U-M Smoke-free Campus

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Henry Backhaus said that one of the hardest parts of being a custodian at Angell Hall was “persuading students to do their smoking outside Angell Hall rather than in the corridors or classrooms.”

Backhaus led a quiet life. He was born April 13, 1878 in Laporte, Indiana, and came to Ann Arbor in 1886. “The Michigan Central depot was just being built then,” Backhaus recalled.

He married Conradeana Schneider of Ann Arbor in June of 1899 at Zion Lutheran Church, and they bought a house at 558 South Ashley.

Backhaus started working for the university in 1922 as a plumber and steam fitter, and in his middle years, he transitioned to janitor.

When Backhaus retired in 1948, then President Alexander Ruthven gave him an official farewell in the president’s office. The president asked him what, if any, changes he noted in his 26 years with the university. “The ball field was replaced with Waterman-Barbour gym,” he said with some disappointment, and added, “the students haven’t changed much. They’re a pretty decent bunch.”

In his retirement, Backhaus looked forward to devoting his time to his flower garden. He got five years. He outlived his wife and both daughters, and died suddenly of a heart attack at his home on South Ashley in 1954.

— Jan Schlain