Lyon Hall and a Legacy

Gretchen Backlund

Gretchen Backlund

Gretchen Backlund didn’t start attending Iowa State the way most students did in the 1940s. Gretchen was a transfer student.

She had been taking classes at another Iowa college for two years when she decided to take a break from school. During that break, a high school home economics teacher in her hometown convinced her to try Iowa State College, which would later become Iowa State University.

Although she didn’t start as a freshman, she quickly found ways to connect with campus life as a member of the Lutheran Student Association and a resident of Lyon Hall, where most transfer students lived at the time.

Built in 1914, Lyon Hall is located on the east side of campus with Barton and Freeman residence halls. Today, the three buildings make up the oldest remaining residence-hall communities on campus.

When Gretchen was a student, sit-down meals were served in the dorm and students had curfews.

Lyon Hall is especially meaningful for Gretchen because on Homecoming Day in 1948, fellow Iowa State graduate Warren Backlund proposed to her on the steps of the building.

Warren had been attending Iowa State when he volunteered to serve in World War II. After the war, he came home and took up his chemical engineering studies at Iowa State. Like Gretchen, he was active in the Lutheran Student Association.

They both graduated in 1948. Warren received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and Gretchen received a bachelor’s degree in home economics education. They married in May 1949 and moved to Warren’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where he eventually took over the family business, Backlund Plumbing Co., and Gretchen worked as the cafeteria manager for Omaha Steel, and later did catering.

The couple’s connection to Iowa State continued as their son Nels and grandson Travis joined the Cyclone family. Nels, who graduated in 1975 with a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, was able to attend because of a tuition reciprocity agreement with Nebraska.

group relaxing in Lyon Hall

A group relaxing in Lyon Hall from the 1947 Bomb, the Iowa State University yearbook

Gretchen wanted to help other students from Omaha attend Iowa State. So, she established the Gretchen and Warren Backlund Scholarship, which helps fund out-of-state tuition for students from three Omaha schools who want to attend Iowa State. She chose a charitable gift annuity to help enhance the scholarship fund in the future.

For Gretchen, philanthropy has always been important, and reading the letters from her scholarship recipients, she knows she is helping the next generation find a place to belong.

Planned gifts to Iowa State strengthen the foundation from which generations of students have built rewarding lives and a better world. They may even provide you with tax and other benefits. To learn more, contact the office of gift planning at or 800.621.8515.