Roger was born in Peoria, Illinois, the ninth of nine children. He attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He took a break from college and worked on the Toledo, Peoria, and Western Railroad before volunteering for the military draft. He served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War as a helicopter gunship crew chief in 1968 and 1969. Roger received the U.S. Army Medal for Valor in Combat and the U.S. Army Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters for having flown over 1500 hours in a Huey UH-1 helicopter gunship. Roger's service as a leader and mentor is documented in a book called Xin Loi, Vietnam So Sorry, Vietnam written by Al Sever, a helicopter crew chief trained by Roger.
Roger became a Rehabilitation Counselor with the State of Illinois Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) in Chicago. He worked in Chicago's economically troubled neighborhoods on the west and near south sides, helping people with disabilities and other vocational impediments become reemployed. He volunteered in a Crisis Telephone Warm-Line Call-in program called Metro-Help.
While in Chicago, Roger received his Master's Degree in Counseling and Guidance from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He also served as an AFSCME Local 2000 Union Steward, and later as the statewide AFSCME President for Illinois DVR, as well as a Delegate to the AFSCME International Convention in Miami.
In 1977, Roger married and moved to Madison, Wisconsin where he worked at the Madison Opportunity Center as a Rehabilitation Counselor and as the AFSCME Local 853 Steward and President.
In 1979, Roger accepted a counseling position at the Mental Health Center of Dane County in the Support Network Day Treatment Program. In 1985 he became the Director of the program renamed Yahara House. He introduced a model of rehabilitation called the Clubhouse Model which he had learned about at the Thresholds program in Chicago and at Fountain House in New York City.
Roger managed the work of members and staff in the transformation of Yahara House into a premier national rehabilitation program serving 225 people a year. Among members, the employment rate increased from 14 percent to over 60 percent after implementation of the Clubhouse Model. Roger spearheaded the purchase of an historic mansion to house the program and he managed the remodeling to suit the needs of Yahara House. In 1999, Roger was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in Madison.
In 2000, Roger left the Mental Health Center and started his own enterprise called Coaching by Roger Backes. As a Personal Coach, Roger helps a diverse group of individuals work on a wide range of issues. In general, he helps clients define their issues, set their goals and define their barriers. He then helps them develop plans for moving through such barriers, and supports their progress, while encouraging even more challenging goals.
Roger has three daughters, Andrea, Molly ( author of the book The Princesses of Iowa ) and Megan. He married attorney Sally A. Hestad in 1993, and became the stepfather of Sally's daughter, Valerie. Roger and Sally live in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, adjacent to Madison, where they enjoy visits from their grandchildren, Elodie and Dibri.
Roger is a State of Wisconsin Certified Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker, both representing the highest level of expertise in those professions. He has previously been a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and a Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner.
Roger has been a pioneer in the local Personal Coaching field, and is a Charter Member of the Madison Chapter of the International Coach Association. Roger continues his professional training with the Coachville School of Coaching.
Roger organized and ran men's groups for 16 years in Madison; founded and still leads the Restless Leg Sleep-disorder (RLS) Education Group for South-central Wisconsin; he is the most senior member of the Madison Uptowner's Toastmasters Club, and was a ten-year member of Madison's Downtown Rotary. He is a volunteer weekend program staff worker and local member of the ManKind Project of Madison, the "Taking It Lightly" program in Milwaukee, and the Veterans Journey Home program in Wisconsin. Roger has served his church in many capacities over the years, including currently serving as a docent for the historic Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House in Shorewood Hills.