LANSING, Iowa — This gun doesn’t hunt. It raises money. Seven years ago, Harvey Halverson donated an old hunting rifle to raise money for his grandson who was fighting cancer. It sold — twice — for a total of $1,200.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The gun ended up in Michigan, where for the past three years it’s passed from one cause to another, raising nearly $40,000.
On Wednesday it returned to Lansing.
Here’s how it works:
The gun is auctioned off when people need help. Whoever buys the gun gives it back, and their name gets added to the gun’s history.
The tradition started back in 2005, when Zach Halverson was a 20-year-old college student diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer had spread to his lung, and the 6-foot-3 former third baseman for the Lansing-New Albin Kee baseball team had wasted away to less than 160 pounds.
His family and friends organized a benefit to help with expenses. His grandpa donated his bolt-action Remington 721.
Zach’s brother-in-law, Pat Birgy, tried to buy it, but Ray Whalen, bidding on behalf of the New Albin Savings Bank, ran it up to $700.
Then Whalen did something unusual: He gave the gun back to Harvey, a longtime friend.
“He might want that for hunting,” Whalen figured. “So I’ll buy that and give it back to him.”
Harvey in turn donated the gun to be auctioned off again.
This time Birgy won.
Birgy, 42, figured he’d keep the gun in the family, maybe use it to shoot deer in Michigan where he lives.
It sat in his gun cabinet until 2009, when his friend Gary Lynch asked if he had anything to donate to a benefit for a mutual friend. Birgy gave him the gun and wrote up a paragraph about how he’d come to own it.
Lynch, a 50-year-old facilities manager who’s made a hobby of organizing benefits, listed the Remington in the auction catalog as “The Benefit Gun.”
It sold twice at that auction, raising $1,900. The next year it sold three times, bringing in $6,700.
The donors and beneficiaries added their stories to the gun’s history, and the legend grew. There are now 12 engraved plaques that travel with the gun, and Lynch says he gets calls from people putting on benefits who’ve heard about the gun.
“You never know when I might get a call from a neighboring community,” Lynch said. “Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing it all over the United States.”
Last month Zach’s father, Dan Halverson, was asked to help out with a couple of benefits for neighbors in Lansing. He asked if they might be able to borrow the gun.
It arrived Wednesday.
Halverson plans to sell the gun as many times as he can to raise money for Rich McKee and Daryl Bolson, both suffering from cancer.
Then he’ll send it back to Michigan.
Harvey Halverson died in March 2011, but not before learning what had become of his old gun. Zach Halverson, in his eighth year of fighting cancer, is on track to graduate this year from college.
As for Ray Whalen, he didn’t know what had become of his buddy’s rifle until someone showed him a story this week in the local paper.
“It turned out to be good for everybody,” Whalen said.