Obituary: Gen Meissner: Her love of the polka never faded

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 29, 2014 - 9:07 PM

Gen Meissner’s daughter knew better than to schedule anything for her mother over the noon hour on weekdays.

Not even lunch.

Into her 90s, Meissner made sure she had the TV tuned to a polka program, to which she moved along to the music.

Meissner, who with her husband ran the Majestic Ballroom in Cottage Grove for a quarter-century until its closing in 1999, died May 22 after suffering from complications of dementia.

Meissner was 91 and lived her final year and a half with one of her daughters in the same Shoreview home where she and husband Don raised their family.

“She would dance the whole hour,” said Renee Gullikson, Meissner’s daughter. “That was her exercise. We all would dance. Noon to 1. No calls, no eating lunch. You had to eat lunch before and after.”

The love for the polka was passed on not only to the Meissner children, but to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Gullikson said.

“We all learned how to polka, it seems, even before we walked,” Gullikson said. “Three of the granddaughters got so involved they started to compete.”

While the polka might not be a younger generation’s idea of cool, Gullikson said the grandkids loved having a ballroom in the family.

“They would have sleepovers and get to sleep on the stage,” Gullikson said, adding there would be eight or nine of the little ones at times. “They’d get the sleeping bags all set up, and they could Rollerblade before any of the dances would start.”

Gen and Don Meissner had worked for years at other ballrooms in the Twin Cities, and they tried to buy the old Bel Rae in Mounds View, where they both worked. Gen sold tickets and Don tended bar.

When that didn’t work out, “they decided to build” along the Hwy. 61 frontage in Cottage Grove and opened the Majestic Ballroom in 1973, Gullikson said.

The ballroom became famous for its “floating floor,” built on springs to make the moves easier on the legs as the bands played polkas, waltzes and the like — always live, never recorded.

As they danced and worked their way through their 50s and 60s, the Meissners stepped into retirement and closed the ballroom in 1999.

“It had slowed up a bit,” Gullikson said. “They wanted to quit while they were ahead. They had done what they always wanted to do.”

Don Meissner died two years later, but Gen stayed active among polka enthusiasts on her own.

“Even though they had retired, they kept going to different festivals” in and around Minnesota, said Peter Wendinger, whose Wendinger Band played regularly at the Majestic Ballroom. “They brought busloads to different places. They had a following all for themselves.”

Wendinger said he and the others in the band were at the Majestic “for every one of their polka festivals in August. It was one of our favorite places. The management was just great and easy to work for.”

And just as the Wendinger Band played at Don Meissner’s funeral, the group did the same for Gen, driving up from the New Ulm area.

“Your foot is going; not the usual for a funeral,” Gullikson said.

Along with husband Don, son Gary also preceded Gen Meissner in death. Along with daughter Renee Gullikson, she is survived by son Michael Meissner and daughter Lisa McKinnon; and siblings Bobbie Kaszynski and Marion Stone.

Services have been held.

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