Rustic Falls camp dedication set for Oct. 3
September 15, 2010 | 08:59 AM
Lyons Township — Eric Lentz may well be the first happy camper at Rustic Falls Nature Camp.
Despite fighting colon cancer that spread to his liver, Lentz, 54, of Skokie, Ill., is a whirlwind of activity and energy as he and friends and other volunteers restore and remodel an 1850s farm house to become a summer camp for young and old who need nature's healing touch.
Lentz said he's $20,000 short from opening the doors, but he's confident he'll find the money for that.
With an earlier opening date for the camp pushed back because of health issues, Lentz has now set 1 p.m. Oct. 3 as the dedication date for Rustic Falls. It will be done with some ceremony and the blessings of a Roman Catholic priest.
At this point, there's no turning back, he said.
"My wife and I took a home equity loan (to pay for the property)," Lentz said. "At this point we can't stop."
This summer, three groups of inner city kids came up to the camp. They didn't stay in the house, which is still under construction, but they were able to enjoy the 80 acres of wooded conservancy that surrounds the house.
Lentz endured months of surgery and chemotherapy. While still undergoing out-patient treatments, he would drive up to Cranberry Road and jump into the near back-breaking work of moving railroad ties, hefting small boulders, cutting trees and clearing brush
Initially, doctors said the disease would be fatal in 18 months, said Lentz. That was four years ago. Doctors have since revised the diagnosis, saying the cancer may be chronic, but treatable. Lentz believes that the time he spent clearing the land for the camp may have been as therapeutic as anything done by the doctors.
On a perfect late August day, Lentz was hustling about the 19th Century structure, supervising its transformation into a lodge that will house from six to eight youngsters and counselors.
Among those helping was Fred Doolittle, a retired carpenter from Lake Geneva and Rich Zack, one of Lentz's neighbors from Skokie, who does masonry work.
Doolittle said he learned about the camp from a 2009 story in the Lake Geneva Regional News.
"I've been building and remodeling stuff for years," Doolittle said. He said he owned five motels in Lake Geneva over the years and worked for Walworth County's Habitat for Humanity program.
"It's a worthwhile project and I've got nothing else to do," said Doolittle. "You can go home and feel you accomplished something."
Owner of a pool maintenance company, Lentz has a degree in special education. Years ago, he set up fitness program for the disabled in Elgin, Ill. His wife, Deanna Hallagan, is a social worker.
He said the two of them dreamed of opening a camp that would, according to their mission statement, provide "unique outdoor experiences for at-risk youth, cancer survivors and physically and mentally challenged children and adults."
Lentz had hoped to open the camp in June this year, but the need for further treatment dekayed those plans. Funded through a not-for-profit called the Frank Lentz Foundation, named after Eric's father, final payments on the building and land for Rustic Falls is due Aug. 1, 2011.
As soon as the dedication is done, the focus will be on fundraising, Lentz said.
The plan for the camp, said Lentz, is that each group of six to eight will come with their own counselors. He and his wife will serve as activity directors, organizing swimming and boating trips, hay rides and fishing.
Lentz said the camp is now approaching Chicago area organizations, but he also wants to reach Wisconsin groups, too.
Rustic Falls straddles the north and south sides of Cranberry Road, about two miles east of Lake Geneva.
Surrounding the five-acre camp is an 83-acre nature conservancy. Lentz said he and the group that manages the conservancy have a mutual use agreement. By coordinating activities, those visiting Rustic Hills can use the conservancy land, and those visiting the conservancy can use facilities at the camp.
Although he lives and works in Illinois, Lentz said he's been vacationing in Wisconsin since he was a child, and loves it here. He's owned a cabin on Bohner's Lake in Racine County for years.
About five years ago, Tom Kreuzinger, a Florida resident who owns a cabin neighboring Lentz's, told Lentz and his wife about property was up for sale on Cranberry Road.
Kreuzinger's aunt, Dr. Shirley Peterson, a Barrington, Ill., pediatrician, had owned the surrounding 83 acres that are now in conservancy. When she bought the property in 1961, it was a failed dairy farm nearly devoid of trees. Over the years, the doctor planted 65,000 trees. She died in January 2009 at 86.
That was about the same time Lentz received his diagnosis of colon cancer. At first, said Lentz, he was inclined to pass on the land. But in 2006, he bought about two acres on the north side of Cranberry, facing the old farmhouse and another three acres that had been bought by someone else.
In August 2009, Terry Schy offered to sell the house to Lentz and Hallagan for its appraisal price of $135,000.
Lentz created the Frank Lentz Foundation to support Rustic Hills. Frank Lentz was a child psychologist who worked in the Barrington and Dundee school districts. Although Dr. Peterson and Frank Lentz never met, they probably counseled and treated many of the same children, Lentz said.
Their legacies are now joined, with Eric Lentz, son of Frank Lentz, with a camp for disabled children next to a preserve once owned by Shirley Peterson.
Anyone interested in donating to Rustic Falls, or interested in more information should contact Eric Lentz at (847) 452-7738, or visit the camp website at www.rusticfallsnaturecamp.org.