The Jack Backer Scholarship was established in memory of the first publisher of the Indiana Daily Student, who was appointed in 1969 to lead the newly-independent campus newspaper.
The oldest of six siblings, Jack Backer was born in Britt, Iowa, on Feb. 15, 1934, with severe club feet. For the next 13 years, he spent six months each year in casts at the children’s hospital at the University of Iowa. His nurses became his teachers.
Later, his high school English teacher encouraged his writing, ultimately helping him enroll at Iowa State University and work at the Ames newspaper. But even with a scholarship and a job, he could not afford to stay at ISU.
In 1958, he transferred to Wayne State Teachers College in Nebraska, joined the Wayne Daily Herald and later was editor of the Wayne State student newspaper, The Goldenrod.
Upon graduation, Backer taught journalism for the next 10 years, first at at Bloomfield (Neb.) High School, where he created the program; Fort Hays State College in Kansas; and Kansas State University, where he became director of student publications. He earned a master’s degree in journalism at Iowa along the way.
In 1968, he left academia to become general manager and editor of the Niles (Mich.) Star, but missed the contact with students and the stimulation of working at a university. The position at IU fulfilled that desire as well as offered a chance to start a new era at the IDS, which now would not be a project of the journalism program but rather would be run by students, with Backer as publisher/advisor.
During his short seven years at the IDS, he became nationally known for his consultation work with newspaper staffs and at industry conferences, especially for his cutting-edge modular newspaper design concepts.
He also was financial advisor to the Arbutus, the campus yearbook, which became a model for other universities.
In 1976, he died of cancer at only 42 years old. Students and alumni mourned the death of an enthusiastic, passionate and talented man. The Backer family established a scholarship in his memory, which gives preference to students who are involved with the Indiana Daily Student.