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LMRD Vol 8 No 12b

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Voice of the Wild & Mysterious Lower Mississippi River

This Issue is Dedicated to

Master Canoe Builder

Ralph Frese

1926 - 2012

He will live on through his canoes,

stories, and blacksmith creations,

His journey is just begun...

Y’all are invited:

Friday, Dec 14th

Mighty Quapaw Christmas Party

& Mississippi River Movie Night:

Starting at sundown on Friday, Dec 14. Bring your jackets and scarves and bundle up for an outdoor movie night under the stars by a roaring fire with apple cider brewing. Potluck Supper. We’ll lay out the blue enamel plates, bowls & cups for whatever you bring. We’re going to set the projector and screen up on the banks of the Sunflower. Rain Location: inside Quapaw Canoe Company. RSVP

Movie Choices Include:

The Best of the Mighty Quapaw

Scenes & Stories from 2012

The Mighty Quapaw

by Natalie Irby and Rachael Johnson

Barefoot Workshops

Dave Cornthwaite and the Mighty Quapaws

by Madge & Billy Howell

the Delta Bohemian

We All Live Downstream

by Hillary Cline and Lori Garrabrant

Barefoot Workshops

SOLA: Louisiana Water Stories

by Jon Bowermaster

Mister & Missus Sippi

by Monsta Movies

Livingston History Past & Present

(from Livingston Montana on the Yellowstone River)

by Herbert Krill

Turning the Tide

by Louisiana Public Broadcasting

Troubled Waters:

A Mississippi River Story

by the Bell Museum of Natural History

Nobody (The Jerry Bell Story)

by Alan Spearman and Lance Murphey

Along the Mississippi

by Peter Adler

Rick Stein: Tastes the Blues

by the BBC

Surfing a 300 Mile-Long Wave

by Quapaw Canoe Company

Note: we probably won’t watch all of these unless it turns into an all-night slumber party!

Ralph Frese

1926 - 2012

Our Paddles are up for voyageur, historian, and canoe builder extraordinaire Ralph Frese. Please keep him and his family in your river wishes and prayers.

In 1999 Ralph mentored me through the construction of our first big canoe, the 26 1/2 foot cypress strip Ladybug Canoe in 1999. Every voyageur canoe we have built since then has been somewhat indebted to his generosity, patience and unbending sense of ethics and historical accuracy. He scrutinized our dugouts with a stern historian’s eye. I will always remember the first piece of advice he gave me: "Read, read, read! Read everything you can get your hands on" [about big canoes]. I have tried to follow his advice and discover the secrets of the ancient canoe practice in the stories and drawings of the peoples who lived and settled in North America and in between the lines written from thereof. Canoes are as much a part of our story as rivers are, something mostly forgotten or ignored. Trains, planes and steamboats are but a blip in the timeline of the North America, while canoes extend through many centuries, even millennia.

A giant tree in the forest has fallen with Ralph. A library has burned down. But his stories and canoes and everything he shared with us will live on forever on the rivers of America and the canoes that ply their channels.

We love you Ralph! Thank you for everything you have carved, created and shared with us! You have made the world a better place!

-”Driftwood Johnnie” John Ruskey

Ralph Frese Stories

The family of Ralph Frese has set up this blogsite for everyone who knew him to share and record their stories and memories of Mr. Frese:

Chicago Sun Times:

Canoe expert and conservationist

Ralph Frese dies at 86

Maureen O’Donnell

Staff Reporter Chicago Sun Times

December 10, 2012 8:42PM

Ralph Frese was known throughout North America as “Mr. Canoe.”

Mr. Frese, owner of the Chicagoland Canoe Base shop at Irving and Narragansett, designed beautiful watercraft for all types of freshwater sailors.

“I would call him one of the most influential canoeists in the world,” said James Raffan, executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario.

In addition to building modern canoes for people who wanted to glide down Chicago area rivers, Mr. Frese also made highly prized vessels for historical re-enactments.

He built replicas of 34-foot Montreals, used in the old fur trade; 26-footer Canot du Nord crafts for skimming the surface of the Great Lakes, and 20-footers for recreating “le voyage” of fur trader Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette, who in 1673 made an epic journey tracing the northern part of the Mississippi River, becoming the first Europeans to view what would become the city of Chicago.

In 1973, he organized a re-enactment of the 300th anniversary of the Joliet-Marquette journey. The “voyageurs” traveled 3,000 miles in about three months, from St. Ignace, Mich., to Arkansas, and back up to Green Bay, Wis., in replica birchbark canoes built by Mr. Frese.

