LUVERNE — As retired longtime southwest Minnesota teacher Jerry Benson battles the spread of kidney cancer, his peers have offered their support by handling the future of Benson's expansive personal library.

Benson was diagnosed 12 years ago, and his health has steadily declined since.

When his symptoms worsened such that he recently needed to move into assisted living, his family came from out of state to process his belongings. They found his three-bedroom apartment bursting at its seams with books.

"We all knew that Jerry liked to spend his free time at Barnes & Noble," said Keith Erickson, who taught alongside Benson in Luverne for more than 20 years.

Overwhelmed by the nearly 7,000-volume collection, family members turned to Benson's friends for direction.

"We couldn't see all of his books thrown away," Erickson said.

So six teachers who worked with Benson spent last Saturday and Sunday moving Benson's library — which filled six truckloads — into Erickson's garage at 746 N. Cedar St. in Luverne. Starting Monday, Erickson and his wife, Joan, began selling the collection.

As a social studies educator, Benson naturally focused his library on biographies and books about history and military operations. But his collection also includes select historical fiction, murder mysteries and works of prolific writers like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler.

Almost all of the books are in perfect condition, hardcover and include their dust jackets. All proceeds from their sale will go directly to Benson for living and medical expenses.

"Jerry Benson gave over 40 years of his life to teaching," Erickson said — first in Magnolia, then Luverne. "Jerry definitely had an influence on an awful lot of Luverne kids." Erickson and the other teachers feel that Benson, of all people, is deserving of their small act of service.

The community seems to agree with that assessment, showing up in droves this week to peruse Benson's collection and select books that interest them.

Although Erickson has asked shoppers for a small donation of at least one dollar per book, many of the garage-goers have given more, saying, "It's for Jerry" as they slip cash into Erickson's "cash register" made out of a red bucket.

A librarian from Hill-Beaver Creek Schools purchased 100 of Benson's books. Other collectors have walked away with just as many or more. As spaces empty on the rows of tables in the garage, Erickson fills them with books that are stacked on the floor.

The Erickson garage is open to the public weekdays from 1 to 5 p.m. for the next couple of weeks. Anyone interested in a private visit to purchase books in bulk may contact Erickson at (507) 227-5859.

"We're hoping we can distribute as many books locally as possible," Erickson said. Whatever remains following the sale will be donated to REACH Literacy in Sioux Falls.