Sustainable Pulse Profile: Baileys Harbor Residents Don Pardonner and Judy Reninger

Don Pardonner and Judy Reninger did their best to live a low-impact lifestyle in Wheaton, IL, but going green in the suburban landscape was, as one might expect, less than easy.

Don Pardonner and Judy Reninger weave sustainable living into every aspect of their lives.

“It certainly wasn’t as possible down there as it is here,” Pardonner says, seven years after the couple retired to Baileys Harbor.

“In Wheaton we worked on naturalizing our yard,” Reninger says. “We were always hoping the city of Wheaton wouldn’t come down on us, so we tried to be extra friendly to our neighbors.”

The solar panels on the couple’s roof heat their water and their floor.

An un-mowed lawn in the suburbs is about as acceptable as a double-wide in Ephraim, and when they sold their house they found out just how much the new owners appreciated the native plants they had grown.

“We sold the house, and as soon as the papers were signed the bulldozers were there scraping the property,” Reninger remembers. “They considered all that stuff weeds.”

Pardonner explains the difference between his old neighborhood and the Door County community.

“Up here there’s plants and trees with a house every so often. “Down there, there are lots of houses with plants and trees every so often.”

In their new home they quickly entrenched themselves in the effort to bring the principles of sustainable living to the peninsula, joining the Door County Environmental Council and spearheading the organization’s Renewable Energy Task Force. They’ve witnessed a shift in attitudes in their short time here.

“Local government is beginning to ask the right questions,” Pardonner says. “It’s a slow process and you’ve got to be patient.”

Where once people thought they were off their rockers with some of the ideas they incorporated into their home and lifestyle, now they look to them for input on their own projects.

“People ask if they can come see our house,” Pardonner says. “And we find now people have more knowledge. They ask specific, technical questions. They want to know the details.”

Living light: The couple has outfitted their home to have a low energy profile, with solar thermal panels designed to provide 75 percent of the heat for hot water. The home incorporates passive solar heat and lighting, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and is heavily insulated.

Wasting less: Pardonner and Reninger compost food waste and try to buy local at farm markets as much as possible, and have been shopping with canvas bags for years.

Low-maintenance lawn: They don’t own a lawn-mower and instead have covered their property in native, natural grasses and plants. “We don’t have to fight ‘the mowed-lawn forces’ up here,” Reninger jokes.

A sensitive woman: Reninger is very sensitive to chemicals, so they built the home as low toxic as possible. This meant no air conditioning and no duct work to cut down on dust, and even extended to the kitchen cabinets, which were treated with a special sealant to be sure the formaldehyde in the wood didn’t escape into the air.

Pet peeve: “I hate seeing people going 85 mph down the freeway,” Pardonner says, because of the precipitous drop in gas mileage vehicles get at speeds over 60 mph. “The amount of people who don’t understand conservation is the way to go is troubling,” Reninger says.

Spreading the gospel (of sustainability): Pardonner and Reninger have taught an intro to renewable energy class at The Clearing in Ellison Bay for the past few years, usually in January. The class takes students to the homes of people who’ve incorporated sustainable principles in their homes.