This is the third year of the fundraiser at Park that Esser says is “all about the kids.”

In addition to Mollie B and the SqueezeBox, which she co-leads with her husband, Ted Lange, others also joined in during the two-day event. They included her parents, Jim and Mary Lou Busta and his Jim Busta Band of Onalaska. Dancers included the Raymakers family from Pulaski and Bruce and Peggy King and their grandchildren, Alli, Polka Jack and Dexter Dewitt, from Wisconsin Rapids. Some of them also appeared in “The Mule.”

“I like having fun and just dancing,” said third-grader Rosina Beuthin about the workshop held during the day.

Third-grader Max Miller said the dancing was “not my thing” but he and fellow third-grader Dawson Hunn liked when they got to try out an accordion. Third-grader Luke Dotte also liked when Busta Lange showed the students the instruments.

Several third-grade girls who take lessons for other forms of dance thought Busta Lange was a great teacher. Third-grader Reagan Breunig, who does a lot of dancing outside of school, said learning to polka was not hard.

“Everything is so exciting and fun,” said third-grader Alexis Esser, who is not related to “Peanuts.”

Third-grader Ari Fitzpatrick, who was involved in the workshop last year, said she looked forward to it this year.

“I thought it would be really fun to try to polka dance again because I forgot how,” Ari said.

Busta Lange said Park Elementary does an exceptional job of getting the students excited for the workshop before the musicians arrive. Posters about the event, which were drawn by some students and hung around the school, were an example of that, she said.

“I hope they experience the joy of (polka) and always look back at this time,” she said.

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