The Fred A. & Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation

Monday, August 12, 2013

Update:  Barbara Morley Erb passed away November 8, 2013.  Highlights from Mrs. Erb's life from Crain's Detroit.  

Fred A. Erb led a most extraordinary life, one filled with tremendous business success earned through his hard work and entrepreneurial skills in the lumber industry.  But it was his devotion and dedication to supporting and nurturing environmentally healthy communities throughout Metro Detroit and protecting and restoring the Great Lakes Basin through his philanthropy that set him apart.  It was that desire to share his passion and financial resources with others that led him and his wife, Barbara, to found the Bloomfield Hills-based Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation in 2007.

Fred A. Erb, 89, passed away January 10, 2013 but his business acumen is legendary. After receiving his BBA degree from the University of Michigan in 1947, he bought into his uncle’s lumber and coal business in Royal Oak and later turned the Erb Lumber Co. into a multi-million dollar behemoth before selling it in 1993. He continued on by developing multiple successful real estate and investment partnerships.

The Erb's first significant gift, in 1951, was to help establish a camp for troubled children in northern Oakland County. Motivating and partnering with others to make a difference became a hallmark of their philanthropy.  In 1996, they made their first major gift to U of M – eventually totaling more than $20 million – to establish the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

Today, the tradition and dedication to philanthropy is carried on by his wife and his family, including his son John M. Erb, who serves as the foundation’s president and sits on the CMF Board of Trustees, and his daughter Leslie Erb Liedtke, who serves on the foundation’s board. John says the foundation is dedicated to the strong convictions of his father and mother that “the wealth was created here in southeast Michigan so we want to give back to southeast Michigan.”  To get a sense of the types of wide-ranging projects that the Erb family foundation supports, one need only look at the recent funding in December of eight grants totaling $1,475,000. Those grants include support for:

  • Planning for a blue water trail around the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair emphasizing green infrastructure
  • Improved capacity at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice to promote sustainable solutions in Detroit, including green infrastructure.

Other past grants include $4.5 million to help establish the U of M Water Center to to support leading research and engage critical stakeholders to better understand the cumulative environmental and economic impacts of restoration work funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and help decision-makers use this research to inform the initiative going forward.   

Arts and culture also held a special place in Fred A. Erb’s life, especially jazz. The foundation supports numerous arts programs throughout the region, including education for musically talented, financially disadvantaged youth coordinated through the Carr Center and others in Detroit.

Learn more about the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Foundation at


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