Ralph Frese – January 1944
1967 Received recognition from the Desplaines Chapter of the Izaak Walton League for conducting the Marathon.
1969 Letter from Ill. Gov. Olgivie recognizing my many contributions and mentioning especially my proposal for a system
of state scenic rivers.
1969 Certificate of Appreciation from Gov. Ogilvie for being a member of his advisory council.
1970 Chicago Area Council, BSA certificate of appreciation for making scouting benefits more available in our area.
1970 Illinois Div. of the Izaak Walton League conservation award for efforts in working with the Cook County Clean
1970 Received a special recognition for the National Council BSA for helping with SOAR, Saving Our American
1972 Received a US flag that once flew over the US capitol from my US Rep. Frank Annunzio in recognition of our working
to abate pollution.
1972 George Dunne, President of the Cook County Board of commissioners, gave us an award at a Clean Streams Com.
meeting, hand signed by all the commissioners, in recognition of the years of service with the committee.
1972 At the same meeting, a representative of the federal Johnny Horizon program of the dept. of the interior, gave us
1972 At the same meeting, the federal EPA presented me with one of their first official flags and a certificate of appreciation.
1972 Received a letter from Gov. Olgivie appointing me as a member of the Illinois Tri-Centennial Commission for the
300th anniversary of Illinois
1974 Received an award the Prairie State Canoeists for creating the Jolliet-Marquette re-enactment and the annual
1976 A resolution passed in the Ill. House of Representatives honoring the Desplaines River Canoe Marathon and the
historical tableau we created along the shore at Dam #1 showing the role the canoe played in our history.
1976 Received a Certificate of Appreciation from the united States Youth Conservation Corps for participating in the youth
1976 Golden Rudder Awards Committee awarded a plaque for contribution to outdoor sports in our four Great Lake states.
1979 The Ill. Paddling Council gave a Friend of the River award, signed by Stan Warburton, President, for contributions to
canoeing and conservation of rivers.
1980 Certificate of Appreciation from the Forest Glen Kiwanis Club for a slide presentation about the river in their area.
1980 Received an award from the Nat. Soc. Daughters of Colonial Wars for contributions to preservation of colonial history.
1983 Received the Howie LaBrant Award from the United States Canoe Assn. together with a lifetime membership.
1985 Received recognition for helping with the Mississippi River Youth Expedition commemorating International youth year.
1989 Local Masonic Lodge gave a Community Builders plaque for our environmental efforts.
1994 The American Canoe Assn. created a new award called the Legends of Paddling and we were the first recipient.
1997 The Friends of the Chicago River with John Husar, Chicago Tribune outdoor writer, declared the upper Chicago River
the “Unofficial Ralph Frese Canoe Trail” at their annual meeting.
1998 A state of Illinois Certificate of Appreciation from Brent Manning, Dir. of the IDNR and signed by Gov. Jim Edgar for helping
found the Illinois Paddling Council, the Prairie State Canoeists and the Annual Desplaines River Canoe Marathon
2006 Became the 12th person to be voted into the Illinois Conservation Hall of Fame.
2006 Received an award from the Indian Boundary Scouters Assn. for “rekindling the voyageur spirit in all of us”.
2007 The Cook Co. Forest Preserve District commissioners passed a resolution naming the upper North branch of the
Chicago River the Ralph Frese Canoe Trail and the District is now conducting the annual New Years Day trip down the river.
2007 Received an award from the Austin/Irving Community Council honoring us for a lifelong commitment to preserving
open space and it’s history.
2009 Was given a lifetime achievement award from the National Mississippi River Museum and entered into its Riverman’s
Hall of Fame.
Ralph’s love of nature began at an early age. “I grew up when there were still wetland prairies around here. It was native prairie filled with blooming shooting stars and compass plants, all the stuff that we are now trying to restore.”, he explained, pointing to the area around his canoe shop at Narragansett Ave and Irving Park Road.
It was that love of nature that inspired the fourth generation blacksmith, one of the last working in Chicago, to build canoes in his blacksmith shop in the 1950’s for his Boy Scout Troop. This was the beginning of The Chicagoland Canoe Base. The Chicagoland Canoe Base was known nationwide as the most unusual canoe shop in the United States, attracting visitors from all over the world. For the past 50 years, Ralph was known well in the paddling community as “Mr. Canoe” and has been the pioneer for the conservation of the Chicago-region Rivers.
Ralph founded the Illinois Paddling Council in the early 1950’s. He also founded the annual Des Plaines Canoe Marathon in 1958, and as part of his interest in Illinois history, participated in re-enactments of early voyages by such long-ago explorers as Robert de LaSalle, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. As a craftsman, he built the birch bark canoes made of fiberglass, which he built for the re-enactments, and designing the Canadienne, a new type of fiberglass canoe. He was also known for his collection of over ninety native and antique watercraft and thousands of books and ephemera on the subject.
Ralph illustrated lectures on the role of the canoe in Illinois history, on the water trails of the Midwest and the environmental state of these waterways. Ralph Frese has been the recipient of many federal, state and local awards and was recognized by the American Canoe Association to receive the first of a new national award given called “Legends of Paddling”. In 2006, Ralph was the 12th person to be voted into the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame. The forest preserve district of Cook County, Illinois (the county containing Chicago) designated a section of the North Branch of the Chicago River the Ralph Frese River Trail. It goes from Dempster Street in Morton Grove to Willow Road in Northfield.
In November 2009, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight featured an insightful video interview with Ralph, and subsequently aired the Interview again after for passing in December of 2012. We encourage you to watch these videos, and learn about Ralph.
Ralph passed away on December 10, 2012 at the age of 86.
VIEW OUR ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT ON RALPH FRESE