It started with a speeding ticket.
But that night in 1965, Moostash Joe got more than a ticket.
He gained a name that became well known among thousands of polka fans, radio listeners and travelers. And whether they danced to his music or took one of his tours, many people knew Moostash Joe Spellerberg.
On Wednesday, the polka and travel legend died at The Monarch at Eastmont in Lincoln.
He was 83.
Spellerberg, who had a polka band, played for dances around the world. He hosted a free, annual Big Band Polka Party at Fremont City Auditorium and launched Moostash Joe Tours, a company that remains in his family to this day.
And for almost 60 years, the area music icon hosted a big band and polka show every Sunday afternoon on KHUB Radio.
“My dad was one of those guys who was a one-of-kind personality,” said one of Spellerberg’s sons, Joey. “He brought so much joy to other people in his life and that was from his love of music and his love of the tour business.”
Joey Spellerberg described his father as an active, enthusiastic man, who enjoyed life. Anyone who met the elder Spellerberg always remembered that meeting.
“There’s not many people who are able to connect like that,” Joey Spellerberg said.
An unexpected meeting provided Spellerberg with a moniker he’d have for the rest of his life.
That night in 1965, Spellerberg was driving just outside of West Point on the way to a dance job when he noticed the flashing lights of a patrol car in his rear view mirror.
Patrolman Clarence Mayhew wrote a speeding ticket for Spellerberg.
But Mayhew was also a fan of what then was called “The Polka Show.”
Mayhew thought the show needed a better name.
He noticed Spellerberg had a mustache.
So Mayhew suggested the show be called “The Moostash Joe Polka Show” — not Mustasche Joe — but “Moostash Joe.”
The name stuck and Mayhew and Spellerberg became and remained good friends until the Mayhew’s death in 1993, the tour company website states.
Spellerberg loved his children and music, Joey said.
“He was a great father and he wasn’t afraid to show that affection and he was always 100 percent honest and would tell us things we needed to hear and was always willing to help no matter what,” Joey said.
Joey recalls trips to the radio station.
“He would take us to the radio station when we were kids and we would sit next to him and listen to the music and he’d let us talk and those are good memories of him and his show,” Joey Spellerberg said. “His show meant a lot to him and a lot of people.”
The longtime musician and businessman started Moostash Joe Tours, in 1975, and for the next 15 years served as a tour company that served people wishing to travel abroad.
That first tour occurred because he was approached by members of the travel group Intertrav to promote a tour to Oktoberfest in Germany through his band, The Moostash Joe Polka Band.
People traveled to Czechoslovakia, Australia, China and throughout Europe.
“He promoted it through his band and he had a huge following with his band,” Joey Spellerberg said in an earlier Tribune article. “He used his name for that and it worked. The first year they got 50 people to go, and the next year he got 150 and then in 1977 he got 300 for the same tour.”
Throughout the following years, Moostash Joe searched for tours he thought people would enjoy. And as more people started taking tours, more locations continued being added.
From 1975-1990, 95 percent of all customers traveled to foreign countries. Now, the destinations have reversed, with 95 percent of people traveling in the United States.
The company offers more than 90 tour destinations annually, and since its founding has served more than 30,000 tour guests, making it an elite Midwest tour company.
“I’ll always remember him guiding tours and being in the back of the motor coach and watching him entertain people,” Joey Spellerberg said. “He was an entertainer. People always gravitated toward him and his personality, and that was fun to see.”
Two of Spellerberg’s children, Joey and John, run the tour business. Joey is president and John is vice president. Joey said he and his brother want to continue doing everything in their power to honor and recognize the legacy their father created.
“We have the utmost respect for dad and what was already established for us. It’s a big responsibility for me, and it’s something I feel every day, because I want to maintain and continue what was already established,” Joey Spellerberg said.
In May, Joe Spellerberg was inducted into the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame.
He was involved in numerous events and organizations throughout the years, always directing others to stay Fremont-oriented, stated Chamber information.
“Spellerberg’s true contribution is being a beloved ambassador of Fremont,” said Bill Vobejda, vice president of Fremont Health Medical Center, during the Chamber Hall of Fame gala this month. “Along with the thousands of lives he has touched, and the life long memories he has helped create along the way, his contributions are truly immeasurable.”
It’s hard to have a bad time listening to polka and big band music, he said.
“Every aspect of it is happiness,” Joey Spellerberg said. “The old saying goes, ‘It’s happy music for happy people,’ and that’s true — nothing’s downtrodden about it. It’s all just great up-tempo music.”
The funeral will start at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fremont with the Rev. David Belt officiating. Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. Monday with a rosary at 7 p.m. at the church. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery in Fremont.
Moser Memorial Chapel in Fremont is in charge of arrangements.