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Playing the music of a bygone era

Frank Koppinger plays old-time music on his accordion on Sunday afternoon for the residents of Evergreen. (Linda Sailer/The Dickinson Press)

Frank Koppinger, 82, never took music lessons, but that hasn't stopped him from playing the accordion ever since he was 12 years old.

He'll listen to a CD or tape, and pretty soon the music is implanted into his head—be it an old-time polka or waltz, or a current country tune.

As other local accordion players have retired, requests for his entertainment are coming at a fast pace. Koppinger will entertain at the next Bandshell concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday. As a solo artist, he's frequently asked to play at Evergreen, St. Benedict's Health Center, St. Luke's Nursing home and Hawks Point.

"I love to do it, the people really appreciate it, I think," he said.

Koppinger grew up 10 miles north of Regent, where he helped on his dad's farm. His dad bought him his first accordion as a youth.

"I played by ear, I knew a few notes, but very few," Koppinger said. "Then when I got married, there were 10 years when I didn't play the accordion at all and sold it. Later, I bought another accordion and started from scratch basically."

Back in the '60s and '70s, he also played for wedding dances.

"At one time, we were a four-piece band, we started with two, then three and went to four piece. It was called the Frank Koppinger band," he said.

Over the years Koppinger has acquired a collection of accordions, up to seven at one time. He's down to two.

Koppinger has worked a variety of jobs throughout his career. After he and his wife, Marge, married in 1956, they moved to Dickinson where he worked for Kirschmann Manufacturing. When that company moved out of town, he started working for Ward Johnson Inc, a Ford dealership that burned down in 1958. At that point, the company was changed to Parkway Ford, where Koppinger worked until 1978. He then became a truck driver, hauling heavy equipment. He worked for a construction company and then Fisher Sand and Gravel, retiring there after 21 years in 2010. But Koppinger wasn't content to stay home. He worked for Butler Machinery for another five years, delivering parts and doing yard maintenance.

Marge and Frank are the parents of three children, Brian, Carla and Curtis. They have three granddaughters and two great-grandsons.

Koppinger has a following of people who like to dance to his old-time waltzes and polkas. He's played at the St. Anthony Club, German Hungarian Club, bars in Belfield and New England, and the Bismarck VFW.

"Most of the time, my wife tags along," he said. "I still try to do different numbers, but I guess I like to play polkas and waltzes."

Everyone is encouraged to attend his Bandshell concert—it will be an opportunity to appreciate old-time music with some country mixed in. There's no charge, bring a lawn chair of blanket.