The voice of West Kendall is leaving her lifelong home.
Also known to many as “Mayor Martha,” a title bestowed for her tireless efforts to improve what she calls the “West End,” Martha (Kaplan) Backer and husband, Michael, are leaving their home on SW 143rd Court for Jacksonville Beach.
“It’s a retirement goal for Michael’s love of fishing; the house is just a block from the oceanfront,” explained the mother of three who has been packing up the family belongings during August while still keeping an eye on neighborhood affairs.
“I speak up if something doesn’t seem right,” she explained about her emails and phone calls that have “bugged” county officials whenever she felt a wrong needed righting. Her most recent project was repairing a dilapidated bus stop shelter.
In recent years, she has helped initiate and lead projects with consequences both large and small — all to improve West Kendall.
Three with far-reaching results:
• Canceling a $6 million six-laning of SW 104th Street, a cause taken up by more than 100 protesting neighbors as unneeded destruction of median trees and tropical plants;
• County exterior wall painting using a single color along a section of Coral Way in response to years that she urged for a cooperative countyhomeowner effort for a common exterior color to unify a streetscape appearances, and
• Pleading at various Kendall meetings for five years to organize a West Kendall charrette to study area improvements, launched early this year as a Kendall Drive Corridor study by Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan C. Zapata.
“Early on, I knew I loved government,” Martha explained about her zeal for community betterment. “I had a great civics teacher at Glades Junior High School, Dr. James Fleming, who went on to become a California school superintendent.
“I knew being involved meant speaking out on issues, and getting others to do so, as well,” she added, noting her first efforts occurred during tenures she served as president of PTAs at area schools.
As a member of several school boundary and EESAC committees, she recalls “one project that should have saved county funds by switching park and school sites to expand Dr. Gilbert L. Porter Elementary as a primary center without a new land purchase.”
At that time, Backer wrote articles urging better equipment in schools, followed by new outfitting of a science laboratory at her neighborhood’s Oliver Hoover Elementary.
“Our son, Scott, was in a science class and went on to graduate with a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Florida and University of California at Berkeley. Now he’s with Dow Chemical in Philadelphia,” she added with parental pride.
One of three sons the Backers raised in West Kendall while living in Cindi’s Place and Caravel, Scott’s brothers include David Backer, a teacher who recently moved to Connecticut with his wife, Tori, and the couple’s three daughters.
“Our third son, Chad, is debating what he will do, now that we’re moving out of our house,” she laughed.
Chad is employed in a family counseling agency.
It was Martha’s father who first interested Michael in his glass business, A & A Glass and Mirror, later leading to the establishment of Michael’s Action Glass, a 36-year firm located on Bird Road.
In those early years, Martha grew up near Dadeland in a home still occupied by her parents, Howard and Bella. She graduated as a member of Killian High School’s first senior class and has remained an active alumnus ever since, helping organize a 50-year celebration of the school’s existence in 2013.
A long-standing member of the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, she credits Miles Moss, KFHA past-president, with helping foster her zeal for community betterment, beginning when she was assistant manager at the Winston Park clubhouse at the community Moss has served as homeowner association president for over 40 years.
“More people need to vote and take part in decisions, speaking up if something doesn’t seem right,” she emphasized. “My dear friend, Michael Howe (We worked on the Killian yearbook staff together.), also loved activity through community meetings.
“Hopefully, Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez will do the right thing for our area.” she concluded. “Our libraries need to re-invent a little. We need the meeting rooms and computer areas for literacy and classes.
“I do love all of Miami-Dade, but the West End is my heart.”