Gary and Connie Backes ... Valentine's Day special: How we met

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Gary and Connie Backes were married April 4, 1964 and will observe their 60th wedding anniversary this year. (Photo submitted)

Gary and Connie Backes were married April 4, 1964 in Connie's home church in Capron, Ill. Gary chose the date – 4-4-64 so he would never forget an anniversary. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Gary and Connie Backes will be married 60 years this upcoming April. "God willing and if the creek doesn't rise!" added Connie. 

The couple has two daughters, Sonja and Jeanie, and one married granddaughter who is expecting her first child the end of May. 

Bossier City, Louisiana

The fun-loving couple met through Ken and Carol Tomkins. Carol was Gary's older sister. The Tomkins' were stationed in Bossier City, La., while Ken served in the Air Force. 

Connie met Ken and Carol in 1952. She and her family were living in Bossier City with the hope of improving her mother's health after a rheumatic fever diagnosis.  "We lived three houses apart and went to the same church, which was where we first met," Connie began. "They were such nice people and we had a shared faith." 

In 1955 Connie's family moved back to Capron, Ill., but kept in touch with the Tomkins through letters, Christmas cards, and special announcements, such as the birth of a child.

Join us for dinner

The Tomkins returned to Guttenberg in June of 1963 while Ken was on leave. Connie, her mother and her sister were invited  to Guttenberg to visit their longtime friends. "My mom mentioned to me that she thought Carol had a brother about my age," Connie remembered. 

The families met at church and returned to the home farm for dinner. "And yes! Carol did have a brother. His name was Gary!" Connie laughed. 

Movie date

"I asked Connie if she wanted to go to the movies," commented Gary. "We went to see Sodom and Gomorrah at the Princess Theatre in Guttenberg." 

"I didn't let on that I had already seen it," she laughed. 

As far as first dates go this one was pretty memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. 

"The bowling alley was above the theatre and the noise of the balls rolling down the alley and crashing against the pins was very loud. You could hardly hear the film," said Connie.

"The mosquitoes were as big as horseflies and bit like crazy!" Gary chuckled." "You could see them in the light that was cast from the motion picture." 

Connie always told herself and her family that she was never going to marry a farmer. She had dated several boys, but none of them were farmers until she met Gary. 

"Gary wore blue jeans and cowboy boots to the movie and when we sat down he flipped his legs up over the seat in front of us," she recalled. "As the movie went on I wished I could do the same but I had a dress on and it wouldn’t have been too lady-like."

Will you write?

The following day Connie's family returned to Illinois. She asked Gary if he would correspond with her through letters, but he said he didn't like to write.  "I wrote him to thank him for taking me to the movies anyway, and lo and behold he wrote back two days later and invited me back to Iowa." 

Hometown nuptials and honeymoon

The young couple became engaged at Christmas time in 1963 and were married April 4, 1964. "I chose that date so I would never forget an anniversary – 4-4-64," he laughed. 

The bride and groom had a big, evening wedding in Connie's home church in Capron. The couple spent their wedding night at a motel in Rockford. "It was kind of a ritzy motel, so we decided to spend our first night there," she remembered. "There was a line to check in and the couple in front of us were young and newlyweds too. When the hotel clerk asked how he could help us I stuttered and stammered and said, 'We would like a room.'"

"When we opened the door the first thing we saw were twin beds!" Gary chuckled

Connie decided to keep the room because she was tired and her legs hurt. "There were seven mirrors in the room," she laughed. "You could sit on the pot and see yourself. We were both pretty skinny, but it was uncomfortable sleeping in a twin bed. We tried to push the two together but they wouldn’t budge. They were bolted down!"

The following day it snowed on the newlyweds as they headed to their next stop in Springfield, Ill. "The power lines were coated with sleet and ice, but by the end of the day it was 70 degrees," they reported. "We are happy to say our next hotel had a double bed." 

The family farm

The Backes' made their home on the family farm, and milked cows for over 35 years. Gary never dreamed he would become a dairy farmer, because he didn't like to get up early in the morning. "After I graduated from high school in 1960, our neighbor asked if a friend  and I would take care of a nasty fox that was bothering his chickens. We had to get up early to catch that old fox and my dad said, 'If you can get up early to chase a fox, you can get up and milk cows,'" Gary said with a hearty laugh. 

"We have had a good life," the couple shared. "We raised hogs for a while until the market went to hell, and then I worked at TYCO. This was my first time working in a factory," Gary mentioned. 

"He had always worked for himself," Connie chimed in. "I didn't think he would return to the factory after the first night." 

Products Unlimited was sold to CII Technology the very first night Gary worked for them. The corporation was eventually bought out by TYCO. "I was kind of a 'Jack-of-all trades when I was employed with Products,” commented Gary. “I had a pretty good eye for machinery and often suggested and made simple adjustments to keep things running smoothly.”

Connie worked as a hairdresser for many years. “I had the first beauty shop at the Guttenberg Care Center,” she noted.  “Hair cuts were a dollar, a wash and set was $1.50, and perms were $7 dollars.” 

Connie was also employed as the Guttenberg Chamber Director and enjoyed many years of volunteer service with St. John’s Church. 

The couple’s union also gave Connie an opportunity to become closer to Gary’s sister, Carol. “Carol was so pretty and always like the big sister I never had. Not only did I get a great husband, I also got a wonderful sister-in-law,” she said with gratitude.

Happily ever after

The Backes’ list trust in one another, and their faith as the most important components to their successful marriage. The couple loves to laugh together, spoil their little Chihuahua, Ginger, and feed and enjoy the many birds that perch on Gary’s platform feeder.

“We have been blessed with so many wonderful friends through the years,” they commented. “Our lovely daughters married wonderful men and we all have fun together. Our family and extended family get along as well. We have been blessed with good health, and are still living in the same house where Gary grew up. As a matter of fact we sleep in the room he was born in.”

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