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.
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!
Want to buy a kayak? Or a paddling business? Stop by Chicagoland Canoe Base.
New Years Day Paddle (“Happy Canoe Year!”)