Gene Backes

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Pastor Gene Backes' history at St. James West  (formerly St. James West UMC until June 30, 2023) began in 1979 when he was hired as the church's first Youth Minister. For 14 years, Gene developed and grew a thriving youth program, which included local mission work, camping retreats, and Spring Break trips to Florida. Gene moved on to serve as Lay Leader from 1987 to 2006, and then was hired as Pastor of St. James West.

Under Pastor Gene's leadership, and with the assistance and enthusiasm of countless volunteers, Ministry and Mission has grown by leaps and bounds at St. James West! Sunday praise & worship developed into a modern format with the addition of contemporary music; a second Sunday service was added to accommodate our growing congregation; and a third service, titled "Mondays With God," was introduced to draw in a younger crowd who desired a more relaxed worship atmosphere.

Additionally, Pastor Gene has served on leadership teams and been involved with several outreach ministries including Evansville District Walk to Emmaus, Tri-State Tres Dias, Evansville Chrysalis, and Kairos of Indiana. He has also spearheaded a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, and a spiritual retreat to the Holy Land

Pastor Gene is a graduate of F.J. Reitz High School and received his Master's in Education from the University of Southern Indiana (USI). He has additional graduate studies from USI, the University of Evansville, and Indiana Wesleyan University. Pastor Gene retired from teaching at Reitz in 2015 after more than 30 years, instructing students in Psychology, Sociology, and U.S. History. He has coached for both the track and wrestling teams, and continues to be involved with coaching for the Reitz Football Panthers.

Pastor Gene and his wife Susie have two grown children; Jennifer (husband David) O'Neil, and Andrew (wife Andrea) Backes; grandsons Gabriel ("Gabe") and Joshua, and granddaughters Margaret, Adalyn, and Ava. Pastor Gene enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

Preschool Director

Marissa Hensley

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Hello everyone,

My name is Marissa Hensley. I am beyond excited to be taking over as the new director of St. James West Preschool.  I know it’s going to be hard to be as amazing as Mrs. Jennifer but I’m going to try! I can’t wait to work with all of the students and their families. It's going to be an adventure full of fun, learning, and lots of excitement and I can't wait to see what the rest of this year has in store for us! I thought you might like to know a little bit about me. 

I am married to my wonderful husband, Aaron. He is a realtor at Dauby Realty. We have not one, but three amazing daughters. Amelia is 4 years old, Ellowyn is 2 years old, and Izalea is 6 months old. They take up most of my free time, but some hobbies that I enjoy are baking (especially bread), crafting, and reading! I have lived in Posey County about half my life and the other half here on the westside. I went to North Posey High School and I have my associates degree in Early Childhood Education. I worked in a daycare for many years. While I was there, I was with almost every age at some point in time. I have also worked at a couple preschools including here at St. James. I only left here because I had a baby over the summer. I’m SO HAPPY to be back!

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. It is so important to keep communication open between us and I would love to talk to you whenever you feel the need! I look forward to a great rest of the year together!

Worship Director

Rick Poelhuis

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Youth Ministry Director

Dontel Keys

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Dontel oversees all aspects of programs for our middle and high school students. Born and raised in East Saint Louis, IL, he studied Business and Theology at Grace Theological College. Dontel also works as a Railroad Engineer/Conductor for Respondek Railroad Corporation. He is the father of four loving kids (two girls, two boys), and husband to his amazing wife Shajuana. Dontel loves mentoring and building things, but truly has a passion for painting. What he loves most is serving the Lord!.


Children's Ministry Director

Ashley Lancaster

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Office Manager

Beth Nelson

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Office Assistant

Debbie Tucker

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SJW Tech Team

Jaclyn Cantner

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Gary Doninger, Jr.

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