Ralph Frese: Rolling On The River

Ralph Frese: Rolling On The River

I saved an obituary in my blog "idea book" from late last year.  Frank Frese  died last December at the age of 86.  Frese was a fourth generation blacksmith  who spent most of his life in Chicago.  A blacksmith?  In Chicago?  That alone is worth headlines.

I find myself marveling at his picture (above) sitting over one of his hand-made canoes.   Why?  I'm the son of an engineer but can barely hammer a nail.  The idea that anyone could make their own canoe is as foreign to me as sewing my own wardrobe.   I loved the Ray Rayner show as a kid precisely because he was so awful with the art projects.  In fact, if left for a weekend to build a canoe you would find me asleep in a pile of splintered wood.

I love the fact that Ralph Frese dedicated his life to preserving wildlife and getting people outdoors to enjoy Illinois rivers.  In 2007 a portion of the Chicago River was named the Ralph Frese river trail.

It's easy in a city like Chicago to get lost in the notion that concrete and skyscrapers should dominate the landscape.  I often pause with one of my kids, crouched down with them over the sidewalk, my eyes straining to view whatever bug they have come across (my 2-year old calls all bugs and insects "ladybugs").

I am always struck by someone who appears to live the life they want, on their terms, in a world where half of Americans hate their jobs.  Ralph Frese led a simple life in a complex urban center.

A favorite memory of mine is an early date with my (now) wife spent canoeing on the canal outside of Chicago.  On a a warm spring day we paddled down the Chicago River, enjoying a slice of the city rarely seen.

I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to meet Ralph Frese; sorry that I never had the opportunity to bring my son's Cub Scout pack out for a visit, as Frese also designed canoes for scouts.

Winter will soon turn to spring and I will remember Ralph Frese with a return trip along the river, family in tow.

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