Orlin Backes, 82, died in his home Thursday, November 30, 2017 surrounded by his children and grandchildren.
Orlin William Backes was born on May 11, 1935, the fifth of six children of Leonard P. Backes and Irene (Keller) Backes. Orlin was born on the family farm northwest of Glenburn, in Renville County, North Dakota and graduated from Glenburn High School in 1953. Although he wanted to farm, at his mother's insistence, he started college that fall, attending Minot State College. He never looked back, often stating that his college education opened his mind to a whole new world. He was the first in his family to attend college, and graduated with a teaching degree in 1958. At Minot State he met the love of his life, and future wife of 58 years, Millie (Jensen) Backes. They married on October 15, 1958 and eldest son, Brent was born a year later.
After college, Orlin began teaching history and science at Max High School in Max, North Dakota. After two years in the classroom, Orlin and Millie moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota and Orlin began law school at the University of North Dakota School of Law. Second son, Jon, was born his first year in law school. He was awarded the degree of Juris Doctorate in 1963, graduating third in his class. He was inducted into the Order of the Coif, an honor society for the top ten percent of law school graduates. Following graduation, he joined the law firm of McGee, Van Sickle and Hankla in Minot. He practiced with the McGee firm for 48 years, working with thousands of clients and hundreds of lawyers over the years. While in Minot, his daughter, Mary Beth, and youngest son Paul were born.
Orlin was a proud member of the legal profession. He viewed his job as a lawyer to help his clients achieve their goals or solve their problems, however they presented themselves. He had an innate ability to communicate with people from all walks of life and enjoyed communicating with all on their terms. While practicing law, he served terms as president of the Ward County Bar Association and the State Bar Association of North Dakota. For 30 years he was rated by his peers as AV Preeminent, the highest rating in legal ability and ethical standards. He was recognized as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" by Super Lawyers Publication. In 1995 Orlin received the State Bar Association's highest award, the Distinguished Service Award for lifelong service to the Bench Bar and People of North Dakota.
Orlin was a trial lawyer at heart, presenting his client's cause to over 100 federal and state jurys in his career. He was admitted as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1986 serving as State Chairman in 1994 and again in 2004. Orlin was admitted to the American Board of Trial Advocates in 1989 and served as state chair for North Dakota, as well as a term as National Director. Through his membership in those organizations, Orlin was privileged to participate in presentations on effective trial practice to the Minister of Justice for the Republic of China and the University of Warsaw in Poland.
Orlin's three priorities in life were Family, Faith and Community and he and Millie spent much time visiting children and grandchildren across the country. They sought to attend the important events in their lives, where ever they were across the United States. They traveled extensively, visiting over 25 different countries and all 50 states. Many hours were spent discussing the "great" and less great of those trips. Orlin was particularly proud of his grandchildren. His grandchildren in the Minot area would often be found at their home, having dinner or just stopping for a visit with Grandpa. Those from out of town made a special effort to visit North Dakota in the summer, and Arizona in the winter. Orlin was a lifelong Catholic. He and Millie were named the North Dakota Knights of Columbus Catholic Family of the year in 1979.
Orlin was an active member of the Minot community. He truly believed that with hard work, community involvement and consensus leadership, Minot could be even greater than the great place he knew it to be. His community involvement started with service clubs, and progressed through numerous volunteer committees, ultimately resulting in a run for mayor. He was elected Mayor of Minot in 1994 and served as Mayor until 1998. During that progression Orlin served on numerous state and local boards and committees including the following:
Orlin served 12 years on the North Dakota Real Estate Commission, having been appointed by three North Dakota Governors, Art Link, Allen Olson and George Sinner. He served on the board of directors of First Western Bank for 40 plus years and the board of directors of Integrity Mutual Funds for 20 plus years.
Developing more economic opportunity for young North Dakotans was one of the goals that fueled Orlin's community service. He served as one of the initial board members for the "Growing North Dakota Program", which was tasked with developing a statewide economic development program. The program resulted in the organization of the North Dakota Future Fund, with Orlin serving as its first chair. Orlin was also a member of the group that conceived and organized Minot's Magic Fund, later serving as its chairman.
Orlin was an eternal and lifelong optimist. It was rare to have a conversation with him in which his positivity was not apparent. It was even more rare to walk away from a conversation with Orlin without "cracking a smile" at least once in the conversation. He was an enthusiastic witness to the experiences he lived. Countries, cities and places visited by Orlin and Millie were often the "best ever" the "most beautiful" "fantastic" and amazing". He enjoyed contemplating the issues of the day and considering how a particular goal or problem, whether local, regional or national, could be best achieved or solved. He was convinced that no matter the issue, there was a positive solution or outcome, and moreover that the desired outcome could be achieved by less preoccupation with the problem, more focus on the solution and a good measure of "rolling up your sleeves" and getting to work. His advice and counsel will truly be missed.
Orlin is survived by his children Brent (Melanie) Denver CO; Jon (Karla) Minot; Mary Beth (Paris) Brenno, Chandler AZ; Paul (Jeannie) Edwards CO; Sister, Estelle Hohman-Vatter of LaPine OR; brother Roger Backes of Minot; brother in law James (Karen) Jensen, Minot; Grandchildren: Berit Backes, Austin, TX; Anika Backes, New York NY; Ingrid Backes, Ft. Collins CO; Christian Backes, Denver CO; Alexandria (Juan) Flores, Williston ND; Katelyn (John)Denne, Minot ND; Brieann Backes, Bismarck ND; Ashley (Aaron) Beck; William DeCoteau, Minot, ND; Catherine Backes, Jacob Backes, Rebecca Backes, Edwards, CO; Great Grandchildren: Joseph Kniffin and Stella Flores.
Orlin was preceded in death by his wife, Millie, his parents Leonard and Irene Backes, his brothers Richard Backes, Merle (Bud) Backes, Harold Backes.
December 4, 2017