“Keeping the Blues alive.”
Albertina Wassenhove’s leadership philosophy is embodied in her “love of the music” and was recognized with the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award she received in 2018 from the Blues Foundation. Awarded annually, the Keeping the Blues Alive award honors individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the Blues world. Albertina was recognized for her leadership in running Martha’s Midway Tavern in Mishawaka.
Albertina’s parents purchased the Midway in 1924. From 1924-1933 her mother, Martha, ran it as a speakeasy operating under the name of “Midway Lunch.” Albertina was born during this era and has spent her life being part of the Midway. Even though she wasn’t allowed into the bar as a child, she remembers peeking through a small, barely noticeable door and watching all that happened inside.
When she turned 21, Albertina began waiting tables before she eventually stepped into the role of booking the bands. Midway’s identification as an award-winning Blues establishment happened by mere chance. In 1988, Tom Moore wanted a place to practice and asked Albertina if he could practice at the Midway. Albertina responded, “sure you can practice here.” After a few of these practice sessions, Albertina said, “wow, that’s pretty good music” and started Midway down the path toward recognition as one of the most well-known Blues venues in the Midwest.
In 1991, after her mother’s death, Albertina took over the operations of the entire establishment with her sister. In 2003, Albertina said, “we have to do something” different to stay competitive and she took over sole operation of the tavern. Albertina says, “I love music” and vows to try to keep the tavern open “until I die.” However, Albertina has been working to put a plan together for the Midway to continue keeping the Blues alive by ensuring operation of the tavern when she is no longer able to be actively involved.
Even though Albertina will be 91 this year, she continues to book bands and travel around the country on scouting trips for new musicians. She likes to listen to “music at the different stages in the game,” which allows her to bring new, developing bands and musicians to the area. She continues to grow and expand the musical offerings at the Midway and will often book Motown musicians in addition to traditional Blues bands. However, Albertina’s primary musical love continues to find its home in the Blues.
In addition to running the Midway and ensuring it continues to offer music, Albertina is also the preserver of its history. She has maintained an archive of all the papers and records from the Midway’s early days in 1924 when her mother operated it. Albertina observes that she is guided by her “love for the music and giving people a chance.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Albertina was a 2018 CMWL honoree.