Judy Ann (Radich) Backlund passed away on May 6, 2022 after a difficult battle with cancer. Judy was born in Eureka, California on May 25, 1948 and her parents were Maude and George Radich. Judy attended public schools in Eureka and entered Humboldt State College in 1966 where she majored in Speech. She met her husband, Phil Backlund, in the Fall of 1968 while they were both working for a print shop. They were married on July 11, 1970. They have three sons, Shane (1971), Ryan (1975), and Matt (1979). Early in their marriage, they saw a lot of the country, living in Alaska, Colorado, and New York before coming to Ellensburg in 1979.
Judy continued her education after graduation at Humboldt by obtaining a K-12 endorsement in English Language Arts. She later received her master’s degree in Literacy from Central Washington University in 1988. She had an interestingly varied professional career that focused on education. In Alaska, she worked as a home school teacher; in Denver, she worked for the University of Denver’s Bureau of Educational Research; and in New York she worked as an adult Literacy teacher. In Ellensburg, she was the Director of the Fifth Avenue Center, Director of Camp Fire, taught at Head Start, and at Ellensburg’s elementary, middle, and high schools. She finished her professional career with fifteen years at Central Washington University as a Literacy Education Professor, retiring in 2017. Those words don’t begin to express the energy, creativity, and passion she brought to all of her work.
Judy’s influence was world-wide. She and Phil were involved in some type of international education programs from 1983 to the present. In the 1980s, they ran a high school exchange program that brought over 50 foreign high school students to Ellensburg. Judy and Phil hosted three wonderful young women for a year each—Carol Falk (Sweden), Sigi Moeller (Germany), and Jeannie Roelling (Germany). The three students and the Backlunds remain life-long friends. Judy and Phil have visited them in Germany and Sweden a number of times over the years. In the 1990s, for ten years, they co-ran a Japanese ten-day summer home stay program for middle school students from Tamamura, Japan. That resulted in the Backlund’s first international trip to Japan in 1999.
In 2001, Phil was offered a one year teaching position at Hong Kong Baptist University and Judy and Phil spent the next year living and teaching in Hong Kong. Judy taught English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It was truly a life-changing experience for both of them. In 2006 and 2007, Judy and Phil spent three weeks each year teaching communication skills at a university in Lahore, Pakistan—another amazing experience. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 they traveled to Tanzania (sponsored by Rotary) and South Sudan to work with teachers on literacy and teaching strategies. In 2012, they began a wonderful and rewarding relationship with Hou Kong School in Macau, China. Judy worked with CWU and Oregon State University to help provide a ten week education experience for student teachers in Macau. Over 130 students participated over seven years. Judy also served the teachers there as an instructional coach. Judy and Phil spent two to three months living and working in Macau each year.
Judy’s father was from what is now Croatia. Judy and Phil had the opportunity to travel to Croatia along with their good friends Judy and Rick Wright in 2019. They were able to visit the small village where Judy’s father lived until he was 14. She found it very interesting to see her maiden name on tombstones dating back 300 hundred years. It was a wonderful and meaningful visit.
Her family was something that she and Phil would sometimes sit and marvel over. They felt very blessed by their boys and their accomplishments. They are three wonderful people and successful in life by any measure. When Judy and Phil were young, they wanted their house to be a hangout for their sons’ friends. And it was. They never knew how many people would be sleeping in our house Saturday morning! Judy tried and very much succeeded in making their home a welcoming place where anyone would feel safe and loved. When their boys got married and had children of their own, Judy’s (gramma) specialty was treats and special foofy things. She was so good at planning holidays, birthdays, and any other reason to get her family together. No matter what else she did, family was always first and she loved everyone in a manner that made every member of her family better and happier.
Who was Judy? She never did anything halfway. 125% was her way of approaching everything. She was the most creative person and had 50 ideas about how to do any project. She tied those ideas to her incessant, passionate desire to give people the opportunity to become better. As you read above, she changed lives for the better all over the world. She did all that while still finding the time to be an amazing wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister, aunt, grandmother, and friend. She didn't serve others to receive appreciation. Quite the contrary as she hated the spotlight. She did it because of her deep appreciation for all people, no matter their age or circumstances, and her belief that they could do great things with a little support, love, and appreciation.
In addition to her international involvement, locally she was a Past President of the Ellensburg Morning Rotary Club and the chair of its Literacy Committee. She was a member of the United Methodist Church where she volunteered in kid’s ministry. She was a volunteer for FISH and assisted with fundraisers. She was an active member of PEO. She also loved hosting family events at her home and with entertaining many friends.
She is survived by her husband Phil, sons Shane and wife Kari; Ryan and wife Jody; Matt and wife Tamara, six grandchildren – Emily, Madison, Makenna, Grayson, Lillian, and Hadley, brother Jon Baltiera and wife Joyce, two nieces and five nephews, and numerous friends. She was preceded in death by her parents George and Maude Radich.
A Celebration of Life service will be conducted at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, June 10 at the Rexinger’s Barn at 291 Aviator Lane, off Kittitas Highway. Judy will be laid to rest in a private family service at the IOOF Cemetery in Ellensburg.
Memorial contributions in Judy’s honor are suggested to the Ellensburg Morning Rotary’s Foundation or Rotary International’s Literacy program. You can also go buy a kid a book.
Johnston & Williams Funeral Home and Crematory of Ellensburg has been entrusted with caring for Judy and her family. Online condolences may be left at www.johnston-williams.com
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