A voice for agriculture
Community: Harmony Township, east of Janesville
Job: Manages finances and cares for cattle on her family's farm of 420 registered Jersey cows
Family: Husband, Bill, who works alongside Marion on the farm with their oldest son, Brian. Their daughter, Kristen Paul, is a field agent for American Jersey Cattle Association. Their youngest son, Brett, manages a 2,000-cow Jersey farm in California.
Hometown: Fredric in Polk County, where she lived on her family's Jersey farm
Happy memory: Barlass lights up when you ask her how she met Bill, although the two couldn't recall the exact moment. It was in the show ring or through the Jersey association, they agreed.
When they were married in the mid-1970s, Bill and Marion milked 40 cows. Bill's cousin did the milking during the wedding.
JANESVILLE The Jersey cow is the darling of the dairy breeds.
She's petite and sweet natured with big doe eyes.
But ask a farmer what happens when you put a Jersey in a pen full of Holsteins that might be twice her size.
The farmer will laugh.
The little Jersey pushes right past the bigger cows to get what she wants. And pound-for-pound, she's the better producer.
Like her Jerseys, Janesville dairy producer Marion Barlass is gentle and sweet natured. She has kind words for a visitor and hesitates to talk about her own accomplishments.
But in her quiet way, she gets the work done—both on the farm and in the boardroom.
Barlass was honored in 2008 as the World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year. Currently, she is a member of the board of directors for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, and she was the first female board member of the Wisconsin Jersey Breeders Association.
Sitting at her dining room table, Barlass brushes over a lifetime of industry accomplishments and prefers to talk about her kids or the work she does on her family's 420-cow farm in Harmony Township.
But those accomplishments are the result of Barlass' "great" advocacy for Jersey cattle and agriculture in general, said Casey Langan with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
"Marion is effective because she always conducts herself in a soft-spoken yet self-assured way," Langan said.
Even if you don't live on a farm, you benefit when someone advocates for the dairy industry, Langan said. The average dairy cow generates more than $17,000 per year. Farmers often spend that money locally, Barlass said.
Barlass grew up on her family's Jersey farm in Frederic. She had a short break from farm life as the home economist for the UW Extension in Dane County from 1974 to 1976.
"But the livestock agent was always coming in and asking me for help," Barlass said.
She admits that she's wondered a time or two if she made the right career choice.
Maybe it was one of those days when Barlass' daughter, Kristen Paul, remembers her mom working in the barn from 4 a.m. until after 8 p.m.
But the farm was a great place to raise children, Barlass said.
"We were able to be there, be around the kids while still having a job," Barlass said. "We were able to involve them and teach them about fiscal responsibility … and about caring for animals as well as other people."
Barlass' enthusiasm for the dairy industry rubbed off, Paul said. She and her two brothers have jobs in the Jersey industry.
"She's been a great role model," Paul said. "Not just for us but for other people, too. She's taught us to be really positive and to be very involved with things in the community."