And in 1976, he provided canoes for a re-enactment of the explorer LaSalle’s 1682 journey from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Frese single-mindedly — and almost single-handedly — spread the message that the canoe was as important as the horse or railroad in the development of modern-day America, Raffan said.

A conservationist who never tired of the herons, frogs and unique plants and trees that flourish along Chicago’s waterways, Mr. Frese died Monday of prostate cancer at Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter in Glenview. He had been canoeing for 72 of his 86 years.

He acquired his first watercraft, a used Mead Glider kayak, when he was about 14, said his friend and fellow canoeist, Bill Derrah. Growing up on the Northwest Side, Mr. Frese was close to the Des Plaines and North branches of the Chicago River.

He loved being “admiral of my own Navy,” he said in a 2007 interview with WTTW’s Jay Shefsky. When he sailed, he was enchanted by the beauty around him. He retained that childhood sense of joy and spread it to others, friends said.

“The canoe is really a magic escape,” he told Shefsky as he toured the Skokie Lagoons. “We’re in the middle of 6 million people and we’ve got a little bit of this all to ourself.”

A fourth-generation trained blacksmith, he began restoring and building canoes in a workspace in the back of his shop at 4019 N. Narragansett.

“He created that whole concept that you could build these [vintage] boats again,” Derrah said.

With Mr. Frese’s replica canoes, “I’ve gone hundreds of miles on the Great Lakes,” Derrah said.

They were identifiable for Mr. Frese’s skill.

“If I was on one of his boats, people would stop on bridges and say, ‘Hey, I know the guy who builds those boats!’ ”

Countless boy scouts were introduced to canoeing through his creations, according to Derrah and Mr. Frese’s friend Rich Gross, a protege who learned how to build canoes from him.

Mr. Frese received a “Legends of Paddling” award from the American Canoe Association and a lifetime achievement award from the National Mississippi River Museum. He was a member of the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame. The north branch of the Chicago River was renamed the Ralph Frese River Trail in his honor.

He added more than 120 canoes and kayaks to the collection of the Chicago Maritime Museum from as far away as Africa, South and Central America, and Polynesia, author Mary Ann O’Rourke wrote in an upcoming article planned for the museum website.

Mr. Frese built his last canoe two months ago with his friend, Gross. “He danced a jig, he was having so much fun,” Gross said. Mr. Frese is survived by his wife, Rita, with whom he often canoed; his children, Diane Gritton, Valerie Fetcho and Chaz Clary; his sister, Gloria, and four grandchildren.

Visitation is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Simkins Funeral Home, 6251 W. Dempster, Morton Grove. A service is at 8 p.m.

Quapaw Canoe Company

Calendar 2012


Friday December 14th: Quapaw Christmas Party. You are hereby invited to a Mighty Quapaw Christmas Party and Mississippi River Movie Night! Starting at sundown on the banks of the river behind Clarksdale headquarters. Bonfire. Potluck supper. Bring something to eat and drink. River movies to follow including We All Live Downstream, The Mighty Quapaw, SOLA: Louisiana Water Stories, Mister & Missus Sippi, and others from the DVD library we call the Best of the Mighty Quapaws. See below for complete list.

Monday Dec 17 - Sat Dec 22 Middle Mississippi St. Louis to Cairo Illinois. In conjunction with Big Muddy Adventures. A 200 mile run down the Middle Mississippi in possibly the lowest waters ever from the confluence of the Missouri to the confluence of the Ohio. Paddle or portage the Chain of Rocks, under the Eads Bridge, alongside the Great Arch, past the mouth of the Meramec and the Big Muddy, below the Trail of Tears, past Grand Tower, St. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, Thebes, and the giant meandering loops above Cairo. Near Thebes the entire Mississippi River flows through the Thebes Gap where the Shawnee Mountains cross from Illinois into Missouri. The Mississippi cuts through this mountain range and their collision creates a bedrock shoals called “The Pinnacles.” If significant precipitation does not soon arrive the Middle Mississippi will have to be shut down to towboat traffic. Subject to change depending on wind, weather and river conditions. Call or write for complete itinerary and details.

Thursday, Dec 27th Full Frosty Beaver Moon Float from Helena, Arkansas. Meet 411 Ohio in Helena 2pm. Back 10pm. Call or write for details.

Friday, Dec 28th Full Frosty Beaver Moon Float from Memphis, Tennessee. Meet Memphis Harbor 2pm. Back 10pm. Call or write for details.

