Backus Community Center – “The Heart of the Community”

For 82 years, since it first opened as a junior high school, “Backus” has been the center for community gatherings of all types. During its days as a junior high school, the Auditorium and gym hosted basketball games, proms, baccalaureates, graduations, plays, concerts, guest speakers, lyceums, cooking classes sponsored by the Daily Journal, talent shows, pageants, Border Concerts, community gatherings and dinners.  In 2002, its school days ended, the 1937 Art Deco building transitioned to the “Backus Community Center” and a new life as a home to community services, arts and cultural programs and youth activities.

During 2018, almost 60,000 people of all ages visited the building. Eighteen tenants lease space in the building providing mental health counseling, chemical dependency counseling, 4-H programming, MN driver license testing, Medicare and Social Security services, crisis counseling, alternative education for secondary students, public access television broadcasting, services for the homeless, AARP free tax preparation (serving 1,400 clients in 2018), dance classes, orchestra rehearsal space, yoga classes, Thrivent Financial and labor union office space. The Backus Center is home to Borealis Bards Community Theatre, Icebox Radio Theatre, Northland Art Society, Darcie’s Dance Studio 250 dancers, girls and boys basketball practice and games, Boy Scout Troop 150, a Performing Arts Series, art classes, summer arts programs, high school band/choir concerts, vocal and band music festivals, art exhibits, exercise classes, plays, dinner theatre and special events.

Three programs help address food insecurity: a monthly food distribution program, Ruby’s Pantry serves an average of 280 families per month with over 13,000 families benefiting since 2015; a twice-weekly “Community Café” served over 5,200 free, hot, nutritious meals to children and adults in 2018; a free Summer Food Service Program served over 5,200 lunches to children during 2018. Over 90,000 free meals have been served since the programs began in 2010 and 2012.

Dozens of community events draw people of all ages including: Icebox Days, Arrowhead 135 Ultra Marathon – both in January; dinners, banquets, meetings, classes, a Halloween Treat Street, Logging Camp Christmas Dinner, Deer Hunters Banquet, candidate forums and receptions. 

Comments from Backus stakeholders:

  • The word “Backus” should be in the dictionary with a definition “a place where all things are possible”.  A community needs a heart and our Backus Community Center provides it in International Falls.  As a small, remote area, we are in need of an entity that looks after the social and artistic needs of the citizens.  At Backus, many of the activities that go on would not have a home without the spaces and services available there.  The revitalization of the structure was also a revitalization of the core of the community.   People were brought together and continue to be as this force we call “Backus” moves forward.  I love to see the auditorium full of folks enjoying music, plays and other events. I love knowing that businesses, churches and other agencies are coming together there to support the needs of this town.
    Mary Bartlett – AARP Volunteer Tax Preparation Coordinator/Backus Member
  • Backus Community Center has filled a huge void in International Falls and the greater Koochiching County community in recent years of start up and operation. The tireless efforts of a few have created a positive and lasting impact on many lives here in different ways. By finding a way to save and preserve one of the area’s most historic structures these dedicated community members have been able to provide housing for vital area services to include 4-H, Regional Mental Health, Chemical Dependency Programs, Food Services, Governmental and Community meetings. Backus has been able to gain the support of local Government, Community and Citizen Contributors because of the success they have achieved in making Backus a true Community Center for all.
    Wade Pavleck – Commissioner, Koochiching County/Backus Member
  • I am continually impressed with the success and creativity of the Backus Community Center organization.
    I volunteer at the Community Café. The Café itself is a wonderful venue … people from our community not only eating, but visiting with others, being recognized on sight, helping out, being part of a Tuesday or Thursday family, rather than eating a lonely meal at home, or skipping the meal altogether.  While at the Café, I love the excitement of the dance studio right next to our food area.  There is so much joy in music and dance, and the simple bustling about of dancers. It is a contagious atmosphere, which brings smiles to the volunteers as well as the guests of the Café.
    Pat Bjorum – Pastoral Ministry, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish/Backus Member
  • I can't imagine living here in International Falls without The Backus Community Center.  When we moved here two years ago I had to give up gymnastics since it isn't offered in this area. If it weren't for the Borealis Bards and Ice Box Radio Theater, I'd just sit upstairs in my room with nothing to do. Plus all the concerts we attend there and the After School Arts program. I loved being in Prairie Fire Theater each summer. Seriously, do you know how different life would be if we didn't have the Backus?
    Caillie Lowthian, High School Student
  • I can honestly say I am a believer in this group and facility. In my honest opinion, I was not an original supporter of saving this building. Years later I am a supporter and do not know where our community would be without this venue and the group that runs it. They have not only resurrected a facility, but have added to this community culturally and educationally. It has been a journey that has brought young and old together to experience history along with pushing forward to enrich all of our lives with ongoing social activities.
    Kevin Grover – Superintendent ISD # 361, International Falls Public Schools/Backus Member
  • As our community works to move forward after devastating job losses, Backus is the center where ideas are being generated and possibilities are being looked into.  Backus is where people meet for a variety of reasons.  International Falls, being on the northern border and isolated relies on Backus for many educational and cultural programs.  Backus has been able to bring music, plays and acts to town that people would not have an opportunity to see.  Backus is truly an integral part of our community now. Current leadership has been remarkable in the building up of Backus.  This truly is a gem in our community.
    LeeAnn Meer - Former Director, Friends Against Abuse/Backus Member
  • I volunteer for Backus and have found great personal fulfillment working during the summer months for the lunch program and also as an usher and ticket seller at events throughout the year. . . It has been affirming to work again with the public and to do meaningful work outside the home.
    Jill Malone, Backus volunteer, senior (and now Backus Staff)  Backus Member
  • Our community would not be the same without Backus – I feel it is important for kids to participate in extra-curricular activities, and with so much emphasis on sports in school, the kids who are not athletic sometimes get “left out”. Backus provides a venue for these kids (through Borealis Bards Community Theatre) to practice their talents – without it, where would they be? Backus is an integral part of the local community. It is important to both adults and children, and our community would lack without it.
    Beth Gable, Parent

