Accordionist Floren recalled as humble
By JOHN W. GONZALEZ
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
NEW BRAUNFELS – When Myron Floren arrived for his first Wurstfest in 1968, he peeked out of the airplane at the red carpet and dignitaries and wondered what VIP was aboard his flight.
That’s the kind of humble guy he was, friends said Monday as they fondly recalled the famous accordionist who died Saturday at age 85 in Rolling Hills, Calif.
Except for 1998, Floren was an annual headliner at New Braunfels’ popular Wurstfest from 1968-2002. When he wasn’t on stage playing fast-paced polka music, he visited friends and ailing seniors and enjoyed shopping in his home away from home, acquaintances said.
“He was very generous with his time and talent, going beyond normal entertaining,” said Wurstfest spokesman Herb Skoog. “He gave us that image that we wanted of being a wholesome celebration where families would be welcome.”
Even with immense musical talent and fame, Skoog said, Floren “was common as an old shoe. He’d talk to anybody” and mingled with fans and signed autographs until everyone was satisfied.
Though he played for huge crowds, he made many long-lasting personal connections here.
“I thought a lot of him. I’m sad,” said Betty Grist, 86. “As a person, he was absolutely wonderful — visiting the sick and everything.”
“It’s going to change the clientele” at Wurstfest, she predicted.
“The older people are the ones who enjoyed him,” she said, adding that she and her husband enjoyed dancing to Floren’s widely varied tunes.
Her husband, Ed Grist, now deceased, helped create the annual autumn event, known as the “10-day salute to sausage,” in 1962.
Floren was at the height of his TV popularity as a fixture on the Lawrence Welk Show when Raymond Baese, then the event’s director, invited Floren to the fledging festival.
He was just 10 years old at the time, but musician Joe Grist, the son of Ed and Betty, played drums during one of Floren’s earliest Wurstfest appearances.
“At first he brought down some of the other musicians he worked with from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, and then he got really good about working with the local musicians. He would have an all-star lineup of players from different polka bands here in town,” Grist said.
Quiet offstage, Floren was energetic and “no-nonsense” while performing, Grist said.
“One of the things he was very strict about was tempo — and he played fast. You had to be ready. He’d stomp that foot and his sock would slide down his ankle,” Grist said.
When his father was ailing, Grist said Floren brought his accordion to their house.
“We’d sit in our den, and he’d play songs for Daddy,” Grist said.
Retiree Tom Purdum, who led the local Chamber of Commerce for 30 years, also enjoyed Floren’s friendship and Wurstfest performances.
“It won’t be the same without him. We haven’t had him the last two years, but he’s not forgotten and we’re certainly going to miss him,” Purdum said.
For Floren’s first appearance here, Purdum arranged a VIP airport welcome. Purdum’s wife, Bobbie, said Floren would later recall that he was surprised to see a red carpet, dignitaries, polka musicians and people in traditional German outfits waiting on the tarmac.
“Myron said he started to get out of the plane and thought, ‘My goodness. There must be somebody important on this plane. I wonder who it is.’ That’s Myron. That’s the kind of person he was,” she said.