John and Gina Erb both grew up as city kids—John in Chicago and Gina in Pittsburgh. They met in college at University of Detroit and although they became avid sailors while living in Chicago, both say that they didn’t truly fall in love with nature until they started coming to Leelanau.
John was working as an attorney and Gina as an interior designer in the windy city when they first came north to visit college friends, Jim and Barb Varley. “We didn’t have any money,” laughs John. “And so when we came up we sponged off the Varleys who were living in a cottage at the Jolli Lodge while Jim was getting his dental practice up and running.” One winter weekend, looking for something to do, they saw that the Conservancy was hosting a hike up Pyramid Point to view the winter eclipse.
They signed up and when they arrived, it was snowing hard, and more was forecast. The hike leader, Chad Kahler, asked if the small group wanted to bag it. After all, the eclipse would be obscured by the snow. Everyone was game to go. Chad, a teacher, carried a “ginormous” backpack full of props, including a model of the sun and moon. On later hikes, Gina recalls Chad pulling out a bag of potato chips to teach ways to recognize tree bark or pointing out porcupine droppings at the base of a girdled tree. If they ever were lost and needed to start a fire, Chad said the droppings contained wood that would quickly light.
The night of the snowstorm, Gina says that when they got back to their car, more than a foot of snow had fallen. After digging out, it took an hour to get back to Leland. But they were invigorated, and hooked.
The Erbs eventually bought a place on Gills Pier. Heart problems compelled John to retire early and in 1998 they moved here permanently. With the move, their love for the county only deepened. “Leelanau has incomparable natural resources,” says John. “And the people are fascinating, curious and involved. The opportunities to learn here, to contribute are endless. It’s a place where you can have a second or third phase of life that’s as full—or even more rich, than the life you came from.” They began volunteering at our booth, digging wildflowers and attending events. Gina served on our Outreach Committee and continues on the Auction Committee; John served on our Board of Directors for nine years, the last two as Chairman.
John says that when he started having heart issues he realized that the two things he cared most about were health and the environment. “It was kind of an epiphany to narrow it down and it gave me a focus to say, ‘How can I get involved in these two things and make a difference?’” In addition to serving on our Board, John is in his 12th year on the Munson Medical Center Board.
Most recently, the Erbs were asked to serve as ambassadors for our Richard O. Ristine Heritage Society. Members of the Heritage Society (over 140 strong) have made a provision for the Leelanau Conservancy in their will or estate plan.
“We were honored to be asked,” says Gina. “We believe in the cause and it is very near and dear to our heart.” John agrees. “The Leelanau Conservancy is a forever organization,” he says. “It gives you great confidence when you make a donation whether it’s today or a pledge or a planned gift. You know it will be shepherded perfectly and managed in the way you want. You know you can trust this organization to do exactly what is right because it always has. It is the best managed and most trusted organization that I have ever been associated with.”
The Erbs have made a significant planned gift and are excited to help grow the Heritage Society. “Just like us, the world around us has the same frailties,” says John. “We need to take care of Leelanau the same way we take care of ourselves. Water doesn’t preserve itself; there are so many outside threats. The soil we grow our food in needs to be protected. If we are not vigilant they will be taken away from us.”
“We want people to know how easy it is to make a planned gift and how important it is,” he adds. “It is a way to support the mission that is absolutely painless.” “After all,” Gina chimes in, “you can’t take it with you!”
Join the Heritage Society and help preserve the beauty of Leelanau forever!
To learn more contact:
Leslee Spraggins, Planned Giving Officer,
at 231-256-9665 or [email protected]