What Backus has to Offer


Rental Space

  • Board Room is ideal for groups up to 25 and features original wood cabinetry
    Room size:  24' x 22' | $50 per day rental fee
  • Conference Room can seat up to 100,  open to a variety of table/seating configurations
    Room size:  60' x 25' |  $100 per day rental fee 
  • Dining Room
    Room 110 size:  22' x 34' and Room 111 size:  23' x 44' 
    $100 per day rental fee, includes both dining room sections
  • Stage/Gym will provide seating for 200-500 Room size:  55' x 85'
    Non-Profit $375 per day, Commercial $575 per day, Private short-term parties $25 per hour, start to finish 
  • 1,000 seat Auditorium is equipped with a full-sized stage, lighting, sound and a 24' x 16' projection system allowing for modern presentations and performances
    $1 per seat rental fee charged in addition to gym rental fee, fee used for auditorium
    capital improvements
  • Other spaces available, call for dimensions and rates (218) 373-3001

Building Tenants

Main Floor:

  • Minnesota Dept of Public Safety - Room 103
  • United Steelworkers Local 159 - Room 104 
  • Dancin' with Darcie - Room 112
  • Northland Art Society - Room 114

Second Floor Tenants:

  • Area Agency On Aging (ARDC)  - Room 201 
  • University of MN Extension Office - Room 203-204-205
  • KCC-TV Public Television - Room 209
  • Borealis Bards - Room 211
  • Servants of Shelter - Room 212
  • Alternative Learning Center

Third Floor Tenants:

  • Rainy River Recovery - Suite 301
  • Replenish Yoga & Wellness - Room 303 
  • Northland Counseling Center - Main Office Suite 305 | Room 202 & 208

Lower Level Tenant:

  • Mr. Faith's Sound & Light - Basement West

Food Programs

  • Community Cafe - serving hot meals every Tuesday & Thursday from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, everyone welcome
  • Ruby's Pantry - 2nd Monday of each month, food distribution.  $20 US cash donation for an abundance of food items
  • Summer Food Service Program - free hot lunch for kids ages 1 to 18 the months of June, July and August

Exercise Programs

  • Walkercize class - every Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10 to 11 am
  • Walk the Building - at your own pace
  • Adult Co-Ed Open Volleyball - every Wednesday at 7:30 pm

School-Age Children Programs

  • Dancin' with Darcie offers multiple dance classes for school-aged children
  • Junior High Basketball - practice and games held November through February


  • Borealis Bards produce three + shows per year
  • Backus Performing Arts Series holds six performances each season, running September through April
  • Icebox Days Chili Challenge each January
  • Arrowhead 135 Ultra Marathon Meeting & Dinner hosted each January
  • All School Music & Choral Festivals hosted each February
  • TET Vietnamese New Year's Dinner each February
  • Contractors Continuing Education Class each February
  • Minnesota Deer Hunter's Banquet hosted each April
  • Fall Harvest Dinner each September
  • Treat Street each October 31
  • Koochiching Aging Options Logging Camp Christmas hosted each December