Lisa Lundstrom’s mom, Connie, told her that one day she should go see Dennis Erickson’s car collection.
Everybody knew Erickson at Celebration Church, an Assemblies of God congregation of 700 in Lakeville, Minnesota, 25 miles south of Minneapolis. He was the smiling, engaging lead usher, tasked with greeting and helping people and getting them seated on Wednesdays, Sundays, and for special events.
A bachelor and only child, Erickson, a civil engineer who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, lived with his parents, Robert and Florence. He enjoyed a hobby he discovered as a young man fixing cars with his father. Together they attended car shows. At age nine, Erickson began collecting toy diecast cars.
Lundstrom, daughter of Celebration Church’s founding pastor, Lowell Lundstrom, saw the private, quiet Erickson occasionally take one of his seven drivable old cars to church, typically his 1959 Edsel and 1966 Rambler. After Erickson’s parents died and he retired, his church family was his life. Lundstrom’s parents always included Erickson in their holiday gatherings.
Erickson, 69, who died in his sleep on Dec. 3, 2015, willed almost his entire estate to the church. About 12 years after Connie Lundstrom first suggested Lisa behold his collection, at last the daughter visited Erickson’s house.
She saw the Edsel and the Rambler she had seen in the church parking lot. Also there were the full-sized Model T Ford, a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville, and three other full-sized cars, all in pristine condition with filing cabinets full of owner’s manuals and Erickson’s meticulous maintenance records on each.
Throughout the rest of the house were 30,000 toy cars: larger diecasts and small Hot Wheels. There were model bicycles, vans, tractors, and ambulances, and toddler-sized police vehicles. The collectibles were crammed into every room, including the bathrooms and kitchen, in floor-to-ceiling cabinets.
“I stepped foot in the house and was blown away,” says Lundstrom, the church finance director, who describes the home as a museum.
As Lundstrom researched, she discovered that Erickson’s was among the largest toy car collections in the world. And all of it went to the church, save a few small items he left for a few individuals, and the Bonneville, which he bequeathed to a buddy whom he had taken on a road trip in it. While no dollar value has been placed on the estate, Erickson’s house alone is worth in the six figures, she says. Proceeds from the sale of the home and car collection will finance the church’s kids’ ministry facilities.
Erickson’s ties to Celebration Church began in 2001 when his mother commented that she would like to return to church and asked him to take her.
“He dragged his heels and wasn’t interested,” Lundstrom recollects, adding that he took a notebook and planned to work on something else while Lowell Lundstrom preached.
But that day Erickson, at age 55, responded to the altar call for salvation in Jesus Christ.
Right away Erickson began to invite others to the church, including his co-worker Jon Lyman, who ended up attending Celebration.
“Dennis dedicated his life to working for that church,” Lyman says. “You will never find a more committed person to one church than Dennis Erickson.”
Last week, as Lundstrom read through Erickson’s papers, she found something he had written upon retirement: “Some might think it’s sad that I never had children or a family, but I have my church family and the mission to help others and reach people for Jesus.”
“Dennis gave his collection to the church so a different name would be mentioned other than his own: Jesus,” says Derrick Ross, Celebration Church’s senior pastor. “He wanted to do everything he could to see as many people saved. We now know he’s surrounded by even greater stuff than he ever collected on earth.”
The church will sell the collection; Lundstrom’s days are filled with phone calls from interested buyers.
“We’re praying it sells in a way that honors Dennis, that it isn’t just cars being sold but Dennis’s story and legacy go on with the collection,” Lundstrom says.