Sustaining the good earth
Education: Graduated from Parker High School in 1981 and from Horst Institute, a hair dressing school in Minneapolis, Minn. She went on to sell hair care products.
Family: Husband Kim; two sons, Ross, 14, and Evan, 9; two stepchildren, Derry, 23, and Haley, 27; one stepgrandchild
Business: A proud, fifth-generation Rock County small business owner. She owns Package Pro Express Delivery, a business-to-business courier, with her husband.
Personality traits: She is persistent and not afraid to say what's on her mind. "Just ask my mother. Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's not so good. When I think back a lot of times, I should have kept my mouth shut." She recently got into a political argument with a friend that got so hot, he stomped off. She called goodbye after him and then yelled: "Next time, we'll talk religion!"
Why she is passionate about farmland preservation: "As a community, we need to realize we need to support our farmers. They've been feeding us for centuries. For us to expect them to donate (their land) into a conservation easement is silly, especially when a developer comes knocking at their door to pay them big bucks."
How she unwinds: At a family cottage in northern Wisconsin where there is no computer. She likes to read, but mostly information. A romance book would be a waste of time. Her favorite magazine: "Cooking Light."
Role models: Her mom and dad
Her priorities: Her kids and family. "It is helpful that I have the husband that I do because he is very supportive of everything I do."
Warning: Do NOT let her loose around a karaoke machine. Enough said.
JANESVILLE Julie Backenkeller tells it like it is.
And she's been telling anyone who will listen that we'll be in deep trouble if we don't start preserving and conserving.
Backenkeller knows her dog-with-a-bone style sometimes rubs people wrong. Development and expansion can be touchy political issues.
"I'm not afraid to say what's on my mind," Backenkeller said.
Backenkeller's zeal has put conservation and land preservation on the front burner.
"I don't like talking," she said. "I like doing."
Amy Loasching, city council president, said Janesville still would not have a sustainability committee if not for Backenkeller.
Backenkeller contacted Loasching and urged Loasching to bring the idea to the council.
"She helped educate me and helped educate other council members, as well," Loasching said.
"She has so much energy, and she is so excited about helping and educating people on the importance of land preservation and saving the environment," Loasching said.
"Her energy level is almost contagious, and she gets you excited about the project, and she makes you understand the importance of it."
Backenkeller, who is a write-in candidate for city council in the April 7 election, spends hours researching issues, making phone calls and writing letters and e-mails.
"This is a woman who has a family, owns a business and works full time," Loasching said.
Backenkeller is co-founder of Rock Environmental Network, which sends action alerts to about 150 other people and groups. She began an Environmental Café, bringing in guest speakers for informal gatherings. And she writes columns for The Janesville Gazette on environmental issues.
Last spring, Backenkeller wrote a letter on the county's Web site expressing her concern about turning the county farm into the fairgrounds. She got a call to join a group that includes past and current county board members who are concerned about farmland preservation.
Alan Sweeney, a county board supervisor and group member, said the group had lost a clear sense of direction. It had no funding, and county staff were busy dealing with last summer's flood.
Backenkeller's involvement put the spark back, he said.
"Julie is one of the motivators in this group that really pushed this to the front," Sweeney said.
"She's certainly a go-getter," agreed Neil Deupree, a former county board supervisor and also a member of the group. "She gets things going, and then other people say, 'Oh, well, I guess this is pretty important.'"
Backenkeller, in cooperation with Rock County planning staff, wrote a proposal that brought to Janesville last month's workshop on protecting farmland.
Backenkeller said she is passionate because she believes time is running out.
"This is for my kids and grandkids, especially farmland preservation. The growing worldwide population and the fact that we continue to take the best farmland for the worst purposes—it flies in the face of common sense.
"There's nothing in it for me except it's the right thing to do."