Kathy Hlad was born in Cleveland, Ohio and given up by her Irish birth parents. Rudy
and Florence Hlad took her in as a foster child at age 4 and she was formally adopted
at 8. The Hlad’s also adopted two other children, Chris and Tricia. After a fifteen
year search, Kathy located and met her biological family. She is the eldest of four
siblings, Chuck, Larry and Lise.
The Hlad family raised Kathy within the traditions of the Cleveland Slovenian community.
This included a deep-rooted involvement in the fabric of the Slovenian ethnic social
life – its music, dance, cultural and social activities. On the radio and through
recordings, polka music became a way of life for the young Kathy. Her natural musical
ability became apparent when she picked out Frank Yankovic’s “Too Fat Polka” on a
12 key electric organ. Then her Father was puzzled by a long distance call on his
phone bill and soon discovered that Kathy was playing songs on the touch tone phone.
She began taking piano lessons and classical performance became her major throughout
At age 8 she joined the Circle 2 Slovenian Junior Chorus and, as a member, eventually
became the piano accompanist, dance instructor, button box instructor and assistant
musical director. It was here, through the guidance of Cecelia Dolgan, that Kathy
began to learn and cherish the traditional songs of Slovenia. It was common to see
her sitting in front of the record player listening and memorizing the beautiful
music and lyrics as sung by legendary vocalist Eddie Kenik.
During a vacation in Slovenia she saw the famed Lojze Slak perform. Kathy was intrigued
by the sound of the button box and Slaks musical style. Seeing Frank Novak perform
that same year, she convinced her Father that she would like to learn to play. She
took lessons from Frank and soon became a pioneer of females playing the button box
in this male dominated community. Johnny Pecon, Lou Trebar and Eddie Habat were all
powerful influences in developing her own musical style. She began teaching the button
box at age 15 and appeared on TV Polka Varieties with Frank Yankovic, Circle 2 and
other button accordion musicians. Kathy was one of the first winners of the button
box contests that were promoted by Ed Grosel and Kenny Bass. In 1976 she led a tour
hosted by her Father and Frank Sterle to 5 countries with her musical friends Phil
Srnick, Frank Okiki and Rudy Pryately.
In 1978, Kathy was crowned Miss SNPJ, and also awarded the titles of Miss Talent
and Miss Fraternalism. In 1994 she played at the Rose Bowl festivities in Pasadina.
In 2004 she received the Button Box Player of the year award from Circle 2. The Federation
of Slovenian Homes honored her in 2006 as their Slovenian Woman of the Year. The
Trustees Honor Roll was presented to her in 2009 and she was given the Most Valuable
Player award from the National Button Accordion Fest in 2015. The Polka Hall of Fame
has awarded her 7 times in the best button box individual/duo category and as the
music director of the Captains Crew, received the button box group award for 5 consecutive
Lifetime friend Joey Miskulin, the “Cowpolka King”, invited her and several students
to perform on stage with the Riders in the Sky and Kathy also had the opportunity
to perform with Jimmy Sturr. In 2014, the Button Box Diva’s appeared on the Molly
Kathy has been featured on a number of recordings. She sang with the Slovenian Junior
Chorus on the “Slovenec Sem” album. She was included on the album “Polka Fun In The
Sun” with Ron Luznar and on the “Button Box Classics” recording, both Al Meixner
productions . Meixner also produced her “Signature Series” and “Stare Pesem” CD’s.
She plays on the “Touch of Cilka” with Cecelia Dolgan and Joe Valencic. Peppermint
recording released “Dear Friends” with Ron Likovic and “A Whole Life Long” with the
Captains Crew. Kathy plays on “The New Kid in Town”, with Johnny Koenig and is one
of 4 guest artists on the Fred Ziwich’s CD “Button Box Menagerie” . She plays the
button box waltzes on “Don’t Svet It” with Frank Svet.
For the first time ever, Kathy played the button box, along with Julie Tabaj on trumpet,
on international horse racing TV “Call to Post” at Northfield park.
Kathy remains active as a player, teacher and promoter. She continues to perform
locally and at festivals throughout the country. She is always willing to play or
lend a helping hand to promote the Cleveland- Style Polkas with her million dollar