Marylin & Alan: A Clearwater Love Story

It’s February and with that comes the holiday of love . . . Valentine’s Day! In honor of celebrating this year, we’d like to take a trip down memory lane and recognize some of the love stories that have blossomed at Clearwater Forest over the years. And in some cases, even shaped the very structure of Clearwater as we know it today.

I am speaking, in particular, about the Hermitage and how it came to be a part of Clearwater’s legacy. The story begins back in 1957, soon after the Presbyterians took ownership of Clearwater Forest, with a young Marilyn Heinemann and Alan Youel. The couple had begun dating at Mankato State two years earlier, at age 19.  In 1957, Alan was moderator of a state-wide organization of college-age Presbyterians that was meeting for a retreat at Clearwater. Marilyn had come along, just so they could spend some time together.

Marilyn, who was raised Lutheran, was a little wary about being at this Presbyterian retreat. So instead of attending the meetings, she spent her time outside, roaming the grounds and taking in the beauty of the forest by the lake. She describes Clearwater as inviting, a place where there are no walls closing in and freedom is everywhere.

“Even then,” she says, “I felt a sense of freedom at Clearwater Forest. I could tell it was a place for new experiences and for practicing your faith.”

It was on this retreat that Alan carved their initials into a wooden cross he’d made, spelling out MAY DAY.

“At that time my initials were MAH (Marilyn Ann Heinemann) and Alan’s were DAY (Donald Alan Youel)—so the initials on the cross (MAY  DAY) suggest that while we were at Clearwater that weekend, we were exploring the possibility of spending the rest of our lives together.”

The original MAYDAY cross

From then on, their love only blossomed for one another and for Clearwater Forest. They were married in April of 1958 and their family began to take part in shaping Clearwater’s history.  As a senior in high school during the late 70’s, one of their sons was part of the church group that built the bath house in Grouse Circle. Sometime in the 90’s, the project was to rebuild the bath house, and their son was back to help. He eventually became the leader of a men’s work group that continues to do a lot of work for Clearwater to this day.

As part of a Presbytery work group, Alan met young pastors in small rural churches in the area. Many were a bit overwhelmed since they were the only ones there and had to run everything. And many were saddled with student debt. The Youels decided to establish the Hermitage that is now in its new isolated lakeshore location at Clearwater.  It was to be available without cost to all clergy and church professionals (and to all others at modest cost) for a spiritual retreat or to just take some time to recharge.

Now, 60 years after their first trip to Clearwater Forest, Marilyn says, “Every time we’ve gone back (in recent years taking grandchildren—who call it “awesome”—to camp), we’re never disappointed. There amidst God’s creation, the Spirit is present, and freedom is everywhere.”

Thank you Marilyn & Alan for sharing your love story!

Marilyn & Alan 1957
Marilyn & Alan in 1957


Alan & Marilyn in front of Eagle Lodge in 1992

Clearwater Forest Camp & Retreat Center