The Cotati Accordion Festival’s 1993 Honorary Director Cotati’s Own …

by B. B. Paulekas, his son

VITO PAULEKAS WAS BORN IN LAWRENCE, Massachusetts in 1913 into an ethnic neighborhood where his first two languages were Lithuanian (from his parents) and Italian (from his friends). As a youngster, he dropped out of school early to work in Boston as a bike messenger for Western Union. By the age of thirteen, he was the first place winner of an amateur vaudeville contest. That led to a life of entertaining people.

When the depression hit, disguising himself as a clown and brandishing a toy gun, he robbed movie theaters. He was caught and spent the next eight years in prison. There he learned to play the violin and led the prison orchestra. After his release, he bummed around working odd jobs: He was a Merchant Marine and near the end of the war delivered supplies to the troops at Normandy.

Marathon dance contests were big business in the 40’s and Vito entertained people in this way. One time he danced for 5-1/2 months to come in second place. He later moved to California where in the 40’s or early 50’s he fathered two children, Mark and Anne, and opened a ceramic lamp base manufacturing business.

This was followed by a sculpture class which he taught in Hollywood for twenty years. While in Hollywood, Vito was followed by a band of freak-out dancer hippies. These were a group of mostly young people who wore wildly-colorful costumes. Many of the costumes were made by his wife, Sue Paulekas, who had a dress shop above the ceramics studio.

He started putting on dances in Los Angeles; high schools and other venues. When this “older guy” got popular with many youngsters, the police started investigating his activities. He was arrested for having a dance without a “dance permit.” So, Vito left Los Angeles.

Someone had said, “Go check out Cotati, Man!” He did. Vito landed here on El Rancho Drive in 1969. He was just getting started. At the new Sonoma State College he started a dance class called, “Can you dig it!” which continued for fifteen years. Out of this dance class emerged the vaudeville song-and-dance theater Freestore, which played to audiences in Cotati, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York as well as other venues.

He played the accordion for Freestore. While raising six children here in Cotati and performing with Freestore, he stole the show in many community theater productions and week after week danced at clubs for hours to serve the wider community as a human services commissioner.

One of the most valuable things Vito endowed us with was his presence and his teaching individuals that their presence and personality was valuable and special too.

One other great contribution Vito made to his community was something he started when he first arrived here … He came to this park, The Hub, and said, “Hey, nice park!” Then he said, “Wow, what if it had a stage?” So he built a stage so everyone could entertain each other. Members of Cotati’s government and populace thought it was such a good idea to have a “town stage” (not to mention conveniently located in The Hub) that they wanted it permanent. So, as soon as the old stage which he built started to show the first signs of deterioration, they quickly erected a much more substantial one in its place to last another 40 or 60 years.

So here we are, enjoy it and remember to look to the south and take in another of Vito’s contributions to Cotati – the magnificent statue of “Chief Kotate.”

The Cotati Accordion Festival Committee wishes to express their sympathy to the family of Vito Paulekas who passed on October 25, 1992.