Watkoski Family Band

At a Bocek family party held in Owosso, MI, around 1949 Ray Watkoski was a young boy of 12 years of age.  Seeing his cousin August (Augey) Dunay playing the button box, Ray really wanted to learn to play!  Augey convinced Ray's parents, John and Emily Watkoski to sign Ray up for some lessons.

A few days after arriving back home in Grand Rapids, MI, Ray's mother took him on the City Bus down to J & S Music which was located on Division Avenue.  The music store didn't have a button box like Ray wanted, but they did have an accordion.  Although reluctant because it wasn't what Augie was playing,  Ray's mother rented the accordion and they began to look for someone to teach him how to play.  Shortly after, Mrs. Wendlandt began giving Ray lessons. 

When Ray was just 15 years old, he and his brother John played their first "real" band job (they got paid!) for their grandparents 50th wedding anniversary.  Ray played the accordion and John played the guitar.  It was January, 1952.

Two years later the brothers played their first wedding under the name Pokaceno's which included the two brothers and their father John on the drums, and Lloyd Krezelewski on the banjo and guitar. 

While Ray was working on the accordion, Julie Fleis and her sister Ruth Ann began singing together.  Their mother, Irene Fleis entered them in talent shows, and they began singing for 4H Clubs and eventually sang on the Deputy Don Television Show around 1957.  The girls cousin, Gertrude Pleva often accompanied them on the piano.  Although they were asked to sing on the Arthur Godfrey Show, they were unable to because of personal commitments (RuthAnn had a boyfirend). 

In 1955 Ray and Julie met at a wedding Ray was playing at in Cedar, MI, Julie's hometown.  Fate intervened about a week later when they met again at a Memorial Service for Ray's late Uncle Fr. Joseph Bocek in Empire, MI.  Julie's father build the memorial monument hat was dedicated to Fr. Bocek and the entire Fleis family attended the event.  Not long after, Ray made his way to the family farm in Cedar, MI to visit.  Three years later, on January 3, 1959 they were married.

Ray continued to play in the band with the Pokacenos while Ray and Julie started their family.  Then, on New Years Eve 1963 following Ray's father's retirement from the band, Julie joined playing keyboards and singing while her brother Ed Fleis joined them on the drums.  The Rayaires were born. 

Fifteen years and five children later, Ray & Julie contemplated giving up the band because it require them to leave their teenagers home alone on weekends.  Their love of music and entertaining prevailed as they encouraged their son Dale to play the accordion and trumpet, Diane to play the piano, and Debra to play the drums.  The Watkoski Family Band began entertaining with the kids while Ray continued on the accordion and Julie learning and playing the electric bass.  Young Doug and Dawn accompanied the band everywhere.

Today, Ray and Julie continue to play and involve the entire family.   Diane's husband Tom Pelak fills in on the trumpet, Debra's husband Dan Bizon on the accordion, and Dawn's husband George Rosinski on the drums.  Dawn and George have their own polka band, The Diddlestyx and travel throughout the Midwest.  Dale and his wife Lynne also attend as many events as possible.  The grandchildren also get involved by singing their favorite polka's often.  

As their oldest child Diane says:  "As children of Ray and Julie Watkoski, each of us cherish the memories of polka music and entertaining throughout our lives.  Our parents, now married over 50 years have been the best influence we could have ever had.  Their compassion, generosity, love of music, and love for each other is always evident.  Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are filled with their music.  We are blessed.  Thank you God."

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