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Model Church Member

Model Church Member

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Nine months after the first of 30-plus auctions sold inventory from one of the world’s largest private collections of model cars, the church receiving the bequeathal has broken ground on a two-story wing.

Celebration Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Lakeville, Minnesota, a half-hour south of Minneapolis, launched its building program 10 years ago, according to Dana Ross, wife of lead pastor Derrick E. Ross. Early in the building campaign, Dennis Erickson, the church’s longtime head usher, gave funds to the project.

Now, a decade later, proceeds from Erickson’s estate capped the campaign, enabling construction to move forward.

Erickson died in his sleep on Dec. 3, 2015, at the age of 69. The will of the retired engineer, an only child who never married and had no children, left Celebration Church his house and almost all of his 30,000 die cast and collectibles cars, plus five of his seven full-sized running vehicles.

After CBS This Morning ran a feature segment on Erickson’s donation, word of the collection went viral. Collectors from around the world inquired about items in the estate, handled by two auction companies that sold its contents over several months through more than 30 mini-auctions.

Ross says Celebration Church doesn't yet have all the funds. The church had sought to sell the collection to a single buyer, perhaps to a museum, but found no takers. As the value of collectibles has plummeted in recent years because of falling demand, objects in the collection fetched perhaps one-third of what Erickson paid for them, according to Dick Swanson, a longtime church greeter and friend of Erickson who himself collects miniature trucks. In addition, the auction companies take a percentage for handling the sales of the massive collection, which Swanson and other church volunteers helped by cleaning and preparing the items for transport to one company’s warehouse in Ohio.

After Erickson died, Swanson and others from the church entered the residence and found a car he had been assembling and painting from a kit on the kitchen table. “That collection was his life,” says Swanson, who didn't know before Erickson’s death that he had willed his estate to the church.

Often their conversations centered around the models.

“He had one of everything that was ever built,” Swanson says. “If they made a model for it, he had it. If he was missing a car in a particular collection, he'd scour the internet for it.” Erickson unboxed the items, saving the packaging in the rafters of his garage, and built plastic glass shelves to protect his collection from dust.

Swanson believes Erickson would be happy about how the sale of his collection has blessed the church’s building project.

“That's what he wanted it to do,” Swanson says. “He was very dedicated to the church.”

The church’s new wing will include the kids and youth department on the first floor. The top floor will include a banquet hall for discipleship classes and a meeting place for the Spanish-speaking “Amigos” congregation, Ross says.

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