Dwight Odell Backman
Dwight Odell Backman, a five-decade resident of Sparta, passed away peacefully at the age of 75 on the morning of Saturday, 23 May. After the discovery of late stage cancer, Dwight immediately moved to hospice care at Eagle Crest South in Lacrosse where he comfortably spent his last two months and eventually passed.
Born in Williston, North Dakota during July 1943; Dwight was the son of a church Pastor who served multiple congregations. As a toddler, the Lord’s work drove his family to move to Whitefish, Montana and later to Circle, Montana where Dwight graduated high school as the Valedictorian. Known as “Digger” (after Digger Odell) to most of his childhood friends, his childhood years in the “the Big Sky Country” made a lifelong impact on Dwight. Until the day of his passing, “Digger” always considered himself a Montana boy.
Following high school, Dwight followed in his family’s tradition and attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He graduated Luther College in 1965 with a degree in Biology, and planned to go to Medical School in Chicago where he had been accepted. Challenged with paying for medical school, NASA selected and offered Dwight an academic fellowship during the peak time of our nation’s “Race to the Moon.” NASA sent Dwight to the University of Oregon in Corvallis where he was to obtain a PhD in Radio Micro Biology and then help spearhead that field for NASA in the space program. Disappointed with research and disillusioned by the University leadership, he withdrew himself from the program in the final year of his PhD studies and pursued teaching.
Often referred to as “awesome” or “the best teacher I had;” Dwight taught Biology, Chemistry, and Math at Sparta Senior High School for 35 years. He demonstrated a rare ability to personally connect with students and tailor his teaching style appropriately. Under Dwight’s teaching difficult concepts became understandable, fun, and kids became motivated to achieve. Later in life Dwight would recount the numerous students of his that pursued the sciences and went on to be successful doctors, dentists, pharmacists, parents, and positively contributing members of the community. Recent students of his also likely don’t realize his athletic and coaching accomplishments as both a Track & Field and Cross Country coach with numerous wins for Sparta Senior High during the late 1960s and 1970s.
As a man of many interests Dwight pursued and became renowned in his passions of music, the outdoors, firearms and old-west artifact collecting, and custom knives. Dwight worked professionally as a jazz trombonist where both performers and fans knew him as “Ike.” He loved the “high” associated with creating music and performing on stage. He performed with or opened for famous names such as Bob Hope, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, and Teresa Brewer. As one of six members of the River City Jazz Band, he represented Wisconsin performing for a week at the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984. Since his youth, Dwight was fascinated by the nostalgia and the artisan crafts of the old west, firearms, and knives. He remained involved with gun and knife shows throughout the Midwest for over four decades. He owned and created award winning displays, and was also selected for many years to serve as a judge at the Janesville/Edgerton Custom Knife Show; one of the best in the country. Lastly, Dwight always demonstrated a passion for luxury and sports cars. As a parent of young kids, he always piled his young kids in elegant Lincolns, and later in life owned at least seven different Corvettes.
Most importantly, Dwight successfully and lovingly raised three sons who succeed him; Bradley, Bjorn, and Corbin. Dwight has six lovely grandchildren, one of whom is his namesake, and one beautiful great grandchild. In death he preceded his younger siblings; Charles, Afton, and Stephen. As a father Dwight passed on to his sons a tremendous sense of humor, passion for firearms and music; and he exemplified a spirit of having fun and enjoying every day. While in hospice, he advised his boys to “Just do what you want to do!” What a demonstration of the luxury and privilege we have here in the USA!
There will be no wake or viewing. A celebration of life will be held from 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm on August, 10, 2019 in The Gathering Place at Coulee Region Cremation Group, 133 Mason St. Onalaska.