1929 - 2014
Gordon Lewis Backer was born on August 8, 1929, in Luverne, Minnesota, to Esther and William Duane Backer. He attended grade school, junior and senior high school in Luverne. As a young boy he worked in his father’s hardware store, Backer’s Hardware. He attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then medical school at the University of Minnesota. He married Arlene Isaacson in March of 1954 in Litchfield, Minnesota. He was a medical intern in Seattle, Washington, and then served as a Navy flight surgeon in Pensacola, Florida. After his military service, he was a family physician in Little Falls, Minnesota. In 1960, he began an ophthalmology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Following completion of his residency in 1963, he and Arlene moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, where he joined ophthalmology practitioner, Dr. Otis Wilson.
In 1965, Gordon and his brother Bill formed the Backer Eye Clinic. Gordon was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and he practiced at the Eye Clinic until his retirement in 1995. Today the original practice is known as the Eye Clinic of Wisconsin, which employs more than 100 people, including 17 ophthalmologists and optometrists, and serves patients at six locations: Wausau, Merrill, Antigo, Rhinelander, Medford, and Stevens Point. Gordon was instrumental in driving the geographic growth of the Eye Clinic so that it could provide the highest quality medical services to the largest number of people in the central Wisconsin area. Gordon had a reputation for fairness in dealing with doctors and employees, and he treated and formed relationships with countless numbers of patients in northern Wisconsin. His legacy of selflessness and leadership lives on in the corporate culture of the Eye Clinic of Wisconsin, which named its Wausau clinic “The Backer Building” after Gordon and his brother Bill.
Gordon and Arlene have been members of the First Presbyterian Church of Wausau since their move to Wausau in 1963. Together they raised four boys in Wausau and at their summer cabin in Lac du Flambeau: Carl of Winnetka, IL; Eric of Durango, CO; Tom of Bainbridge Island, WA; and Paul (Gus) of Lake Forest Park, IL.
Gordon had a well-known passion for improving the quality of life and economic vitality of the Wausau area. Over the years, he provided visionary leadership through his active involvement in many organizations serving the community in the arts, higher education, health care, and economic development. He was a member of the Society of Founders of the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin, serving on the original board of directors of the foundation (’93) and later as its president (’00). He provided leadership to Central Wausau Progress and the Wausau Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce the year construction of the Wausau Center Mall was approved by referendum (’78-’79), and he received the Chamber’s Distinguished Community Service Award in 1998. Gordon was involved in some of the challenging original negotiations to provide easements for the River Edge Parkway behind the Eye Clinic property. Because of his many leadership contributions, Gordon was recognized this past spring with the Developer Award at the 2014 Champions of Business event sponsored by Junior Achievement of North Central Wisconsin.
Gordon died in his home on October 2, 2014, of complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Information courtesy of the Wausau Daily Herald.