Beyond the Books: UI cafe serves more than coffee

Wild Bill's Coffee Shop is situated in the University of Iowa's School of Social Work building.

As final exams draw closer for University of Iowa students, a campus coffee shop is providing fuel for the final stretch.

Wild Bill's Coffeeshop -- in the School of Social Work building -- has been a part of the Hawkeye community for more than four decades, where workers offer drinks, snacks, and a friendly atmosphere.

What makes the cafe unique from others is its employees.

Since its creation in 1975, the coffee shop has operated with a staff of workers with disabilities.

The cafe's namesake -- Bill Sackter -- was the first employee, and lived in an institution for 44 years before being granted release to a guardian family.

"He couldn't read or write, and he couldn't really run a cash register," said Jefri Palermo, the shop's supervisor for the past decade. "But he loved coffee, and so they taught him how to make coffee."

Sackter's harrowing journey graced the big screen with Mickey Rooney portraying Sackter in the Golden Globe Award-winning movie "Bill."

Rooney couldn't attend the award ceremony, so Sackter accepted the award on his behalf, playing his harmonica to the delight and applause of actress Jane Fonda and others.

Known for his winsome personality, Sackter left a legacy after his passing in 1983, something his successors look to continue.

Dave Gaule has worked at Wild Bill's for almost a decade.

"I like working here, " said Gaule, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a motorcycle accident in the early 1990s. "[The customers are] really happy with the coffee -- the way it's made. I had one person say, 'You make better coffee than I do.'"

What separates this coffee shop is its company, with Palermo calling the cafe "the most welcoming space" she's ever known.

"We need more places where everyone's welcome and everyone's appreciated for what they have to offer," said Palermo.

A dozen employees staff the shop, open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Wild Bill's will close for the summer months on May 3.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off