Locals honor Wild Bill’s birthday

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | APRIL 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Bill Sackter would have been 98 years old Wednesday.

A birthday party for Sackter on Sunday afternoon, organized by University of Iowa students, served as both a celebration and a fundraiser, collecting money for the coffee shop and the restaurant he inspired.

A large cake with a picture of Sackter sat on a decorated table, alongside balloons and other treats for the more than 25 guests of the celebration.

Sackter, a mentally disabled man who was institutionalized for 45 years, is the muse of Uptown Bill’s Coffeehouse & Neighborhood Arts Center, 730 S. Dubuque St., and Wild Bill’s Coffee Shop in North Hall.

Uptown Bill’s serves as a place where “people of all abilities are welcome,” as well as an employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities, according to the store’s mission statement.

Steve Schooley, 65, who attended the birthday party, said he has been going to Uptown Bill’s for more than five years. He said he enjoys the alcohol-free environment, and his favorite part is the section of books — all of which are donated.

“Right now, I’m in my mystery phase,” he said.

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He said he once purchased more than 200 science-fiction books at one time from Uptown Bill’s.
“And then he gives ’em back,” said wife Kris Schooley.

Johanna Lohman, a first-year graduate student in the UI School of Social Work, helped organize the birthday party along with several others as a part of a class requirement to coordinate a community event.

Lohman said the organizers did not have a set amount of money they were aiming to raise, but Uptown Bill’s is an important part of the community, which helps bring people together.

Uptown Bill’s serves coffee and desserts and features live entertainment.

A new location for Uptown Bill’s this fall increased the shop’s traffic by about 25 percent since last year, said director Tom Gilsenan.

“Our mission is to provide the opportunity for all of the people in the community to meet each other, with emphasis on people with disabilities,” he said.

Bill’s birthday party featured live music, a screening of the 1981 movie Bill — based on Sackter’s life and transition from the Minnesota mental institution he spent time in to becoming the face of the UI School of Social Work — and a conference call with the screenwriter of the film, Barry Morrow, who also wrote the 1988 film Rain Man.

Andy Wagner, 21, performed several of his own songs in front of a small audience, who sat on plastic and wicker furniture.

Wagner, a third-year UI student, said he performs at Uptown Bill’s as often as possible and has met a lot of friends at the establishment.

“[Sackter] captured so much spirit of the time,” said Gilsenan. “That people have so much potential.”

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