Windels waltzes through Empty Stocking Show

For three decades Stanley Windels of Wadena has played his piano or accordion on the Empty Stocking Fund Talent Show stage. "It's a very worthwhile project," he said about Empty Stocking.

For three decades Stanley Windels of Wadena has played his piano or accordion on the Empty Stocking Fund Talent Show stage. "It's a very worthwhile project," he said about Empty Stocking.

The Empty Stocking Fund helps brighten Christmas for local families by providing presents and Christmas dinner to those in need. The talent show is broadcast live on KWAD radio and raises pledges for the fund.

Windels first appeared on the Empty Stocking Fund stage in the early 1950s with his father. He played the accordion and his father played the tenor saxophone.

"They had raised $20 and they wanted to hear 'Red Wing' and a waltz," he recalled about the performance.

He and his father never did go back, Windels said. He returned to the show in 1974. He was practicing with his church choir when his wife, Helen, told him that organizers requested he do his own performance.


"They wanted a certain number on the accordion," Windels said.

He told his wife he'd try the next year, he said.

"But they wouldn't take that for an answer," he said with a smile.

A lady lent her accordion and he quickly ran through each of his songs on the unfamiliar instrument, he said.

"Then I was on the air," he said.

Windels hasn't missed an Empty Stocking show since. He even postponed a hernia operation one year so he could perform. This year will be his 33rd straight performance.

It's the little things he enjoys about participating in the show, he said.

"I had a couple told me once ... that when I played the polka they were dancing the polka listening to the radio," Windels said. "All those little parts make it worthwhile."


Windels isn't sure if he will be able to play his turquoise-colored Titano accordion at this year's show, he said. His arthritis, the heavy accordion case and the cold weather don't go well together.

He celebrated his 80th birthday in July and he may just settle for a few numbers on the piano this year, he said. Windels is still deciding what songs he will play. The once popular hymn "It was No Secret" is an option. And if he plays the accordion he would like to play "Cuckoo Waltz," he said. He might go with "Minnesota Polka" on the piano.

Just about everyone plays Christmas songs, but he likes to mix it up a little, he said. He also tries not to repeat the songs he plays from year to year.

His arthritis may prevent him from hauling his accordion to the Empty Stocking show but it doesn't interfere with his ability to play, he said. He thanks the Lord his fingers don't bother him. He plans to play as long as he can, he said.

Windels acquired his love for music at an early age, he said. Both of his parents were musical. His father played the saxophone. His mother could sing both very high and very low.

"I'm the same way," he said. "I can sing bass and I can sing tenor."

As he gets older the bass goes better, he said.

His three sisters and himself took piano lessons on the farm as children, he said. Those ended when the music teacher got married and moved away. Windels also wanted to play the accordion or the concertina or the banjo, he said. He saved up his money and in the winter of 1948 he bought a small German Noble. In the fall he ordered a brand new 120 bass accordion from Sears and Roebuck. It came by express and he picked it up at the train station in Wadena.


"That was an exciting day," he said.

His current accordion is a 1973 Titano. His brother spotted it at a gun shop, he said.

"Evidently someone had traded it in for a gun or ... a rifle," he said.

It's a quality instrument, he said. It doesn't take a back seat to higher priced models.

In addition to his yearly Empty Stocking performances, Windels shares his musical gifts with Fair Oaks Lodge residents the first Friday of the month, at the Elders Home in New York Mills the first Thursday of the month and at other events in Central Minnesota.

Windels music can be enjoyed at the 2007 Empty Stocking Fund Talent show that will be held from 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the Wadena-Deer Creek High School commons. Many other talented local musicians and vocalists will also perform during the event. The Rev. Jeff Heisler of Wadena Evangelical Church will do the invocation.

The Wadena Area Community Band, the Northern Lights Chorale, St. John Lutheran Choir and a small ensemble from the Wadena-Deer Creek Highs School band are some of the group acts that will perform. Other performers include Lin Bentrup, Suzanne Moe, Karen Leverington, the Smith Family, Aaron and Hanna Johnson, Cody Bain and Michael Paulson, and Justin Tucker. New acts include Allen Uselman playing piano and singing as well as a flute duet by Beth Papillon and Lisa Noeldner-Weniger.

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