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Dwight Odell Backman

June 6, 2019 | 13 comments

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.



  1. Kurt Munchoff

    I never had Dwight as a teacher but did see him as a judge during Solo/Ensemble numerous times. His playing was like listening to liquid gold!! May he rest in peace.

  2. Christy

    This is a tremendous loss to our community. I am sorry for your loss.

  3. Christy Weiner

    RIP Mr. Backman. One of the best teachers Sparta ever had. I was fortunate enough to be one of his students.

    • Carol Johnson Olson

      Your dad, my co-worker for over twenty years at SHS made work fun! He had a wealth of knowledge that he loved to share, but never with arrogance, he just loved to share and his story telling skills made it very easy to want to listen! We also shared a few beers at The Market, many laughs and some tears pending the topic of conversation. One topic he loved to talk about was his three boys…his eyes sparkled with pride as he shared each of your successes. Dwight will be missed, see you in August!

    • Elsa Trammell Yohn

      Blessed be his memory. Mr. Backman was my Biology teacher in the late 70’s at Sparta High. I respected him and enjoyed being his student. God is close to the brokenhearted. My deepest sympathy to the family.

  4. Michael Roeske

    Prayers and God’s blessings to your family.

    • Ellen walle

      I have Only positive thoughts and memories about Mr. Bachman!!! He truly cared for all of his students and was an excellent teacher! His memory lives on through the lives of those he touched!!! Comfort his dear family and friends!

  5. Stacey Weber

    I am so sorry for your loss. He was a remarkable teacher whose influence reaches far beyond our view. His humor and knowledge has influenced his students, and their families, friends, patients, clients, companies….waves reaching out around the globe.

    • Danielle Nauman

      Mr. Backman was indeed a favorite teacher. I had him for bio as a sophomore (did well) and chemistry as a junior (didn’t do as well lol), and I learned more about statistics & odds from him than any math teacher. He had a smile and personality that made you feel important in his class, even when you felt like a moron for not being able to comprehend the subject matter (chem). Most importantly was that he always knew & remembered you when he saw you as an adult, reinforcing the importance he made you feel in class. May he Rest In Peace.

  6. Rick Brohmer

    My teacher, cross country and track coach. He was a good teacher, a great coach and a wonderful man. May he walk with Jesus Christ. RIP coach Backman.

  7. Jeni (Mueller) Mitchell

    I am so very sorry to hear of Mr. Backman’s passing He truly was one of my favorite teachers. I learned so much from him. Yes he taught me biology, but he taught me lessons about life. My most sincere condolences go out to his family.

  8. Patti Gudmundson

    Your father was the best teacher I ever had. He cared about the students and felt like he took a personal interest in our academic achievements. Loved his sense of humor and was so blessed to have met him and be in two f his classes. May you find peace in knowing so many people remembered him as a kind and gentle man. My sincerest sympathy..

  9. Tamarah

    My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Cherish the fond memories. Tamarah

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