By Sigrid Pilgrim
For anyone not familiar with Ralph Frese – this is why we celebrate him by holding a special event in his name on the stretch of the river called the “Ralph Frese Canoe Trail.”
Ralph owned the Chicagoland Canoe Base where he was both a blacksmith and canoe builder. When we started paddling in 1973, it was about the only place in the area where one could buy a canoe and also be given the education as to what to do with it. It was also the place where the voyageur canoes used in the Joliet & Marquette Expedition and in the movie Centennial were built.
I asked Rita, his widow, how long Ralph owned the Chicagoland Canoe Base and she said, “I’m not sure. Ralph wasn’t either. But very likely starting with his dad’s blacksmith shop in the little building. I think you could say close to 70 years.”
One of the best stories about Ralph can be found here: http://www.chicagonow.com/booth-reviews/2011/10/at-85-life-is-still-but-a-dream-for-mr-canoe-ralph-frese/. The City of Chicago honored him by naming the street next to his shop the “Honorary Ralph Frese Way.” (See photo below)
Please consider honoring Ralph by also paddling the 59th annual Des Plaines River Marathon, May 22 (www.canoemarathon.com). Ralph started the marathon after building a hundred or more little fiberglass canoes for his boy scout troops to give them something to do and to showcase the natural environment that still existed around a large metropolitan area.