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Published: Monday, 12/25/2000

Retired rail worker was handy with a harmonica

Clarence Dashner, 87, who played a harmonica for more than 70 years and was nicknamed Speed or Speedy from his work as railroad switchman and conductor, died of pneumonia Thursday in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

He had been in poor health more than a year and was in Spring Meadows Extended Care Facility in Holland much of the last three months, his son Richard said.

He played his harmonica - which he carried with him wherever he went - at Southwyck Shopping Center, where he sold books of entertainment discount coupons in the late 1980s and much of the '90s.

He occasionally played at Rusty's Jazz Caf in South Toledo, with the Vincent Lopez band, at nursing homes, and at events such as senior citizens' days. When he was traveling in Ireland, he gave an impromptu short concert in the House of Lourdes.

He saved his pennies from picking berries to buy his first harmonica when he was about 13. It cost a nickel. He learned to read music when he took organ lessons but played mostly by ear, often country music, spirituals, or hymns. His family plans to play tapes of his music at the funeral.

He yodeled, and normally sang in a baritone voice.

Mr. Dashner was employed for about 45 years on what was then the New York Central Railroad, a job he took at his wife Maxine's urging. She was a registered nurse. They married in the 1930s and had been married more than 55 years when she died.

After graduating from Whitmer High School, he had continued to work at his father's farm and grocery store near Ottawa Lake.

He was the youngest of five children and was born on Friday the 13th. His mother died in his birth, and he was raised by his father and a stepmother.

He had been part of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for 50 years.

Surviving are his sons, Dean and Richard; daughter, Maxine Poulton; 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. tomorrow in Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, where the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The family suggests tributes to the church or St. Vincent Mercy Medical.

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