Minnesota Church Inherits Generous Gift That Could Change Lives

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Celebration Church in Lakeville, Minnesota, is giving thanks for a remarkable donation that came from a member of the congregation whose generosity was revealed only after his death.

On a recent Sunday, Pastor Derrick Ross delivered a sermon about generosity.

“The Bible says that generosity is also like that, that it will enlarge your world,” Ross told his congregation.

It had been preached about often there through the years. No one, though, had any idea just how closely one of their flock had been listening.

“Dennis left more than a gift of money. He truly left his life to us,” Ross said.

Dennis Erickson served as an usher at the church for 15 years. The church really was his family. He had no spouse, no kids, no brothers or sisters.

MINNESOTA CHURCH 2Instead, he devoted himself to his church and his collection — a collection of cars.

When he died in his sleep in December, Erickson left his historic automobiles and his modest, two-story home in Eagan, Minnesota, to Celebration Church.

And boy, are they celebrating.

Walking through Erickson’s home, Ross said a lot went through his mind.

“For a guy who talks a lot, it was not often that I’m found at a lack of words, and yet it was in that moment that I became overwhelmed with his generosity,” Ross said.

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed seeing, for the first time, all the model cars, trucks, tractors and buses Erickson collected for six decades, ever since he was 9 years old.

There are more than 32,000, believed to be one of the largest private collections in the world. Some are no bigger than an inch long, but together they are quite the treasure.

The 69-year-old engineer designed cabinets and cases to showcase the collection, which he parked in the living room, bathroom, laundry room, closets, basement and even in the bedrooms.

For Lisa Lundstrom, a member of the church board and the executor of the estate, it was a real revelation.

“Awe and wonder was going through my head,” Lundstrom said.

Wonder not only because of the wonder of seeing the cars, she said, but also the wonder of Erickson’s life.

The Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” For Erickson’s religious family, the blessings kept coming — cars he ordered were still being delivered even after his death.

In all, they total more than one a day for his entire 69 years on God’s green earth.

And Erickson’s devotion runneth over, filling his two garages — five preserved classics, including a 1959 Edsel and Henry Ford’s second mechanical marvel, the 1931 Ford Model A. Erickson would enter these beauties in car shows with his father.

For Lundstrom, her surprise quickly gave way to something else — a feeling of divine responsibility.

“I feel that one day I will be seeing my mom and dad and Dennis in heaven, and I know probably one of the first things I’m going to have to answer to Dennis for is what happened to all of his cars,” Lundstrom said. “Not just dollar-wise or where they went, but how his gift was used to help so many people.”

The collection’s likely mid-six-figure price tag will make it possible to build more classrooms at the church and expand its school. Pastor Ross said the congregation has doubled in size in the past nine months.

The church hopes to break ground by December, a year after Erickson’s death.

“One year later, his impact will be visible from the road,” Ross said.

“I’m reminded that the Tenth Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ But this is a pretty nice gift to have, isn’t it?” CBS News’ Mark Albert asked.

“It is hard to not take pride in the gift of one man because there was nothing I did or we did to earn it or deserve it,” Ross said. “But it was just Dennis leaving his possessions to his family, which is his church family.”

A collection that’s turned into a vehicle for generosity — and topped-off this church’s faith.

The church said two serious buyers have already come forward, even before it has begun accepting offers. The only requirement for buyers is that the collection be kept together for others to enjoy.