Significant places in people’s lives often have a rich, storied history. The Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center is blessed with such a background.
In 1855 a wagon train of settlers from Muskego, Wisconsin, arrived in Eureka Township in Dakota County, Minnesota. Martin Ruh, who would later become a pastor, wrote of that land,
“The first thing we had to do was to clear away the almost impenetrable underbrush so as to make room for the wagons and the other things we had brought along. The covered wagons were our only shelter until far into the fall. We had traveled past far better areas, boundless plains where the land could be cultivated with much less work than the one we now took possession of.”
If Pastor Ruh and his fellow settlers were to visit the site today, they would be amazed at what has grown up in the midst of woods, wetlands, prairie grasses and “impenetrable underbrush.” The land, which at first seemed so inhospitable for farming, now serves as a perfect environment for trails and gardens, a comfortable space for personal growth, and a congenial place for meeting and fellowship: The Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center.
In 1975, the United States was in the middle of an oil crisis. As gas prices skyrocketed, Pastor Paul Youngdahl, then Senior Pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, was concerned that it would no longer be possible for the church to bus hundreds of children each summer to Cathedral of the Pines Camp on the shores of Caribou Lake in Northern Minnesota. He appointed a committee to search for land to purchase near the Twin Cities, where Mount Olivet could continue to provide the inspiration of God’s creation and faith-building camping experiences to its youth and adults. The committee found the Lewis Olson farm, 151 acres of land curling along the bank of Chub Lake and just 30 miles south of the church – the very land that Pastor Ruh described 120 years earlier.
The first building constructed was the Ruth Youngdahl Lodge, dedicated in January 1977. This building is named after former senior Pastor Reuben Youngdahl’s wife in memory of her many years of service to Mount Olivet Church and its ministries. This building houses the Trillium Dining Room and four main conference rooms. At that time, there were no guest sleeping rooms. If a group wanted to spend the night, they brought their sleeping bags and slept on the conference room floors. It quickly became apparent that although this might be an adventure for a youth group, sleeping rooms were needed to attract adult retreats and conferences.
Thanks to a generous gift from Mount Olivet member Herbert Cornell, the Ruth Cornell House was added to the campus in 1980. The building comprises 18 private bedrooms and 4 dormitory style rooms, sleeping up to 112 guests. In addition, there are two spacious lounge areas for informal socializing, as well as an indoor swimming pool and whirlpool, sauna and game room. This addition provided the expansion of business for overnight retreats and conferences.
Pastor Paul Youngdahl’s vision for the Retreat Center had at its heart a chapel for spiritual growth and renewal – a multi-functional space for worship, meeting, prayer and meditation. In 1999, that vision became reality with the completion of the Center’s chapel overlooking Chub Lake. This light, open space provides panoramic views of our natural surroundings.
Thousands of people come to the Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center each year to hold meetings, conferences, seminars, and retreats. Many say they experience much more than meeting, eating, and sleeping by being in a place that so inspires connection with God and with each other. They describe a closeness to all creation in its unspoiled beauty.
Many amenities have been added to our property over the years to facilitate these interactions and create an experience beyond:
- An outdoor chapel
- A play yard for children (1977)
- Five miles of well-marked hiking trails through the woods and prairies, including an annotated nature trail through the woods (1982)
- Prayer Chapel in the Youngdahl Lodge (1982)
- A tennis court (1985)
- A marsh walk for nature study (1987)
- A wildflower garden and nature display cabinet (1990)
- A gazebo for outdoor gathering (1998)
- A prayer labyrinth for meditation (2001)
- A low ropes challenge course to facilitate team-building activities (2004)
- A rainwater garden to filter parking lot runoff (2005)
- A scenic overlook of the prairie Butternut Hill (2008)
- New lobby and dining room renovation (2012)
- Outdoor patio and fireplace (2014)
- Organic vegetable & fruit garden (2016)
For more than 35 years, the Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center has provided an experience beyond expectations for our own congregation, other churches, families and youth, and not-for-profit organizations of all types. The remarkable and respectful development on this corner of creation happened with dedication and vision. The early pioneers would no doubt regard this beautiful, inspiring space that is Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center as nothing short of a miracle.
We hope you are inspired to discover your own miracles in this very special place.