Chester A. Schafer
May 22, 1922 – April 11, 2018
Chet Schafer, a cultural beacon in Chicago’s Polish-American community, passed away on April 11, 2018, at the age of 95. He was a family patriarch, polka radio disc jockey and music producer, and champion of Polish culture. He inspired those around him by sharing his love of Polish music and culture and faith in God. Chet Schafer was born Chester Aloysius Szafraniec in 1922 in Chicago to Karolina and Henryk Szafraniec, who were recent Polish immigrants. He grew up in Wicker Park and had seven siblings: Hank, Joseph, Frank, Mike, Tony, Helen, and Wanda. Schafer served in an administrative capacity during World War II. After completing his service, he took journalism and broadcasting classes at Northwestern University on the GI Bill. Chet married Dolores Mendygral in 1950. They lived in the West Humbolt Park neighborhood and raised a family of thirteen children. The family even occupied two adjacent houses on Walton Street for many years. All members of the family were active members of St. Francis of Assisi parish. Chet spent many years working a day job as part-owner of Hollywood Press, a Wicker Park printing firm, with his brothers Tony and Frank. The family moved to the Mont Clare neighborhood in 1990. Chet Schafer’s radio career spanned over 65 years. He got his start co-hosting a polka program with musician Lil' Wally Jagiello on Chicago station WCRW in 1950. In 1952, Chet started his own “Polka Hit Parade” program on LaGrange station WTAQ, using the popular TV program “Your Hit Parade” as a model. In 1954 he expanded to another radio program on WTAQ, on which he held the first polka band popularity contest in the Chicagoland area. He received over 22,000 pieces of mail for this contest, which was featured in Reader’s Digest magazine. Chet’s polka music has also been broadcast from Oak Park station WPNA before he found his long-term home on the airwaves at WCEV 1450 AM in 1986. The Sunday afternoon “Chet Schafer Show” was broadcast on WCEV until November 2017. Chet was known as the “Dean of Chicagoland’s Polka Broadcasters.” He is believed to have one of the longest-running radio careers in the Chicago area and one of the longest-running polka radio shows in the country. Chet was also the first in Chicago to produce live polka stage shows. These were variety shows which featured live bands, vocalists, dancing groups, and comedy skits. Chet performed live broadcasts of his radio show at local polka dances and outdoor festivals. He also co-hosted the polka segment of the “Polonia Today” TV show in WCIU Channel 26 in the 1980s. In addition to his radio activities, Chet owned the Chicago Polkas recording label since 1952. He produced 10” 78 rpm records, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, LPs, and CDs by artists such as the Pala Brothers, the 47th Street Concertina Club, Lil' Richard, the Hi-Notes, and Staś Bulanda. He released over 100 albums. One of Chicago Polkas’ last recordings was an album of music composed by and for the Polish and American war hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Throughout his life, Chet was active in a number of community organizations, including the Polonus Philatelic Society, the International Polka Association (IPA), the Senior Polka Association (SPA), the Polish American Cultural Club, and the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America. He wrote articles for such publications as Polka Guide, Polka World, and I.P.A. News. Chet donated a 1794 handwritten document by Polish military and American Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko to the Polish Museum of America. In 2004, Chet and Dolores received the Polish Spirit Award from the Polish Museum of America. That same year, Dolores passed away. Chet married Geraldine Ryndak in 2010 at the age of 88, showing that he never gave up on life, love, and happiness. Geraldine passed away in 2013. Chet remained active with his radio show and recording label until his health declined in 2017. He passed away due to kidney disease. Chet Schafer is survived by sister-in-law Barbara Szafraniec; children Alice Belmont, Jane Schafer Kramer, Judith Speer, Thomas Schafer, Therese Bird, Joseph Schafer, Susan Mleczko, Natalie Tu, Ann Geisert, Peter Schafer, Andrew Schafer, Pauline Schafer, and Emily Ruzich; 27 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and many other relatives and friends. Visitation Friday, April 20th, from 3pm to 8pm at Montclair - Lucania Funeral Home, 6901 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago. Morning prayers Saturday, April 21st, at 9:30am at the funeral home followed by a funeral mass at St. Priscilla Catholic Church at 10:00am. Interment St. Adalbert's Catholic Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Polish Museum of America would be appreciated. Director Edward A. Tylka.
- Visitation Friday, April 20, 2018
- Prayer Service Saturday, April 21, 2018
- Funeral Service Saturday, April 21, 2018
Chester A. Schafer
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April 21, 2018
Growing up I lived across the alley from the Szafraniec Family . They lived on Potomac Ave. in a 3 story building with a 2 story building in the back.. On the first floor was a Midwest Grocery Store. The Szafraniec's were a very religious family. I remember Chester playing softball in the Wicker Park School yard. My best memory was his first venture into radio with L'l Wally. That hooked me on Polka Music. In 1959 my family moved to St. Francis of Assissi. Guess who lived across the alley, Chet & Dolores Schafer. Since I was getting older my mother talked to Dolores about finding me a nice Polish Girl. The way it went Dolores invited me to help at Chet's Polka Stage Show at Kelly H.S. There I met my Polish Girl Friend and love of life Carol Mendygral, Dolores'. niece. So being not only a polka promoter, historian Chester and Dolores were matchmakers. As we approach our 50th Anniversay on June 22 nd we owe a debt of gratitue to Chet and Dolores for being the perfect matchmakers. We have many fond memories of the Schafer Family and wish our sincerest condolonces on their loss.
George and Carol Tarasuk
Michael J. Bonome
April 15, 2018
I was raised on a farm in Gretna, Nebraska, and listened to Czech Style Polka Music Moved to Illinois in June of 1970 to the Sauganash Community. Just happened to find Chet's program on a Sunday the week before Thanksgiving in 1975 and listened every Sunday ever since, A great friend, I great man in the polka field, I will miss him dearly !!
April 12, 2018
I met Chet when I was 12 yrs. old. When I was 16 I co-hosted the IPA radio show together with Leon Kozicki & Jerry Drust on WTAQ In LaGrange . He always was very supportive of my radio carrer and was a friend