Not many people knew about Dennis Erickson’s car collection.
They may have known he was a regular at car shows and kept a few vintage cars in his garage. They may have known, too, about his meticulous eye for collecting and maintaining model cars.
But not many knew that Erickson’s collection covered nearly every surface in his Eagan home — 30,000 model cars, the product of a six-decade habit.
“He was always a treasure-seeker,” said longtime friend and fellow car enthusiast Glenn Lindell.
The collection fully came to light after Erickson’s death Dec. 3. An only child who never married or had children, Erickson, 69, left his house and everything in it to Celebration Church in Lakeville — a community he described as his family.
Erickson grew up in the suburban Twin Cities and served in the Army Corps of Engineers. Later he moved to the Eagan house, where he cared for his parents until they died. The family often traveled around the U.S., and Erickson and his father played music and rebuilt a 1959 Edsel station wagon together.
Bonnie Sharp, one of Erickson’s cousins, said he got involved in Celebration Church after agreeing to take his mother to a service there.
“He just kind of fell into it by accident, and it was his life,” Sharp said.
Erickson worked as Celebration’s head usher for 15 years, and he rarely missed a service. On top of his TV set, he displayed a church membership certificate and a photo of himself with church co-founder Lowell Lundstrom. Nearby, a cart held cleaning supplies for touching up the model cars.
“You could tell … that’s what he did, was polish his cars,” said Lisa Lundstrom, a church employee and the daughter of its founders.
Lundstrom visited the house shortly after Erickson’s death, and she said she was overwhelmed by what she found.
There were cars stacked on shelves and tucked away in cupboards in every part of the house, from the living room to the laundry room. A bed in the guest bedroom had cars forming a grid across its quilt.
In the basement, file cabinets were stuffed with booklets from dealerships and notebooks recording, in careful penmanship, the details of Erickson’s seven drivable cars as well as the tens of thousands of models.
Those records make the collection particularly unusual, said the Rev. Derrick Ross. Recent media attention has spurred inquiries from interested collectors around the world, and the collection is expected to garner six figures. As with any estate left to the church, money from the eventual sale will go to community organizations and church projects, he said.
Ross said he wants the cars to stay together, displayed by a single collector or museum.
“I would like more people to see it and experience it,” he said.
The models still fill the quiet, darkened house, but some of the drivable cars have found homes. A Pontiac Bonneville went to Lindell, who in 1979 traveled with Erickson across the country in it. And a Chrysler Sebring was sold to a 16-year-old with a brand-new driver’s license, who dubbed the car “Dennis.”