Saturday, Dec 29th to Monday Dec 31st Full Frosty Moon Float and Sweat Lodge from Clarksdale call or write for details.

The Mark River Blog:

Why I Paddle

By Mighty Quapaw Youth Leader Mark “River” Peoples

1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern

Mark River - Why I Paddle

I awake on the Sunrise Bar with a layer of ice on the canopy of my tent with the Chickasaw Bluffs in the distance. We are one day into our Low Water Expedition from Osceola, AR to Vicksburg, MS. The night was crisp and frigid, but beautiful, with the sounds of owls, coyotes, and raccoons continuing their nocturnal foraging well into the morning. I lay in my sleeping bag an extra five minutes before I make my dash to the warm fire surrounded by The Mighty Quapaws and friends. They laugh, knowing I'm not a fan of being cold, I'm dressed as if we're in the heart of winter. The whole time I'm smiling not wanting to be anywhere else, but patiently waiting for the sun to warm the cold air and to dry our tents before we continue on. With the combination of the warm sun and the slightly colder water makes the Mississippi River look like a hot spring. I forget about the conditions and marvel at nature at its best and I ask myself, " Why do I paddle?"

I paddle because I'm an explorer, humanitarian, and environmentalist -- with the Mississippi River being my medium.

I paddle to create and build a sacred, intimate relationship with the river so I can change and destroy the myths that linger with its existence.

I paddle because the river is like life. Its meandering and forever changing moods build character, discipline, and intestinal fortitude needed to handle life's trials, tribulations, and adversity.

I paddle for the constant changing of geological and geographical landscape settings that are so fleeting, they change daily.

I paddle to meet other "river citizens" like myself to share knowledge and information about our country’s most valuable resource and discuss strategies to create systemic health.

I paddle because it's my new sport. I was raised a laborer, athlete and scholar. The river has given me new life. My body is recovering from all the collisions from football reviving the necessary mental and physical health needed to practice my stewardship of this great river daily. Every time the Quapaws and I paddle it brings us closer as a team. The bond between my teammates become stronger. Our relationship, built on trust and honesty, flourish. I try and set an example for our team every paddle stroke.

I paddle because I'm a metaphysical combination the soul of my deceased mother, Iveara Peoples, who died when I was eleven years old, and the river. She taught me that life's a gift. It's not what you get in this life, it's what you give. When she died, I associated hawks and eagles with my mother. So whenever the wind is in my face, the water feels heavy, or the elements seem unbearable -- the creator gives a sighting that soothes my soul. It lets me know she's always with me. I recall camping between Beaver Island and the Port of St. Louis during the Circumnavigation of St. Louis, while the bright lights of the Jefferson Barracks Cemetery illuminated my tears of joy from across the Mississippi River. I was smiling being able to spend the night that close to her. I knew physically she was there, but her soul was with me across the river. She lives through me.

In closing, I paddle because the river is my church, and it restores my soul. I know that every time I return from an expedition it changes perceptions of the people I encounter. I walk through town and people say, "You guys made it back", I respond " Yessir!"

They say, "I need to get out there."

I think in my head, "that's why I paddle!"

Find your paddle and become a river citizen today.

- Mark River

Friday, Dec 28th

Full Frosty Beaver Moon Float from Memphis:

Put in at Meeman-Shelby Forest and paddle into the rich undulating colors of sunset as the river swirls between islands and floodplain forests.

Make a supper landing, build a fire, and enjoy the rising of the moon over the Mississippi River. Set off again in the canoe paddling now by the mysterious undulating light of the Full Moon past the mouth of the Loosahatchie River, the Wolf River, and then down along Mud Island and into the Memphis Harbor at the foot of Beale Street. The sandbars are as bright as snowfields in the full moon and the river glistens like cold stainless steel.

17 river miles. Meet and park your car at Mud Island (secure parking). Shuttle to Shelby Forest Boat Ramp. Return to Memphis by canoe, your car will be waiting. Includes life jackets, paddles and all necessary river & emergency gear. All ages welcome. We have life jackets for all sizes & shapes! Leave towel & change of clothing in your car. Bring daypack for personal items. Place cell phone, camera and any other electronics in zip locks, drybags or dry box. Schedule subject to change in case of inclement weather.

Call 662-902-7841 for details & reservations or write No better way to prepare for the New Year -- with a roaring driftwood fire, good company and the Full Frosty Beaver Moon rising over the biggest river in North America!

This Winter

Get to know YOUR river!