Paul Wendinger poses with a Hengel concertina, which he played in the
‘Peter and Paul Wendinger Band.’ Wendinger died Saturday of cancer at age 59.Paul Wendinger — Farmer, musician, travel guide
Loses battle with cancer at age 59
November 23, 2010 - By Kevin Sweeney Journal Editor
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NEW ULM - Together, the Wendinger Brothers were a musical force, the leaders of a band that continued the tradition of the Old Tyme music made popular by their New Ulm predecessors.
Like the "Whoopee John" band and the "Six Fat Dutchmen," Peter and Paul Wendinger traveled the upper Midwest, and beyond, with their band, playing the polka music that made New Ulm famous.
The brothers farmed together on adjoining farms near St. George, led travel groups, and together were inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.
The partnership ended on Saturday when Paul, the younger of the two brothers, died of the cancer he had been battling for several years. He was 59.
"We started out in the playpen together, we played Cowboys and Indians together, we took lessons together, then we went and farmed together," his brother Peter recalled on Monday. "We'd start out on Monday and put in 50 or 60 hours farming, and when the weekends came we'd put in another 35 hours playing. Where we ever found time to raise families, I don't know."
Paul, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007, continued to be active and involved with the farm and the band, as much as possible, Peter said.
"In the last year he couldn't take part in the farming, but he participated in the discussions and decisions."
Paul played his last job with the band on Dec. 12, 2009, in Klossner, said Peter.
"He was feeling well enough that he and Joleen (Paul's wife) led a tour to the Plymouth Playhouse, and on the way back he stopped and played with us in Klossner. He played about half an hour longer than he was supposed to."
Paul also played a couple of numbers in Rochester, where he was hospitalized last March, said Peter.
Since word of Paul's death on Saturday started to get around, the response from across the country has been phenomenal, said Peter.
"The polka stations across the country picked it up somehow, and the e-mails and messages have been fantastic."
The Wendinger Brothers band will continue to play in the future, said Peter.
"I suppose in a few months we'll change the name from 'Peter and Paul Wendinger Band' to 'The Wendinger Band.' Paul's son, Jon, is heavily involved with the band as the drummer. I want to play in about 85 or 90 percent of the shows, but it will have some authenticity (to have John on stage) when someone else is playing the concertina."
In 2003, the Wendinger brothers told The Journal how they started playing together for the "Hometown Harmony" edition. Peter and Paul's father, Herbert, bought a concertina from Christy Hengel during Polka Days one year. Paul was 9 and Peter was 11, and for a few months the concertina sat untouched.
The brothers' mother, Eleanora, finally signed them up for concertina lessons with Merlin Zeil in Hutchinson. They later studied with Jeanette Weber and then with Johnny Helget.
"Eleanora, their mother, said they didn't have the Johnny Helget style, and that's what she wanted," Helget recalled on Monday. "They were a couple of kids who didn't know what the concertina was about."
Helget said the brothers were great entertainers. "They knew how to talk to people, how to entertain them. Paul, he was the people person. He could talk to a piece of wood," Helget said.
The brothers played their first public performance for a wedding in 1963, and in their heyday played 160 to 180 shows a year.
In 2007, Paul was diagnosed with liver disease and a tumor in his liver. He had been battling cancer ever since, and this August served as an honorary chair of the Brown County Relay for Life.
Services for Paul Wendinger will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. George Catholic Church in St. George. His obituary is published on page 5A of today's edition.