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Remembering Frederick A. Erb, BBA '47, 1923-2013, Benefactor and Businessman

1/14/2013 --

A success in business, Erb and his wife gave back to the university to create the Erb Institute.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Frederick A. Erb, BBA '47, the businessman and philanthropist who co-founded U-Mís Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, passed away Jan. 10, 2013, at the age of 89.

After a successful business career, Erb and his wife, Barbara, made a gift to their alma mater that created the pioneering Erb Institute, a center of thought leadership and home to a joint degree program between the Ross School and U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment. The institute has created a remembrance page for Erb. "Fred has been a great friend to both the university and the Ross School, and we mourn his passing," said Alison Davis-Blake, the Edward J. Frey Dean and Stephen M. Ross Professor of Business. "He had a desire to create a better future for his children and grandchildren, and his and Barbara's vision created a program that exemplifies a core value of the Ross School — using knowledge and the power of business to make the world a better place."

Born Feb. 11, 1923, in Royal Oak, Mich., Fred attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Cornell University. In 1942, he transferred to the University of Michigan, where he met his wife, Barbara. Fred joined the Army Enlisted Reserve when World War II broke out, and was called to active duty in June 1943. Fred and Barbara married after the war, and Fred resumed his education at U-M. Fred switched from engineering to business and earned his BBA degree with honors in August 1947.

After graduation, Fred took over his uncle's lumber and coal business in Royal Oak. Starting with seven employees, one store, and sales of about $170,000, he grew sales to $300,000 the next year and to $1 million the following year. By the 1970s, Erb Lumber became the largest supplier of lumber in Michigan. When Fred sold the business in 1993, it was a multistate enterprise with 45 locations, 1,300 employees, and $280 million in sales (none of which was coal). Until his retirement, Fred Erb was active in real estate development and management, including Edgemere Enterprises in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

After years of philanthropic giving, Fred and Barbara made one of their first major gifts to the University of Michigan, forming the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise in 1996.

"The legacy that Fred and his wife Barbara have left through their family, accomplishments, and philanthropy is a testament to a life well-lived," said Andy Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute and Holcim (U.S.) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise. "I am especially grateful for the impact that the Erbs have had on the hundreds of students at the University of Michigan."

"The Erb Institute is a legacy unlike any other in the world, a community of capable and passionate people devoted to leaving the world a better place than they found it," said Tom Lyon, the Dow Professor of Sustainable Science, Technology, and Commerce at Ross and former director of the Erb Institute. "In this, students, faculty, and business partners perfectly mirror the values Fred and Barbara have instilled in their own children."

In 2007, Fred and Barbara established the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation to nurture environmentally friendly and culturally vibrant communities in metro Detroit and support initiatives to restore the Great Lakes Basin.

In addition to his wife, Barbara, Fred is survived by his son Rick Erb of Steamboat Springs, Colo., daughters Wendy Elaine Erb of Vail, Colo., and Leslie Erb Liedtke of Denver, and son, John Erb (Debbie) of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., four grandchildren Mimi, Lark, and J. Hugh Liedtke of Denver, and Elizabeth Erb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and younger brother George Erb (Barbara) of Wilson, Wyo.

A memorial service will be held Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

— Terry Kosdrosky

For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502,