On my way to work the IndyCar race at St. Petersburg, I was able to visit with my high school and university classmate, Jerry Erbach. After falling out of touch for some 43 years, I now have been able to see Jerry and his wife Fouzia three times in the past year beginning with last year’s reunion. This latest occasion took place at their vacation home on Sanibel Island in southwestern Florida. As I learned at the 45th reunion, Jerry has followed an unusual, but interesting route through life that began with Notre Dame and the university’s emphasis on the value of service.
Upon graduation from ND, with a BA in 1966 and BArch in 1968, Jerry and two of his 12 architecture classmates headed off to work in the Peace Corp’s showcase architecture program in Tunisia. Jerry lived and worked in the town featured in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, witnessed the first US moon landing sitting in the café where Harrison Ford met the evil French archaeologist, and worked on the restoration of both a 16th century Turkish fort, where Rommel housed his pilots during WW II, and a world famous mosque built in 836 AD. During his two-year stay in Tunisia, Jerry also had an Arabian stallion and spent a good deal of time on its back exploring Roman, Arabic and Berber ruins. His three vacations as a volunteer included sailing in the Greek Islands, spending Christmas and New Years in Florence and Venice with Italian colleagues, and travelling by car around the Mediterranean – all on the Peace Corps vacation allowance of $8 per day. He claims that being a volunteer was a tough life but a good start.
Returning to Chicago after the Peace Corps, Jerry was unable to find any local architectural firm interested in his experience from working on a 1200-year old mosque. So it was back to volunteering – this time to Yemen as one of the very first UN Volunteers. For two and a half years, Jerry lived in the historic city of Sana’a, one of the most unique and architecturally captivating cities in the world. During his year as a UN volunteer he was able to get several buildings built, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the renovation of a king’s palace into a boutique hotel and a vocational training school. He was then asked by the UN to design a housing complex for its experts and a new office building in Yemeni style using local materials. During his last year, he designed and built additions to the existing US Embassy and executed both the design and working drawings for a new ambassador’s residence and diplomat housing. On his way back to the US, Jerry obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Urban Studies with Aerial Photography from the ITC in Holland.
Settling down in Washington DC, Jerry then spent the next two years working for the National Register of Historic Places, took and passed the exam for his architect’s license, and was recruited by UNESCO to work on the Master Preservation Plan for the World Heritage City of Fez, Morocco – without doubt one of the most famous and intriguing cities in the world. During his assignment in Fez, Jerry met and married his wife Fouzia in Fez in 1977.
Following his field expert assignment with UNESCO, Jerry finally settled down into a 30-year career with a Washington, DC-based international planning firm named PADCO. The travelling, however, did not stop. PADCO worked only in developing countries so during this long part of his career Jerry ended up working in some 25 different countries, with long-term, multi-year assignments in Cameroon, Morocco, Jordan and Trinidad. His work focused mainly on policies for housing and urban development, project development, low-income housing and shantytown upgrading. He retired as Vice-President from PADCO in 2008, a couple of years after it was bought by AECOM, the same company that recently bought Ellerbe-Beckett, the designers of virtually all of ND’s newer buildings. Currently semi-retired, Jerry has spent the last couple of years working on post-earthquake housing in Haiti and is currently working in Haiti with Habitat for Humanity.
Despite all this travelling around, Jerry has managed to stay married for 35 years, has two grown children and recently became a first-time grandparent.