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Rustic Fair helps fund caretaker's cottage



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MORE THAN 200 visitors from Illinois, Wisconsin and elsewhere showed up for the Rustic Fair fundraiser at Rustic Falls Camp in town of Lyons. The camp was created by Eric Lentz and his wife Deanna Hallagan, of Skokie, Ill. Despite enduring treatments for colon cancer, Lentz led the way in restoring a 160-year-old stone farmhouse on the property, turning it into a weekend hostel for up to 12 people.

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Lentz (click for larger version)
June 26, 2012 | 02:05 PM
LYONS — Recent surgery to repair complications caused by chemotherapy couldn't keep Eric Lentz from attending the second annual Rustic Fair at Rustic Falls Camp on June 17.

The camp, at 5537 Cranberry Road, is just five miles east of Lake Geneva.

Although he needed the help of a golf cart to get around the camp's rolling grounds, Lentz was all smiles and "hellos" to those who attended the Sunday afternoon event. When asked how he was feeling, Lentz would offer a wide grin and reply "Fan-tastic!"

When a friend insisted what he meant by fantastic, Lentz softened up a bit, and said: "It means I'm doing OK."

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Visitors, many of them who had stayed at the camp, ate hot dogs, hamburgers and fried chicken sandwiches, watched the kids play carnival games or listened to music by talented 17-year-old guitarist and singer Maycin Taylor, and later, by Josh and the Empty Pockets.

Lentz's wife, Deanna Hallagan, a partner in creating Rustic Falls, said her husband probably should have stayed in bed and rested. But that's not Lentz's way.

Having opened the rural haven two years ago for the ill, at-risk and challenged, Lentz and Hallagan are now building a caretaker's cottage just across the road from the camp so they can be close at hand if they're needed.

Lentz and Hallagan had long planned to open a camp to provide outdoor experiences for at-risk youth, cancer survivors and physically and mentally challenged children and adults.

When Lentz was diagnosed with cancer, the two decided not to wait any longer.

In 2006, Lentz, Hallagan and their two children started repairing, renovating and restoring an abandoned dairy farm and fieldstone farmhouse into a special retreat. After work or after chemotherapy, Lentz would drive from his home in Skokie, Ill., to Rustic Falls, either alone or with friends and family, and spend a few hours moving boulders, hefting railroad ties or doing other landscaping work at the camp.

The property is now paid for and owned by the Frank Lentz Foundation, a nonprofit named after Eric's late father, who was a child psychologist for the Dundee School District and Barrington High School in Illinois. He was also a scout master in the Elgin, Ill., area.

Lentz owns a pool maintenance business in Skokie, Ill., and Hallagan is a social worker. Lentz also has a degree in special education.

The two act as caretakers for Rustic Falls Camp.

They currently own a summer home at Bohners Lake, but that's nearly three miles away, Lentz said.

The new lodging is called Kay's Cottage, named after Deanna's mother, who died last Thanksgiving.

Most of the outside work is done, while the inside is mostly framed.

Like the work on the farmhouse, now completely redone and able to sleep eight campers, work on the caretaker's cottage is being done by friends and relatives.

After the recent Rustic Fair, Lentz said that $1,200 was raised, and it will all go to the new cottage.

Unfortunately, a golf outing scheduled for July had to be cancelled because of concern over Lentz's health, Hallagan said.

Lentz said he's hoping they can sell the house at Bohner's Lake so they can apply the proceeds to the caretaker's cottage.

Rustic Falls itself sits on about five acres that straddles Cranberry Road.

The center of the camp is the two-story fieldstone farmhouse, which has been renovated and restored with mostly volunteer effort to sleep up to eight.

Surrounding Rustic Falls is 87 acres of the old Drumlin farm now owned by the Seno Woodland Education Center. Seno and Rustic Falls have a mutual use agreement, so guests of Rustic Falls can hike the Seno grounds, and occasional guests of Seno can use the facilities at Rustic Falls.

Lentz said Rustic Falls has two to three groups visit every month. The Frank Lentz Foundation has established connections with several social and medical service agencies in Illinois and Wisconsin. Rustic Falls Nature Camp is a customized camp experience for small groups.

The goal of the camp is to create unique outdoor experiences for at-risk youth, cancer survivors and physically and mentally challenged children and adults. Each camp is tailored to the special needs of each group.

Camps can be customized to include activities such as horseback riding, nature walks, fishing, archery, basketball, swimming, sledding, ice skating, crafts and cooking.

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