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July 15, 2014 | 02:05 PMLYONS — Eric Lentz’s dreams, ambitions and energy crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin line, to the benefit of residents of both states.
Using a lot of sweat equity and the help of friends and relatives, Lentz and his wife, Deanna Hallagan, a Chicago area social worker, transformed an abandoned dairy farm and a century-old field stone farm house into a place of respite for families battling disease and for children at risk.
Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops from Wisconsin and Illinois were also invited to use the field house during their stays at the nearby Senna Nature Center.
Suffering from chronic colon cancer, Lentz battled his condition for nine years as he strove to make his dream come true.
The camp, at 5537 Cranberry Road, is just five miles east of Lake Geneva. It sits on about five acres that straddle Cranberry Road.
On Wednesday, less than a month after the third annual Rustic Fair at Rustic Falls fundraiser, Lentz, 58, lost his battle with cancer. He died at home surrounded by family, said Erin Maassen, a niece and spokeswoman for the family.
Having already survived far longer than his doctors expected, Lentz was able to hang on long enough to wish his son a happy birthday on July 8, Maassen said. He died the next day.
“It’s definitely a loss for the family and all the people who helped at Rustic Falls,” Maassen said in a recent interview.
He is survived by his wife, a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Sarah; his mother Jane Herum, a brother, Paul and a sister, Kathy Minchew.
The immediate family, along with 39 nieces and nephews, were the main partners in creating Rustic Falls Camp, Maassen said.
He is also survived by the literally hundreds of relatives and friends, many of whom helped him build his dream.
Maassen said her uncle could be very persuasive.
“It’s incredible the number of people he could talk into helping him,” she said.
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Lentz’s last visit to Rustic Falls was June 22 during the Rustic Fair.
Maassen said her uncle was on oxygen but still fighting his battle against cancer.
During the 2013 fair, Lentz was on a feeding tube and lost even more weight from his already gaunt frame.
That summer, he needed a golf cart to get around the Rustic Falls grounds, but he had made a comeback during the year, Maassen said.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and there was no comeback, she said.
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A memorial Mass and funeral was conducted July 12 at St. Peter Catholic Church, Skokie, Ill., by the Rev. Bill Kenneally, a retired Roman Catholic priest and friend of the family, who blessed Rustic Falls at its opening in June 2010, Maassen said.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Rustic Falls Nature Camp, to 8044 Karlov Ave., Skokie, IL, 60076.
According to the Rustic Falls website, the camp is intended to offer a safe, nurturing environment with recreational and educational activities to enhance the lives of children and their families.
Lentz and Hallagan opened Rustic Falls Camp in 2010, after spending nearly four years renovating the stone farm house. Dating from the 1850s, the house was built on an old dairy farm near Lyons, about five miles east of Lake Geneva.
Rustic Falls is owned by the Frank Lentz Foundation, named after Eric Lentz’s late father.
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Rustic Falls Nature Camp does not charge those who use its facilities, relying on the generosity of sponsors to support camp programs.
In interviews with the Regional News over the past five years, Lentz said he 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 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 center of the camp is the two-story fieldstone farmhouse, which was renovated and restored with mostly volunteer effort. It sleeps 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.
Each camp is tailored to the special needs of each group.
The first kids to stay at Rustic Falls were disadvantaged youth through a Chicago social services agency.
The peace and beauty of the area affected the youngsters deeply.
“They call this the Wisconsin Dells,” Lentz told the Regional News in a 2010 interview. “We have to tell them, well, it’s not quite, but we’re close.”
The Frank Lentz Foundation has established connections with several social and medical service agencies in Illinois and Wisconsin.
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.
The camp was expanded last year, with the addition of Kay’s Cottage, with room for another 10 overnight visitors.
Much of the funding for the cottage came from students at Patrick Lentz’s high school, Niles Township (Ill.) High School. The students donated $70,000, Maassen said.
The cottage is named in honor of Deanna Hallagan’s mother, who died in 2012.
Lentz owned a pool maintenance business in Skokie. He also had a degree in special education.