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Theodore "Teddy" Zalac
March 23, 1935 ~ May 16, 2023 (age 88) 88 Years Old
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AUSTINTOWN - Theodore M. “Teddy” Zalac Jr., 88, left his earthly abode unexpectedly and went to be with the Lord on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
Theodore, or Teddy, as he was called, was born March 23, 1935, the son of Theodore M. and Barbara Kolar Zalac. Teddy grew up on the West Side of Youngstown and graduated from Chaney High School in the Class of 1953.
Growing up he was involved in Boy Scouts. He also was proud of his ethnic heritage and was a member of, and sang in, the Strossmayer Singing Society. Music was in his blood and the accordion became his instrument of choice at the age of 14. Prior to his graduation, he had formed his own polka band, The Socialaires. They played many weekend engagements in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The band also played weekly on WKST-TV in New Castle, Pa.
He met the love of his life, Helen Blasin, in 1953, while performing in Pennsylvania. They were married in July 1954 and resided on the Blasin family farm in Clarksburg, Pa., where they began to raise a family. Teddy continued playing in his orchestra, along with teaching accordion, piano and organ in Butler, Pa. During this time, Teddy also studied music arranging under the direction of Mario Mosti in Pittsburgh. He also was the Scoutmaster of the local church troop.
Around 1961, Teddy and his wife decided to return to Youngstown. He continued to play musical engagements in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania while also teaching piano and organ at Carl Fry’s Musicland in Austintown. Eventually, the Socialaires broke up due to the conflicting work schedules of the various members, including Teddy. By the mid-1960s, as Teddy’s orchestra was once again in demand, he linked up with various other musicians to form the Ted Zalac-Dale Wright Orchestra.
In the late 1960s, Teddy purchased an old-style Slovenian accordion, known as a button box. He was the first in the Youngstown area to play this instrument. After the band recorded “Swinging Slovenes Polka,” the band took off with a craze. With the unique sound of the button box and his playing style, he changed the polka scene. They became the most popular polka band in the eastern Ohio-western Pennsylvania area, playing for many events such as weddings and ethnic functions.
After a couple of members left the band, Teddy once again formed another band known as “The Swingin’ Slovenes,” using this namesake as their theme song. Over the years, the band recorded six additional popular polka albums, including their last album, “Let’s Have A Party.” Teddy continued playing until his wife became ill in the early 2000s.
The highlight of Teddy’s musical career occurred in 2005 with the induction by the American Slovenian Association of his own composition, “Let’s Have A Party,” into the Cleveland Style Polka Music Hall of Fame as the Greatest All-Time Hit Song. This became the band’s theme song, as all of its polka dances began with this song and it was requested many times during the event. Many other bands have since recorded this song, and this tune can be found on YouTube and may be downloaded as a ringtone for your phone. In 2010, he also received the Most Valuable Player Award at the National Button Accordion Festival.
He loved to see the joy and smiling faces he brought to the people who attended the events, but most of all, he enjoyed attending family gatherings and having a good time. In 1968, Teddy was employed by Packard Electric, General Motors Division, and retired in the 1990s. His other hobbies were keeping up with his yard work and reading, especially inspirational and philosophical books. He was of the Catholic faith.
Preceding him in death was his wife, who passed away in 2006; his parents; his sisters, Ruth Macina and Ann Poccia; a daughter, Mary Schesler; and a grandson, Teddy Zalac.
He leaves to cherish his memories, a son, Theodore (Cheryl) of Canfield; daughters, Diane (Ronald) Lawrence of North Canton and Kimberly (Richard) Oblinsky of Mineral Ridge; as well as 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, with two on the way.
Calling hours will be 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 21, 2023, at the Vaschak Kirila Funeral Home, 3100 Canfield Road, Youngstown, OH 44511; and 10 to 11 a.m. Monday, May 22, 2023, at SS. Peter and Paul Church, 421 Covington St., Youngstown, OH 44510, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.