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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — The death of Detroit Lakes, Minn., pastor Brian Erickson came as a tragic shock to those who knew him.

Regarded as an approachable, funny, caring man who devoted his life to helping others in need, Erickson never let on that he was in need of help himself.

When he took his own life on Jan. 29 at the age of 60, his family was left with feelings of sadness and guilt, unanswered questions, and “an emptiness that will be there all of my life,” according to his daughter, Katie Palmer, who shares her thoughts in a YouTube video she created called, “For Dad.”

The video was played at Erickson’s funeral and has since been shared more than 100 times on Facebook. It sends a personal, powerful message about loss, as well as suicide awareness and prevention.

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The video memorializes and honors Erickson; it also encourages those who need help to seek it, and urges anyone who suspects that a loved one might be struggling to reach out for help immediately — not to wait.

Palmer shares those memories and messages herself, silently holding up to the video camera white signs with heartfelt, handwritten words and family photos displayed on them.

“If you, or someone you know, is contemplating ending their life, remind them they are loved, they are so, so, so loved,” she shares in the video, visibly emotional. “They are needed here. There IS a way out of their darkness. Out of their sadness. If only they allow themselves to collapse into the love of those around them.”

She advises people to listen to their loved ones, to pray with them, to love them, to help them bear the weight of their struggles, and to support them.

Erickson was the founder and pastor at Northwoods Harvest Barn Cowboy Church. The laid-back, music-filled church opened near Detroit Lakes in 2005, signaling the start of its services with the sound of a cowbell. Erickson prided himself on making his services fun and full of warmth, and always opened with a joke. This past year, he also became pastor at Pinewood Church in Menahga, Minn.

Erickson founded the Cowboy Church, on Highway 34 east of Detroit Lakes, in 2005 and took pride in making it a welcoming, fun place. (2011 Tribune File Photo)
Erickson founded the Cowboy Church, on Highway 34 east of Detroit Lakes, in 2005 and took pride in making it a welcoming, fun place. (2011 Tribune File Photo)

Prior to his life as a pastor, Erickson served in the Minnesota National Guard and Navy Reserves, worked as an occupational therapist, and then helped at-risk students in the Detroit Lakes and Frazee, Minn., school districts.

His obituary states that he grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1991. He married his wife, Sandy, in 1987, they had their daughter, Katie, and eventually settled into their “dream place” on Big Rock Lake north of Frazee. He was a man with “a farmer’s heart” and a love of the outdoors who enjoyed hunting, fishing and four-wheeling.

In response to the loss of this longtime community member and faith leader, people both within and beyond the Detroit Lakes area have come together to help support Erickson’s family. A benefit has been planned to help the family with expenses, and a leading organizer said there’s been strong support in the form of donated items for the silent auction.

The organizer, who prefers to stay behind-the-scenes and did not want to be named, said hundreds of people, churches and businesses have donated upward of $10,000 worth of items and services for the auction, including scores of gift cards, ice fishing packages, household goods, BBQ items, multiple quilts, and collectible coins — including a silver coin that dates back to the birth of Christ.

In addition to the auction, the benefit will feature door prizes, live music by various local church bands and musicians, and free food and beverages.

The Rev. Trevor Janich, pastor at TrueLife Church in Detroit Lakes, is filling in at the Cowboy Church for the foreseeable future. The pastorship at Pinewood Church will be filled by other staff there, at least temporarily, Janich said. The three churches have been working in partnership for the past few years.

Janich worked with Erickson leading up to and throughout that partnership, knew him well, and led his funeral on Feb. 13.

"He was the first pastor in Detroit Lakes that welcomed me when I came," Janich said. "He helped make the ministerial community feel like home to me right away. We were friends."

How to help

  • WHAT: Erickson Family Benefit
  • WHEN: 3-7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27
  • WHERE: Northwoods Harvest Barn Cowboy Church, 39410 State Highway 34, Detroit Lakes, Minn.
  • DETAILS: There will be a silent auction fundraiser (stop by to bid on items or services from local businesses), live music and sandwiches and refreshments will be served.
  • BY MAIL: Send contributions to True Life Church, PO Box 1006, Detroit Lakes MN, Re: Erickson Benefit