Jul 28, 2014

Ralph Frese, Chicago Canoeing Guru, Passes On

Known by the beloved term "Mr. Canoe," Frese, of Niles, pioneered and popularized paddling sports on Chicago rivers starting in the 1950s. He's a champion among environmentalists and paddling sports advocates, reflected in many awards.

Ralph Frese, Chicago Canoeing Guru, Passes On Ralph Frese, Chicago Canoeing Guru, Passes On Ralph Frese, Chicago Canoeing Guru, Passes On


Even three years ago, Ralph Frese fretted that his knees weren't in good enough shape to let him set out in a canoe. For someone who almost single-handedly pioneered and popularized the sport of canoeing on Chicago's network of waterways--the Chicago, Des Plaines, Fox and other rivers--that had to be hard.

Frese, 86, of Niles, passed away Dec. 10. Visitation will be held from 3 p.m. until the 8 p.m. service at Simkins Funeral Home in Morton Grove.

Earlier: VIDEO: Cruising Chicagoland Waterways with 'Mr. Canoe' for 70 Years

Frese was also a noted environmentalist. In his work with the Illinois Clean Streams Committee, he and other paddlers reported on the conditions of the waterways, including pollution and blockages, to government agencies. 

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A stretch of the Chicago River from Willow Road to Dempster Street, near Frese's Niles home, has been officially designated the "Ralph Frese River Trail." 

He also started and participated in many historical re-enactments of the early Voyageurs, got many Boy Scout troops out canoeing on area waterways and started the Des Plaines River Trail Marathon.

A list of Frese's other awards is included with this article. 

Friends are asking anyone who knew Frese, whether through canoeing, environmental efforts, etc., to share their memories of him at this website. There are some great stories on it--including one of how Frese single-handedly flipped over a capsized canoe, which had landed a young couple in frigid water far from shore. Freese, who was in his 70s at the time, helped as the couple climbed back into their canoe, then helped them get to shore.

More information is at chicagolandcanoebase.com, the canoe and kayaking store Frese owned and operated for decades. 

Here is the obituary from Simkins Funeral Home:

Frese, Ralph Ralph Frese, 86, of Niles, formerly of Chicago, owner of Chicagoland Canoe Base, home of "Mr. Canoe", beloved husband of Rita; loving father of Diane (David) Gritton, Chaz (Char) Clary, Valerie (George) Fetcho, and the late Scott Wayne Clary and William David Clary; dear grandfather of 4; fond brother of Gloria Frese; cherished friend of Richard Gross, Paul Ahlrich, Jon Melita, Michael Otter, William Derrah, and many others. Visitation at Simkins Funeral Home 6251 Dempster St. Morton Grove, IL 60053 Thursday 3 p.m. until time of service 8 p.m. Cremation private. In lieu of flowers, donations to a future foundation through  www.chicagolandcanoebase.com appreciated. Share yourRalph stories at his blog at chicagolandcanoebase.com or sign online guestbook at  www.simkinsfh.com. (847) 965-2500 


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