Paul Erbes: Class of 1975
When Paul Erbes looks back on the impact his high school days in Tracy in the late 1960s had on him, it’s a core value he learned that carried him through a difficult time in America and in his own personal life: compassion.
Erbes lost his brother, John, in the Vietnam War and Erbes remembers his family being surrounded by love, caring, support and gratitude.
“I remember walking into the sixth-grade classroom – in the ‘huts’ that stood next to our elementary school which had been destroyed by the Tracy tornado a few months earlier – there I was embraced by the power of compassion from my classmates, my teachers and the school administrators,” Erbes shared in the speech he will give upon his induction into the Tracy Area High School Wall of Fame on Thursday. “All the conflict and controversy were set aside for the sake of compassion; caring for me and my family. Since then I felt driven to show compassion to others. My whole life career was shaped by that experience in Tracy Schools.”
Erbes graduated from Tracy High School in 1975 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Ancient Studies, and Religion in 1979 from St. Olaf College. He then earned his Masters of Divinity from Luther Seminary in 1983 and continued his doctoral study at the University of Minnesota and added advanced leadership certifications at the University of Indiana.
Erbes has served as a pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 22 years in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Missouri. He has also worked as a Regional Manager at Thrivent Financial for eight years providing educational and financial resources for congregations. He has also served as Executive Director at Generous Faith LLC, for six years, Gift Officer, at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service for four years, and Vice President, at Wartburg Theological Seminary for the past three years to the present time.
Erbes has been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for 30 years and has been involved in 22 international projects to 12 different countries including El Salvador, Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Portugal, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Erbes says the other values he learned form his time in Tracy were listening and diversity. He credits former teachers Kirk Landman and Shorty Engel for instilling these values in him — Landman for his teachings on the debate team, and Engel for helping him learn a new language and experiencing a new culture.
“When I went to school here, we were very white,” said Erbes. “There was little diversity. I thank God that my many nephews and nieces and great nephews and nieces who are part of this school system now – believe me, there are a whole lot of Erbes around here, I thank God that they can celebrate God’s diversity as a daily experience.
In his free time, Erbes has run 11 marathons and 38 half marathons since turning 50. He has been a foster parent for 26 youth leaving detention centers and has served on numerous community and nonprofit boards such as; Seafarers International House, New York City; Nebraska Lutheran Planned Giving Association; and Habitat for Humanity of Iowa.
Erbes was appointed to the Governor’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention commission in Kansas, received the “Good Neighbor Award” in Colorado for building community alliances, and was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force for Community Asset Building in Wyoming. Erbes has chaired the Community Corrections Commission in Wyoming for six years, and served as Dean of Wyoming Lutheran Churches for six years.
Erbes said he is humbled by being recognized by the school district with his Wall of Fame induction and he believes that the school makes a powerful statement when it recognizes its former students in such a way.
“It clearly identifies the truth that others have proclaimed that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ he said. “In addition to the teachers in the classroom, my life was formed by the many Tracy community people who invested their time and love in me. My family, Willow Lake Church, my co-workers at Hemmingsen’s Auto Sales, and many more too numerous to name — they all helped mold me and shape my values.
“My close friend and fellow ‘75er Brian Johnson and I came up with a motto for our class that was never adopted, but I’ve thought about it often: ‘Live each day to learn, learn each day to live,’” he added. “I’ve thought of this often and tried to live by its truth. I invite others to do so as well.”
Biographical information for this story was provided by the family and Tracy Area High School.