Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ralph Frese, "Mr. Canoe," passes away

Frese, third from left. Cook County Board
President Toni Preckwinkle is on his right.
Photo courtesy of Dale Cooney.
Last year I attended the New Year's Day Canoe Paddle, also known as Happy Canoe Year. No, I didn't paddle a canoe, I took pictures and video of the event. One regret I have from that day is that I didn't meet Ralph Frese, who founded the event years ago.

Frese, 86, passed away on Monday. However, after I posted my blog entry about the unique New Year celebration, I received a gracious email from him thanking me for writing about what will always be his event.

From the Chicago Tribune's Frese obituary:
In the early 1950s, Mr. Frese started the Illinois Paddling Council, said the group's current president, Tom Lindblade. The goal then was to have the Fox River designated a wilderness river. While that never happened, Mr. Frese's efforts helped raise awareness of protecting Illinois waterways from untamed development and pollution.

Mr. Frese also started several long-running paddling events, including the Des Plaines River Marathon begun in 1958 and the New Year's Day Canoe Paddle. That event, now in its 27th year, draws hundreds of paddlers to travel a 4-mile stretch of the Chicago River's North Branch on the first day of the year. Paddlers are advised to dress warmly and maintain a sense of humor.

Morton Grove, Illinois
Mr. Frese was a fourth-generation blacksmith who was still plying the blacksmith trade in a building adjacent to his Northwest Side canoe shop, using a forge to make high-quality tools for stonemasons and sculptors.
As part of his interest in Illinois history, Mr. Frese participated in re-enactments of early voyages by such long-ago explorers as Robert de LaSalle, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. He not only participated in the trips but built fiberglass replicas of some of the birch bark voyageur-type canoes used by those early settlers, some as long as 34 feet.
A wake followed by a funeral service will be held Thursday at Simkins Funeral Home in Morton Grove--just a short walk from the terminus of the New Year's Day Canoe Paddle.

Rest in peace.

Related post:

Photos and video: Happy Canoe Year from Morton Grove

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