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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 12, 2010

Renovated Wild Bill's Coffee Shop hosts grand reopening Jan. 21

With a fresh coat of paint, an enhanced selection of food and a brand new kitchen, Wild Bill's Coffee Shop in North Hall will soon be back in business.

The University of Iowa School of Social Work and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will celebrate the renovation at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21. The grand reopening will include remarks by people involved with the coffee shop throughout its history, refreshments and music by Greg and Susan Dirks.

Located in Room 321, the coffee shop was a kindergarten classroom from 1915-72, when North Hall was University Elementary School. Relics of those days were discovered during construction, including a "reading circle" of 15 numbers painted on the wooden floor, quarantine signs from the 1918 flu epidemic and artwork made by the kids. The items will be on display during the open house.

The goal of the renovation was to expand and update the kitchen and make it wheelchair accessible. A small stage has been restored, and the room is available for music and theater performances, meetings and student events.

Wild Bill's Coffee Shop is named for Bill Sackter (photo, left), who ran the shop from the time it opened in 1975 until his death in 1983. Sackter was hospitalized for 44 years due to intellectual limitations and family circumstances, and drifted for 10 years before meeting Bev and Barry Morrow. When former UI School of Social Work director Tom Walz hired Barry Morrow, the Morrows brought Sackter to Iowa City.

A cheerful man and a harmonica virtuoso, Sackter inspired affectionate legends and became a celebrity when a TV movie co-written by Morrow aired in 1981. The movie, "Bill," won Emmy awards for Morrow and Mickey Rooney, who played the role of Bill. Sackter became an international hero to people with disabilities and won many awards and honors. Since then, a documentary about Bill's life, directed and produced by Lane Wyrick, has won numerous awards.

Today, Wild Bill's is a service learning project in the School of Social Work. It is operated by adults with disabilities and provides volunteer and practicum opportunities for UI students working with people with disabilities.

"As founder of the coffee shop, Bill Sackter was an international educator about the potential for people with disabilities. Like Bill, most of our current employees are people with disabilities who can teach us many important lessons," said Ed Saunders, director of the School of Social Work. "We welcome everyone across the university to visit the coffee shop and learn from its employees."

Wild Bill's reopens Tuesday, January 19. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. The remodeled coffee shop will sell soup and sandwiches made by The Bread Garden, Oasis products, baked goods from DeLuxe Cakes and Pastries, and gourmet coffee and teas.

Also named for Sackter is Uptown Bill's Small Mall, 401 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City. The mall was established by the nonprofit Extend the Dream Foundation to foster small business opportunities and employment for people with disabilities.

"Old Bill's spirit continues to inspire, and his legacy lives on, testimony of which is the 35-year history of Wild Bill's Coffee Shop and the 9-year history of Uptown Bill's Small Mall," Walz said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jefri Palermo, school of social work, 319-335-3750,; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,