Graham Sustainability Institute

In Memoriam Frederick A. Erb: 1923 - 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Frederick A. Erb, co-founder of the Erb Institute with his wife, Barbara, passed away on Thursday, January 10, 2013. The University of Michigan mourns Fred’s passing and is deeply grateful for the legacy that he and his wife Barbara created by endowing the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan.

Thanks to Fred and Barbara’s vision, over 400 MBA/MS students have benefitted from generous scholarships, dedicated staff, faculty support, specialized courses, action-based learning projects, interaction with sustainability innovators in business and academia, leading speakers and cutting-edge conferences.  In the words of their son, John, these students and alumni are the standing legacy of Fred and Barbara’s gift.

Fred Erb was born and raised in the Detroit area.  After graduating in 1941 from the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, he attended Cornell University to study engineering. In 1942 he transferred to the University of Michigan, where he met Barbara. With the onset of World War II, Fred joined the Army Enlisted Reserve and was called to active duty in June 1943.  After the war, Fred and Barbara were married and Fred immediately resumed his education at Michigan.  Having decided that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, Fred switched from engineering to business and earned his BBA degree with honors in August 1947.

Shortly after graduation, Fred took over his uncle’s lumber and coal business in Royal Oak, Michigan. He started with seven employees, one store, and sales approaching $170,000 (1/3rd of which was coal). The next year, the company’s sales rose to $300,000, and the year after that to $1 million. By the 1970s Erb Lumber became the largest supplier of lumber in Michigan. In 1972 the company went public and 1986 the company went private. When Fred sold the business to Carolina Builders in 1993, he had a multi-state enterprise covering 45 locations with 1,300 employees and generating $280 million in sales (none of which was from coal). Until his retirement, Fred Erb was active in the real estate development and management business, including Edgemere Enterprises in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Devoted parents, grandparents and long-time civic leaders, Fred and Barbara Erb’s philanthropy continues through the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, which is devoted to effecting systemic change by nurturing sustainable communities. This past fall, the foundation provided the University of Michigan with a $4.5 million, three-year grant to support Great Lakes restoration through U-M's newly established Water Center.

The Erbs have long believed that the key to creating a better world for both current and future generations is working collaboratively and respectfully together to make wise and compassionate decisions to achieve meaningful and lasting change. This desire, coupled with their successful family business experience, their shared love of the outdoors, and their deep sense of fairness and justice, naturally led them to view their philanthropy through the lens of sustainability.  Their endowment gifts to establish and enhance the Erb Institute constitute a tangible expression of their belief in our ability to help move the nation and the world toward a new environmental understanding.

The U-M Community will be eternally grateful for the legacy Fred and Barbara Erb established with the Erb Institute, as well as the new U-M Water Center. We wish the Erb family our deepest regrets for their loss. See related links below: