Our Founders

Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb founded the Institute in 1996 with an endowment gift of $5 million. Since then, their generous support and unwavering commitment has continued to grow. To date, they have made cumulative gifts totaling $20 million in support of the Institute.

Both Fred and Barbara were born and raised in the Detroit area. After graduating in 1941 from the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Fred Erb attended Cornell University to study engineering. In 1942 he transferred to the University of Michigan and it was there he met Barbara, at a New Year’s Eve celebration. With the onset of World War II, Fred joined the Army Enlisted Reserve and was called to active duty in June 1943. While he was away, Barbara worked as the secretary for the headmaster of Cranbrook School. 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 and “control his own destiny,” Fred switched from engineering to business and achieved his BBA degree with honors in August 1947.

Degree in hand, Fred seized his first entrepreneurial opportunity and 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 $200,000, one third of which were generated from the sale of coal. Fred developed and expanded the enterprise and when he sold it to Carolina Builders in 1993 the Erb Lumber Company had 45 locations and approximately $300 million in sales. Ever the savvy entrepreneur, Fred didn’t stop there, but continued to develop multiple successful real estate and investment partnerships.

With their concern for a sustainable future, it is not surprising that Fred and Barbara established a family foundation to institutionalize and perpetuate their philanthropy. With the creation of the Erb Family Foundation, the Erbs entered a new phase of their family experience. And since Fred’s passing in 2013, the family continues his legacy of working toward a common goal – to effect systemic change by nurturing sustainable communities. The Erbs believe that the key is working collaboratively and respectfully together to make wise, compassionate decisions to achieve meaningful and lasting change.

Members of the Erb Institute community were invited to express their condolences and share their memories of Fred and Barbara Erb.  These comments have been compiled in a book that was presented to immediate family members.

Frederick A. Erb, Feb 11, 1923 – January 10, 2013
Barbara M. Erb, April 17, 1924 – November 8, 2013.

The pdf version of the bound books  may be downloaded .

Frederick A. Erb:  A Legacy of Leadership  may be viewed by clicking on the title or the pdf below.
The pdf version of the bound book for Barbara Erb:Barbara M. Erb: For the love of famly and place may be viewed by clicking on the title or the pdf below.


Frederick A. Erb


Barbara M. Erb