The Hi-Toppers, a popular German polka dance band throughout Central and South Texas, began in the fall of 1948 in New Braunfels when Gordon Zunker, Alton Rahe, and Darvin Dietert (on trumpet, clarinet, and tuba, respectively) practiced for their own entertainment at their parents’ homes. They started with three little German band books purchased from a local music store. In January 1949 the three performed as masked musicians at the “Maskenball” dances as the “Ach und Krach” Kapelle (“Make or Break Band”) at Echo Hall in New Braunfels, Schumannsville Hall, Scheel and Wehe at Bulverde, and the Blue Moon Hall in Marion. They soon added three more musicians—Melford Haag and Allen Moehrig on accordions and George Fisk on drums—and were guests on the Phil Medlin Show on KWED radio in Seguin on February 27, 1949. (Medlin was the sheriff of Guadalupe County at that time.) It was during rehearsals at the Fisk home in McQueeney, Texas, that George Fisk’s father suggested the group call themselves the “Hi-Toppers,” because they were in high school and tops in music.
The Hi-Toppers played on the Medlin Show throughout the spring of 1949. That summer, Becker Motor Company of New Braunfels sponsored the ensemble for their own thirty-minute Sunday afternoon program which continued until April 1950, when the Hi-Toppers moved their show to KGNB radio in New Braunfels. The program was expanded to forty-five minutes in September 1950 and stayed on the air into June 1952. The Hi-Toppers were almost an instant success with the help of the Sunday afternoon programs and their youthful enthusiasm. They played a total of sixty-three dances in their first nine months of being organized. By September 1949 Kenneth Rheinlander had replaced George Fisk on drums. Later that fall, Aubrey Constable, on saxophone and clarinet, replaced Allen Moehrig. William Richter (drums) and Karl Zipp (trombone) replaced Rheinlander and Melford Haag in early 1952 when they quit the Hi-Toppers to form another group, the Cloverleaf Orchestra. Haag rejoined the Hi-Toppers in 1954.
The Hi-Toppers played fifty-one dances at Gruene Hall from 1949 through 1952 and a total of sixty-four gigs at Echo Hall (currently known as Eagles Hall in New Braunfels) during that time. They also performed regularly at the American Legion Hall Post 179 in New Braunfels from 1958 to 1963. In the 1960s the Hi-Toppers started to travel more and more, having saturated the local market during their initial decade of entertainment. They amassed an impressive list of performances and recordings in the following years.
By 1978 they had performed at more than 150 dance halls throughout the state of Texas, recorded ten nationally recognized LPs, and performed for the Texas Statewide Democratic Dinner in Austin as well as the Texas State Society at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Ennis Polka Festival, Aqua Festival in Austin, and Nebraska Polka Days in Omaha. They also performed at the dedication of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Their repertoire featured polkas, waltzes, and also included a variety of two-step, big band, and other dance music. Many other talented musicians regularly played with the Hi-Toppers throughout their thirty-nine years. They included: Reggie Ludwig, Rolf Arndt, Mickey Allen, Jimmy Boenig, Gary Voigt, Terry Krueger, Lawrence Koch, Carroll Hoffmann, Roy Haag, Harvey Kindervater, Fred Baetge, James Findeisen, Robert Petrisky, Willard Dyer, Jim Cain, and Ray Logan. Fred Baetge not only contributed his musical talents but also his musical arrangements which enabled the group to play many styles.
In 1974 they received the first Bürgermeister (Mayor) Award ever presented to New Braunfels citizens from New Braunfels mayor Bill Brown for serving as ambassadors of goodwill for New Braunfels and promoting their German heritage. They performed at Wurstfest from 1963 to 1987. The Hi-Toppers played their last dance on December 31, 1987. They were honored with the Texas Polka Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992 for “bringing their music to the highest standard for 39 years.” In the early 2000s their music could still be heard on polka radio programs in Texas and other states. Memorabilia for the Hi-Toppers is on display at the Texas Polka Music Museum in Schulenburg.
Alton J. Rahe, “History of the Hi-Toppers Orchestra,” The Texas Polka News, January 2004. “Texas Polka Bands,” Texas Dancing News (http://texasdancingnews.com/Texas_Polka_Bands.html), accessed August 22, 2015. Gordon Zunker, Handwritten dance job records in possession of the author.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Alton J. Rahe,
Handbook of Texas Online,
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