If you asked Jim Erb how he felt about the recent attention he’s been getting, he would sum it up in one word: overwhelmed.
The long time Waterloo Region philanthropist, business owner and former City of Waterloo councillor is the 2012 Citizen of the Year for Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Makes you squirm a bit,” he joked in an interview when asked about the recognition he has been getting of late.
But the Wellesley native says that community contribution, whatever form it takes, is not about the recognition for those who see it as second nature.
“Being raised in a small village – there was 800 or 900 people when I left – that had a significant impact on my life. You just knew everybody, you just did everything. It didn’t matter what it was, you just worked together. It’s just typical of a small town’s sense of being a community and my parents were powerful examples as well.”Erb has had a long career in funeral services having graduated and found a job at a Wellesley funeral home in 1966. In 1969 he came to Waterloo. He has been at the Erb & Good Family Funeral Home for 37 years and a partner for nearly 30. Now a grandfather of five, he looks back at years of commitment to Waterloo and Wellesley’s communities.
Along with being one of the founding members of the Apple Butter and Cheese Festival held annually in Wellesley Village, Erb was a Waterloo City councillor for eight years (1980-1988), having inherited a passion for politics from his father, longtime former Wellesley councillor and mayor Albert Erb.
“It’s something I grew up with at home – I’m a political junky. It was sort of an opportunity to contribute, maybe, to the city, to a different venue than what I would have normally been involved in the not-for-profit sector,” Erb explained.
“I didn’t run and get elected to Waterloo council with any axe to grind. I was just thinking that hopefully I could make a difference.”
A committed church contributor and a member of the Kitchener-Conestoga Rotary Club, he has lead projects like the annual turkey drive and Rotary Dream Home lottery. Erb has had a chance to work with dozens of region-based causes such as the United Way of Kitchener-Waterloo, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Kitchener Waterloo Council of Churches, Centre for Family Business, The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation, Shalom Counselling Services, and the KidsAbility Foundation.
Erb was also a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and received the Michael R. Follet Community Leader of the Year Award at the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards this year.
“My involvement with the Rotary Club has probably given me the greatest opportunity to contribute. To see the differences you can create by being part of a larger group of raising that kind of money is rewarding for me,” he said of his contributions.
He credits the people around him with allowing him to wear so many hats over the years.
His wife, Marianne Schmidt, continues to support him and a business partner, Paul Good, understood clients were not the only ones who needed help.
“Sometimes it was a balancing act, but given how lucky I’ve been in the community what was contributed far outweighed the nuisance of being busy at times,” Erb said.
What does it mean to be named citizen of the year?
“You don’t get involved in the community to get recognized. I would rather go about and do my job and I don’t need the recognition. However, if it happens, then it’s an opportunity that I can use to maybe make it a teaching moment for other people … and say that it feels good to help one another, and challenge people to also become involved.”
A gala to celebrate the 2012 Citizen of the Year for Kitchener-Waterloo will be held on May 2 at the Waterloo Inn. For more information, visit www.lionsclubofkitchener.com.