Community says goodbye to ‘Mr. Canoe’
Ralph Frese. | Supplied photo
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:14PM
NILES — It’s no wonder people called him “Mr. Canoe.”
During his life, Ralph Frese, of Niles, was known for his avid love of Chicago area waterways and his passion for canoeing.
Frese, a fourth-generation blacksmith and owner of Chicagoland Canoe Base on Chicago’s Northwest Side, died Dec. 10 after a battle with cancer. He was 86.
With a plethora of accolades during his lifetime, Frese was this year’s recipient of the Niles Chamber of Commerce’s Bob Wordel Living Legend Award for his dedication to preserving the rivers and waterways in the Chicagoland area.
The North Branch of the Chicago River is named The Ralph Frese Canoe Trail in his honor. He was determined to create a natural environment along the North Branch.
“He was probably one of the few well-known people that were not involved in the political scene,” said John Thill, president of the Friends of the Morton Grove Forest Preserve, who knew Frese for about 20 years. “He was a common man and had a passion for what he believed in.”
Thill said that Frese joined the Friends of the Morton Grove Forest Preserve and remained with the organization for 10 years.
“Between his love of the waterways and his environmental advocacy, it was a perfect fit,” said Thill.
Frese was also selected to the Riverman’s Hall of Fame and the Illinois Conservation Hall of Fame.
Frese’s store, Chicagoland Canoe Base, 4019 N. Narragansett Ave. in Chicago, built and rented out canoes. Due to Frese’s death, the store has been closed and a liquidation sale is taking place
Thill said that people would call the store from all over the world and Frese would talk to them about canoes and the waterways.
“We’re going to have a tree planted in his honor,” said Thill, who said the tree will be planted somewhere on public property in Morton Grove.
Ralph Frese was the husband of Rita and father of Diane (David) Gritton, Chaz (Char) Clary, Valerie (George) Fetcho and the late Scott Wayne Clary and William David Clary. He is also survived by four grandchildren.
A service was held Thursday, Dec. 13 at Simkins Funeral Home in Morton Grove.