Canoe Guru

photo of Ralph Frese by Laurance Reed

The Story:
There is no one in the Chicago area who has had more of an impact on Chicago waterways and on the sport of paddling than blacksmith, activist, businessman and naturalist Ralph Frese.

We shot this story in 2007.  Since then Ralph has been trying very hard to retire.  He wants to sell his store, Chicagoland Canoe Base, but it appears that people aren’t lining up to buy a paddling retailer/rental business with a blacksmith shop out back.  So Ralph carries on.  In the meantime, a portion of the north branch of the Chicago River has been named in his honor.  And other institutions he founded carry on, like the Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon, the New Years Day Paddle on the Chicago River, and the Chicago Maritime Society

Lunch with Ralph, Rita and a hundred others, New Year's Day 2011

Recently, Ralph has been battling cancer.  He looks great and insists that it’s no big deal.  His wife Rita, meanwhile (one of the loveliest women you could ever meet, by the way)  was not so happy that he decided to paddle on New Year’s Day.  He made it most of the six and half miles.  But at the portage near the end, his knees were sore and he chose not to get back in the canoe.

See you next year, Ralph!

More information:
Want to buy a kayak?  Or a paddling business?  Stop by Chicagoland Canoe Base.

Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon

New Years Day Paddle (“Happy Canoe Year!”)

Chicago Maritime Society

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I was wrong!

photo of Ralph Frese by Laurence Reed

I thought we didn’t have another show until April 1st, but there is one on tonight.  And it’s one of my favorites.  We call it “Getting There” and there are four stories: the king of no-handed cyclists, the guy who runs 21 miles to work twice a week, winter bike commuters, and a portrait of legendary Chicago paddler Ralph Frese.  Tune in!

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See you April 1st!

The show on Friday night was the last of the 13 shows we made for this first season.  Now, a break till April 1st when we will begin to repeat those 13 shows. 

If you have watched the entire series, sorry… you’ll have to wait till the fall for new shows.   But if you’ve missed any of them, you’ll have another chance.  Here is the line-up starting in April.   And, of course, you can always watch segments on the homepage.

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Want to know what’s “Behind the Stories?”

In addition to wild praise and offers from Hollywood, there are two kinds of email we get most about Jay’s Chicago:  “where are they now?” and “how do I find out more?”  

I’m happy to report that, now, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can answer those questions and more about many of the people in our stories.  You can also read about our experiences making the stories. 

Do you see that “Behind the Stories” link at the top of the page?  That will take you to this new part of our website.  There you’ll find a list of all the stories that have “Behind the Stories” stuff.   

Right now there is information about just 8 stories —  the ones that air tonight plus several more.  We will keep adding more all the time.

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Karen Dove Cabral Foundation

The story: Karen Dove Cabral passed away in 2007 after 6 years of living with breast cancer. The following year, Karen’s husband and parents started the Karen Dove Cabral Foundation to assist other young mothers battling the disease.

Update: In January, 2011, the foundation presented the Kellogg Cancer Center with a donation of $50,000 to help young mothers.   Here is an article about the donation.  If you want to support their efforts, you can find out more on their website.  Their next “Butterfly Ball” fund-raiser will be in September 2011.

Behind the story: Karen’s father Bob Dove worked  at Channel 11 for many many years until retiring last year.  Many of us followed the family’s ups and downs as Karen battled cancer with such strength, energy and optimism.   After she died in 2007, leaving two young sons, we began to hear about this remarkable foundation the family was creating.   The purpose is to help young mothers handle the additional expenses not covered by insurance, like childcare, a health club membership, or acupuncture and other alternative therapies.

For more information:
Karen Dove Cabral Foundation website
Article about $50,000 donation.

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Robotic Surgery

The Story: We go inside an operating room, where surgeon Dr. Pier Giulianotti uses robots to operate.

More Info: Learn more about this program at the UIC College of Medicine, click here.

Learn more about the da Vinci Surgery here.

In 2009, the magazine Fast Company listed Dr. Pier Giulianotti #85 on the list of 100 Most Creative People in the Business.

