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Rustic Falls a credit to family and friends who built it



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October 06, 2010 | 08:48 AM
Lyons — Eric Lentz's dream is ready and waiting for those in need.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, about 150 of his friends and family gathered at Rustic Falls Camp on Cranberry Road for the dedication of the campsite and the 150-year-old cobblestone house that has been transformed into a lodge big enough to sleep eight campers and two counselors.

Owner of a pool maintenance company, Lentz, of Skokie, Ill., has a degree in special education. His wife, Deanna Hallagan, is a social worker.

They 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.

Their plan went into overdrive when, two years ago, Lentz learned that he had colon cancer which had spread to his liver. Time appeared to be short.

While undergoing out-patient treatments, Lentz would drive up to Cranberry Road and jump into his work moving railroad ties, hefting small boulders, cutting trees and clearing brush

But he didn't do that alone. Many, if not most of those, who nailed boards, carried boulders or dug postholes are friends and family of Lentz and his wife.

During the dedication during, Lentz credited the network of friends and family that helped him build his dream.

"I wanted to thank everybody," Lentz said. "Even those who couldn't help financially, helped morally with their encouragement."

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Among those he specially recognized was Fred Doolittle, a retired carpenter from Lake Geneva, who volunteered his services after reading about the project in the Lake Geneva Regional News.

In his blessing of the lodge and grounds, the Rev. Bill Kenneally, a retired Roman Catholic priest, said Rustic Falls was an example of "a network that works."

Lentz was the dreamer, and everyone else helped bring about the dream. Kenneally quoted a verse from the book of Revelations, about a time when "tears will be wiped away and pain will be exiled."

"He put together people who could put together a building that could bring together some people to wipe some tears away," Kenneally said of Lentz.

Lentz's sister Kathy Minchew and neighbor Tom Kreuzinger cut a ceremonial ribbon on the bridge over the small pond. Deanna Hallagan and her brother, Robert, played guitar and sang.

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Music was also provided by Josh Solomon, Deanna's nephew, and his band, Josh and the Empty Pockets.

One of the songs they sang was specially written for the event and called "Rustic Falls."

While dedication day was serene and the early autumn weather was a bit breezy, but generally warm and dry, the previous two weeks were hectic, as work on the lodge ran up against its Oct. 3 deadline, Lentz said.

Some of the last minute projects finished on Friday were putting together the two futons in the lodge's main room.

By day, the futons are lounges for the guests, at night they become beds for the counselors.

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The main room has a fireplace and a spiral staircase that leads up to a sleeping room for eight campers.

Another last minute bit of construction was the split-rail fence that went around the artificial pond that catches water from the small, man-made waterfall.

Jim Janisch, Chicago, a mechanic, and a long time friend of Lentz, said the work completed on the lodge and grounds is a testament to Lentz's energy and vision.

"He never takes a break," said Janisch. Janisch said he and his two sons, Kyle and Brett, both 14, came up to the camp on Sundays to help out.

Marcos Fernandez, whose regular job is general manager at O'Hare Airport, said he's known Eric and Deanna for nearly 20 years. He said his specialty was general labor, helping to clear brush and trees and carrying many of the boulders used for the small waterfall.

"It was a labor of love," Fernandez said. "It was Eric's vision and we helped."

Megan Fernandez said she and Deanna are among seven good friends who went to school together and stayed connected. They laid the plastic under the flooring in the house and they helped empty the kitchen of its accumulated junk to ready it for remodeling.

"It was such a good cause you wanted to be a part of it," Megan said.

Rustic Falls is on five acres that straddles the north and south sides of Cranberry Road, about two miles east of Lake Geneva.

Surrounding the camp is an 83-acre nature conservancy managed by the Seno Woodland Education Center. Seno and Lentz 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.

The lodge will house its first group on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 7 and Oct. 8.

Seven boys, ages 10 to 12 from Chicago's west side, will spend the night as the lodge's first guests, on a visit sponsored by the Marillac Social Center, Chicago, Lentz said.

"They call this the Wisconsin Dells," Lentz said. "We have to tell them, well, it's not quite, but we're close."

Lentz said he plans to approach both Illinois and Wisconsin social services organizations and offer them use of the facility.

While most of the work on Rustic Falls is done, Lentz is not done.

He still owes about $12,000 borrowed to finish the building and he and his wife have one year to pay off a $100,000 loan.

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.

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