My first recollection of Doc Clearwaters was from the Mission Farms Conference grounds on Medicine Lake in suburban Minneapolis. I remember seeing him standing next to his sleek Chrysler automobile in the parking lot near the rustic headquarters lodge on the conference grounds. He was probably in his early 50s at the time, and he cut an impressive figure. Doc always looked good, and in the summer I remember he wore classy two-toned oxford shoes. He impressed a young guy!
Our family evidently was invited one Thanksgiving, probably in the late 40s to the Clearwaters’ home on Crystal Lake in Robbinsdale. I vaguely remember that time, probably because I was out-numbered by the girls that day. My sisters, plus Jane Clearwaters, would have made me the “odd-man out” on that occasion. Today it is amusing to me that the future love of my life was less than two blocks away from me on that Thanksgiving Day. No, we didn’t know about each other yet – but our lives were already crossed in God’s providence.
It was in my freshman year in college that I was drawn into the ministry of Fourth Baptist Church and would be profoundly drawn into the legacy of Doc Clearwaters. A freshman quartet that I organized was invited to sing at Fourth Baptist in the spring semester. It was at that time that I got my first glimpse of Connie Cutlan – who became the girl of my dreams.
Connie says I acted like I was “hot stuff” because I was leader of the group and did all the introducing of our songs that night in the church service. I must have been within the bounds of propriety, because her youth pastor vigorously lobbied me to join their youth group camping trip headed to Wyoming that June. I went – and I was hooked – on both the young lady and the youth ministry of 4th B (as all the young people referred to their church in that era).
The Western Camping Trip of 1960 became the first step in an adventurous ride over the next five years during my remaining college career and the first two years of seminary. Connie and I began a five year dating relationship that was immersed in the 4th Baptist youth ministry. Many times I would have to wake her up from falling asleep on the backseat of the church’s Ford Econoline van after delivering a load of teenagers home following a youth activity.
Even though my time was primarily devoted to assisting the youth pastor, affectionately known as Nelson, I had many opportunities to interact with the Doc during those years. I remember once describing to someone the difference between the leadership styles of Nelson and Doc. I explained that, “Nelson would command and say, ‘Take this to the cleaners!’. Whereas, the Doc would stroll up to me and say, ‘Do you know anyone who could take this to the cleaners for me?’” Both of those scenarios actually happened…and I ate it all up.
Notice I use the descriptor, “the Doc” in referring to Dr. Clearwaters. That was a universally shared title, or designator, for him among the young people and church members. It wasn’t that we were differentiating between “Docs”, but it was a term of endearment or respect. He was “the” Doc at 4th B. No one ever referred to him as Pastor Clearwaters, and rarely as Dr. Clearwaters. We all felt comfortable in calling him Doc…or the Doc, in almost any situation.
Years later Don Nelson would compose a poem that memorialized the spirit of those years which ended with these lines:
Then the “Doc” and Roger and Nelson,
Will know the labor was not all in vain;
As these young people sweep downward,
from Glory To share His Millennial reign.
My first memory of Uncle Myron – and Aunt Thelma – was from Lake Nebagamon. They purchased property several years after the Maranatha Bay community was established and therefore built their cabin after most of the other places were constructed. Actually, the original group did not build traditional structures, but they acquired surplus WWII barracks from an Army base in Louisiana and had them shipped via rail to the northwoods of Wisconsin. After the War lumber was scarce and these units came in pre-framed 16’x16’ sections that allowed the property owners to create adequate summer cabins rather quickly and inexpensively.
However, by the time the Cedarholms’ were ready to build their cabin, they had the opportunity to build from scratch. So they did. Even though they had never built anything in their lives – they built their cabin in the woods from a “do-it-yourself” plan. I remember going down the line to see them building after dark, by the light of a kerosene lantern. I thought they were hilarious – but I was impressed with their determination and energy. They built the cabin and that place became a major part of my life, and the lives of many others.
Every summer my dad would take our family to Lake Nebagamon around the 4th of July and we would stay at the cabin until Labor Day weekend. Dad would go back to Minneapolis for church duties and come in August for his vacation time. I literally lived in the water each week day at the lake. It was there that Uncle Myron first taught me to surf board behind his 14 ft. Larson aluminum boat powered by a 25hp Evinrude outboard motor.
The very next summer he taught me how to water-ski as he pulled me many hours around the lake. In another year my water-ski time diminished because he expanded his teaching capacity to include all of the youngsters in the Maranatha Bay summer community. On one fine summer day over 25 kids and grown-ups were counted waiting in line for their chance to be pulled on skis by Uncle Myron.
That year I got my own 14 ft. Larson boat – or our family did, but I was the ruler of that boat and its 15 hp Evinrude that could pull a skinny 14 year old kid like me. Soon I was the water-ski legend of the Bay because I could dazzle with a slalom ski and I even learned to ski backwards.
But my entire prowess was directly the result of Uncle Myron’s careful and consistent teaching and mentoring. As I got older into my teen years I would urge him to let me pull him on the water-skis because I knew he was a marvelous athlete and skier. But no, he would not hear of it. His focus was on pulling the dozens of youngsters and oldsters who lined up at his dock each day for a ride.
In 1954 my dad moved our family to Chicago when he accepted the pastorate of the large Marquette Manor Baptist Church. Life changed for me as I was introduced to the rough and tumble south-side of Chicago. On the first Monday of October in 1957 my life took a dramatic turn. My dad had left the day before – after the Sunday morning service – on a hunting trip to Canada with the chairman of the deacons. On that fateful Monday we received word from the seaplane base in Kenora, Ontario, that they had lost contact with the small Cessna 180 airplane carrying the pilot, my dad and Mr. Gossage. The next day I came home from school and learned that the plane had crashed and there were no survivors.
It was Uncle Myron who broke the news to me in the living room of our parsonage on 71st Place that my dad was in heaven. The Cedarholms, along with several other close pastor friends, had quickly gathered at our house to support my mother and our family. Dr. Cedarholm preached my dad’s funeral service in what I have often referred to as the greatest gospel service I have ever known. The church was packed to overflowing and Cedar preached a strong message and grown men walked the aisle to trust Christ as Savior.
After my dad was killed the relationship with Uncle Myron intensified as he became somewhat of a surrogate father to me. I remember that once he had taken me to a polo match because he thought that was an experience every teenage boy should have at least once in his life. I also was a regular recipient of his urging to stay busy in sports, music, church youth activities – and not to be spending too much time with the girls. He always said there was plenty time later to spend time with the girls. I didn’t always heed that advice, but I always respected his concern and involvement in my life. I think there are literally hundreds of others who experienced his genuine enthusiasm for mentoring each one of us personally. That was Cedar.