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World War II Bombers

The story: I take a once-in-a-lifetime flight on a fully restored WWII Bomber and meet a WWII veteran who flew in one.

Another POV from Stefi Weaver, a producer that was on the other bomber: “I’ve never been one for planes. I get motion sickness way too easily, but I thought, hey, it shouldn’t be that bad…at least I’ll have co-workers around me to cushion my fears. Let me tell you, I literally thought I was going to pass out. First off, we’re sitting on the floor of the plane, strapped into these little chairs, and things around us are rattling as we take off. The blood is draining from my face as we hit a higher altitude. Once we’re airborne, everyone is excited to take off their seat belts and go to the front of the plane to see what it looks like through the nose of the plane…not me. I’m basically grasping (with white knuckles) to the open(!) window, trying not to lose my lunch. So this is what it looked like from my point of view (that was the plane that Jay was in):

And suddenly it hits me…this is the exact view that they had in WWII…except they were fighting for the freedom I now selfishly enjoy.  This was the closest thing to a history lesson I would ever be apart of. The view, the knots in my stomach, the air coming in the window…how lucky was I to be a part of this?! Here’s a shot of the bomber I was in, from Jay’s POV: (see that little window near the tail section? You might be able to see my blood-drained face…)

Once we landed and disembarked, I kissed the ground (literally) and the blood that had left my face returned. And although my co-workers still make fun of the fact that I was completely out of my element on that plane ride (white knuckles and all), I will never forget how truly proud and honored I was to be able to feel a part of history…and how truly thankful I was to all the veterans, past and present, who fight for the very freedom I enjoy. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will remember forever.

Update: The Collings Foundation usually makes a stop at the Chicago Executive Airport (formally Palwaukee Airport) sometime in August or September. Be sure to stop by and tour the insides of these magnificent living history bombers.

More Info: Want to fly on a B-24 bomber? Check out the Collings Foundation’s website

Find out more about the Honor Flight Network here.

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Sacred Transformations

The Story: The tattoo on Regina’s back used to be the name of her abusive boyfriend. Now it is roses and tinkerbell.

Some of the toughest experiences in life leave marks on our bodies like scars or tattoos.  To pay for removal or a coverup is expensive.  Until you meet Eric Dean Spruth.  Eric started Sacred Transformations to offer free tattoos that transform old tattoos and scars.  But you don’t just pick a design off a chart.  Eric and his army of volunteers work with you to design a new image that will represent your new direction in life.

Update: As of February, 2011, Sacred Transformations has a permanent home at Miller Beach Ink in Miller Beach, Indiana.

More Info: Find out more about Sacred Transformations here.

See Regina’s transformation here.

A 2010 article from featuring Eric.

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Adaptive Sailing

The Story: Chicago is certainly a big sailing town. But if you have a disability, you may think that you can’t participate — except as a passenger. Several years ago, I met some people who would like to prove you wrong. They’re at the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Program in Burnham Harbor.

More Info: Website

Judd Goldman Sailing Center is located at Burnham Harbor (one block West of Planetarium), 1362 S. Lynn White Drive, in Chicago.

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Portrait of a Panhandler

Tyrone King

The Story: A portrait of Tyrone King, as he works the streets of downtown Chicago asking for money.

Behind the Story: Sometimes I give money when people ask, sometimes I don’t.  But I never stop and talk.  I don’t want to intrude.  And, frankly, I don’t want to become friendly enough that I feel obligated to give more.  But though I don’t stop to talk, I always wonder.  And imagine.  What are the circumstances that brought this person here?   What was their life like before they were on the streets?

One of the great things about my job is that I have the chance to ask these questions.

I made this story several years ago when we were doing a “Chicago Matters” series on money.  I found Tyrone by talking to people at Pacific Garden Mission.  They identified a few people and Tyrone was so comfortable with me and the camera that he was the obvious choice.

When it came time to find a place for this segment in “Jay’s Chicago,” it was tough to know which of our themes was the best fit.  “Learning a Trade” had room.  And Tyrone spoke a lot about all he had to learn to be an effective panhandler.  I don’t know how you feel about calling panhandling a “trade,” but there you have it. 

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