Jim Erb is feeling a little overwhelmed. The Wellesley native and partner of Erb and Good Funeral Home in Waterloo will be the guest of honour tonight at the Mayor’s Dinner, held annually at Bingemans in Kitchener to raise money for the Working Centre. Erb is being recognized for nearly 40 years of volunteer work in the Wellesley and Kitchener-Waterloo communities.
“It was much easier to say yes (to the award) five or six months ago,” the modest Erb jokes about the attention the award is garnering him. “It’s an unbelievable honour.”
Raised in Wellesley by Albert and Irene Erb, he says he developed his strong sense of community by watching his parents. The elder Erb, owner of the family farm equipment business, sat on Wellesley town council beginning in 1963. Current Mayor Ross Kelterborn remembers Albert’s service to the township.
“They’ve been volunteers forever,” said Kelterborn, who accompanied the pair as they made their Meals on Wheels deliveries last week. Even into their 90s, Erb’s parents serve as a model of volunteerism for him.
Attributing his sense of community to the place where he grew up, Erb knows Wellesley shaped his values as much as his parents did.
“I think growing up in a small town you see things a little bit different than you do in a big city. Everybody helps,” he said. “That was important to me. If they’re not fighting issues themselves, I can’t understand why people wouldn’t respond.”
Erb hopes he has set the same example for his children and works to make the impression on his grandchildren as well, bringing them along as he works on some of his favourite charitable projects.
“There’s no question that volunteer work is very intentional for me,” said Erb. “We take our grandchildren with us to pack hampers for the House of Friendship hoping that if they see grandma and grandpa do things like that it’ll stick.”
Erb, fascinated by funeral directing since the age of 11, has gone into semi-retirement recently. His sons now run the day-to-day aspects of the business, allowing Erb more freedom to volunteer his time.
“I’ve scaled back to half days (at the funeral home) and it’s so much more fun when you don’t have to worry about coming back to work afterwards,” he said.
Among Erb’s current favourite projects are the annual House of Friendship turkey drive and church activities, as well as civic initiatives to blend city, township and regional councils into one council.
“I like to get involved in charities where just a little bit of money or just a little bit of work by a person makes a difference,” he said. “I like to do things where I see there is a need and you can maybe make a difference for people who need a hand up.”
Although he plays down some of the work he does, Erb’s involvement in two large projects has helped to shape the community he is from and the one he lives in now. Erb was on the founding board for Habitat for Humanity in Kitchener-Waterloo, helping to bring the house building project to the area, but he may best be known in Wellesley for being one of the founders of the Apple, Butter and Cheese festival.
“I went to high school in Elmira and the band played at the syrup festival each year; when I was president of the board of trade in Wellesley I thought to myself ‘rather than thinking that because there’s one in Elmira and one in New Hamburg that we’ve got enough, why not have a third one because this area has proven that it really works,’” he said, explaining how the first ABC festival came to be. The festival founders began meeting three years before the first Apple, Butter and Cheese event opened it’s doors to 8,000 people.
“There were only 800 or 900 people living in Wellesley, so it was ten times the number of people living there,” Erb said about the success of the festival. Erb’s parents served sausage and pancakes at the event until about 10 years ago; they were in their eighties when they stopped.
Saturday night will be like an episode of ‘This is Your Life’ for Erb, who will be seeing people from his volunteer history he hasn’t seen in over a decade and hear them speak about his devotion to his community. Erb says he is looking forward to the event, but mostly, because it will bring in donations for charity.
“We’re strong supporters of the Working Centre and hopefully this can be my contribution to building up the work they do.”