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Clarence "Shorty" Vogel

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Clarence Vogel had an 'adventurous mind'

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL
  • Star Tribune
  • August 10, 2011 - 7:57 PM

As a boy in rural Clarksdale, Mo., Clarence Vogel rode a horse 5 miles to a one-room schoolhouse, daydreaming about airplanes and the exploits of World War I fighter pilots along the way.

As he grew up, Vogel ditched the horse for airplanes, helicopters and a career in aeronautics that spanned from the Pacific theater of World War II to the labs of Honeywell International.

"Early on, his dad realized he would never be a farmer," said Jay Lansing, a friend of Vogel's for more than 30 years. "He was a tinkerer."

Vogel died July 30 of kidney failure in his Minneapolis home. He was 97.

An engineer by trade, Vogel repaired damaged bombers, co-held a patent for automatic hovering of helicopters and helped design equipment for testing satellite gyroscopes.

"He had an adventurous mind," said his daughter, Chris Spencer. "He just loved to solve problems."

Standing 5 feet 2 and nicknamed "Shorty," Vogel often regaled friends with tales of being just short and slim enough to crawl inside airplane wings during World War II for hard-to-reach repairs.

Noted for his quirky sense of humor, Vogel took a pair of long underwear one St. Patrick's Day, dyed them green and showed up to a neighbor's party dressed as a leprechaun.

When Vogel wasn't in the lab, he was tending his garden or in the family garage, a gathering spot for neighborhood men to tinker with car engines and appliances, carve wood and swap tales of feats and fix-it jobs gone wrong.

One of Vogel's favorite stories was of a pastor from his hometown who took apart and reassembled his Ford Model A to find out that, after his efforts, it would drive only in reverse, Spencer said.

Vogel's ability to fix or build just about anything was near legendary in Minneapolis' Kenny neighborhood. His younger daughter, Eileen Sytsma, jokingly recalls looking out on a cold winter night, seeing snow fall and asking her mother: "Did Daddy make that, too?"

He is survived by his wife, Agnes; daughters Spencer and Sytsma; a sister, Luella Harr of St. Joseph, Mo., grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, where he ushered for decades and began an undertaking, "The Moses Project," to encourage interaction among Minneapolis' Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.

"He had so many different dimensions to him," Spencer said. "That made for an interesting life."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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