Neighbors show love during 90th birthday surprise
Walker School fifth-grade teacher Lynn Kastholm presents Ullysses Backas with birthday cards from students at her school as neighbors gather around to wish him well on his 90th birthday. | Jon Langham—for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:18AM
CLARENDON HILLS — Stephanie Stapleton decided it was time for some payback.
And that’s why the Clarendon Hills mother of three organized about 30 people from the neighborhood and led the way next door, with a cake in hand, to lead everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” Aug. 30 to Uly Backas on his 90th birthday.
Stapleton and her family moved onto the 200 block of Holmes Avenue 14 years ago. It didn’t take long to meet Backas, who has lived in Clarendon Hills for 57 years and has been more than a next-door neighbor to the Stapletons.
“It’s like having built-in grandparents right next door,” Stapleton said. “We don’t have any local grandparents, so it’s really been wonderful for our us. Our kids love to share things with him when something exciting happens to them, and he’ll come over and tell us about different things that are going on. He always knows so much about everything going on.”
Once she decided on having a birthday surprise for Backas, Stapleton had no trouble getting some other neighbors to join in. They all met in front of the Stapleton residence at 6 p.m. and walked next door about 10 minutes later.
“Uly is such a pillar of the community; everyone really does love him,” Stapleton said. “He’s like the glue of the community. He’s just such a wonderful, caring person.”
Backas is well known by children who have attended Walker School in Clarendon Hills over the past 20-plus years. He has been a volunteer at the school, stopping by to read to the children as a senior reader. Backas, a Navy vet, also has been very active in the Clarendon Hills Lions Club.
Backas was all smiles when he came to his front door to see the group that had come to help him celebrate his birthday and show their love for him. Many of the children at Walker School made cards for him. And everyone was invited into the back yard for birthday cake.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me,” Backas said. “They do more for me than I do for them.”
Backas’ wife of 60 years, Rosette, was visibly emotional when she talked about the outpouring of love for she saw from neighbors for her husband.
“It amazes me,” she said. “He just really loves people and being with the children,” she said.
One of Stapleton’s children, 14-year-old Emma, has known Backas her entire life and thought it was very appropriate to honor him on his birthday.
“He is like family,” she said. “He always comes over with stuff to share and is always nice to everyone.”
Nine-year-old Emily Venis used to live across the street from Backas. She and her family have moved to another home in Clarendon Hills, but that didn’t prevent them from returning for the birthday celebration.
“He’s really nice; everybody just likes him, and he helps everyone,” Emily said.
Backas enjoyed his surprise visitors from the neighborhood, but downplayed the fact that he was celebrating his 90th birthday.
“This all is just wonderful,” he said. “I hope I feel this good when I hit 100.”~.