Cruising Chicagoland Waterways with "Mr. Canoe" for 70 Years

Ralph Frese, 85 of Niles, shares his love for water.

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Ralph Frese has collected numerous awards and honors in his long career, but the best may be being known as "Mr. Canoe." The 85-year-old Niles resident has run Chicagoland Canoe Base in Portage Park, a city neighborhood, for more than 50 years.

The shop inhabits the same building where Frese worked with his father as a blacksmith for many years, before devoting the shop fully to his passion for canoeing and kayaking.


Frese has done a number of extraordinary things in conjuction with his love of the water, such as organizing re-enactments of canoe trips done by early explorers in the area, creating historic canoes for television and film productions, and founding the Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon—now in its 54th year.

Another big part of Frese's work was being part of the Illinois Clean Streams Committee, a group that observed the state of waterways and reported back to government water, as well land management agencies.

For his work in environmental protection, Frese recently received the honor of having the north branch of the Chicago River that extends from Willow Road to Dempster Street named the "Ralph Frese River Trail."

"It's a very great honor. My classmate from high school had a piece of a street named after him, but I have a whole river named after me," Frese said in reference to his former schoolmate Hugh Hefner.


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