Both Fred and Barbara were born and raised in the Detroit area, where they raised their four children, developed their family business, and decided to focus their philanthropic legacy.
The day after receiving his BBA with honors in 1947, Fred bought into his uncle’s lumber and coal business in Royal Oak, Michigan. At that time, the Erb Lumber Company had one store, seven employees, and revenues approaching $170,000 (one-third of which was coal sales, a product Fred soon discontinued). Fred developed the company into a multi-state enterprise, covering 45 locations with 1,300 employees and generating $280 million in sales, before he sold it in 1993. Ever the savvy entrepreneur, Fred didn’t stop there, but continued to develop and sell multiple successful real estate and investment partnerships.
Fred and Barbara brought the same energy and acumen to their philanthropy. Their first major gift, in 1951, was to help establish a camp for troubled children in northern Oakland County, Michigan. Not only did Fred pledge an amount equal to his annual income (at that time $5,000), he and Barbara challenged their business associates, friends and neighbors to give as well, until they had raised gifts totaling more than four times that amount. Perhaps in equal parts due to Fred’s entrepreneurial approach, his reputation as a teacher/mentor and Barbara’s engaging charm, motivating and partnering with others soon became a hallmark of their philanthropy.
Devoted parents and grandparents, Fred and Barbara’s philanthropy was strongly influenced by their desire to create a better world for future generations. This, combined with Fred’s belief in business solutions and their shared love of the outdoors, motivated them to help the University of Michigan establish the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise in 1996. Lovers of the arts and supporters of innovation, they also supported numerous educational and cultural institutions and leading medical research.
With their concern for the future, it is not surprising that in 2007 they established a family foundation to institutionalize and perpetuate their philanthropy.
Fred died January 10, 2013, just before his 90th birthday, after living 12 years with Alzheimer’s disease. Barbara died ten months later, on November 8, 2013, at age 89. We are pleased that their legacy will live on through the work of the Foundation.
To learn more about the Erb Family and about their philanthropy, please click on the links above.