Wild Bill's Coffeeshop

Wild Bill's Coffeeshop, 321 North Hall, is a service learning project in the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa. The coffeeshop is operated by adult persons with disabilities, thus providing

  • employment opportunities for persons with disabilities
  • practicum opportunities for University Students working with persons with disabilities
  • a service amenity for those who enjoy the food and hospitality of the coffeeshop


Mon.-Thurs., 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., during the academic year. Closed Friday-Sunday and for University breaks and holidays.

Special Events

40 for Forty- On April 10th, 2015, we celebrated 40 years of Wild BIll's Coffeeshop with a reception in 321 North Hall. We are hoping that friends, alumni, faculty and students will donate $40 this year to support Wild Bill's for the next 40 years. Donations can be made online at https://www.givetoiowa.org/GiveToIowa/WebObjects/GiveToIowa.woa/wa/goTo?area=socialwork or mailed to the UI Foundation. P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, IA 52244-4550. Please put Wild Bill's Coffeeshop in the memo line.

Bill Sackter Award

Each year on or around Bill Sackter's birthday (April 13), we honor his memory and impact through the Bill Sackter Award. The award is given to a student, alum and community member who demonstrate extensive and extraordinary commitment to the rights of and services for persons with disabilities. To nominate someone for this award, please send a letter outlining their accomplishments and explaining why they are deserving of this honor. The awards are presented during the annual Bill Sackter Day Celebration. Recipients receive an engraved plaque and their names are added to the Bill Sackter Award plaque in Wild Bill's Coffeeshop. Winners for 2014-15 are Nadin Mustafa (student), Barb Kahl, (community), Tanya Williams, (community) and Bev Sweet, (Lifetime Achievement).


At the beginning of each semester, we accept about 30 volunteers to work in the coffee shop. You can volunteer for 2-6 hours each week. Please read the manual below before your orientation session. Orientations sessions will be held on Wednesdays at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 pm and last about an hour. After you are oriented, you will be able to sign up for volunteer shifts.

2015 Volunteer Manual  |   Disability Etiquette Guide            Video Slideshow about Bill's by Lily Abromeit   

Another student video by Megan Helberg


Wild Bill's Coffeeshop's address is 321 North Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242. The phone number is 319-335-1281.

For more information, contact Jefri Palermo, 319-335-3750.


In his book The Unlikely Celebrity, Thomas Walz tells the story of Bill Sackter, a man who spent 44 years in a Minnesota mental institution and emerged to blossom into a most unlikely celebrity. Some years after his discharge from Fairbault State Hospital as a result of the movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill in the 1960's, Bill enjoyed a serendipitous encounter with a young college student and part-time musician, Barry Morrow.

When Morrow accepted a job at the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa, Bill followed him to Iowa City and was put in charge of a small coffee service. A cheerful man of great good will who was a harmonica virtuoso, Bill began to inspire affectionate legends, and his life as a celebrity began in earnest. He was named 'Iowa's Handicapped Person of the Year' in 1977. (Excerpted from the back cover of The Unlikely Celebrity)

The Coffeeshop was made famous when its first proprietor, Bill Sackter, was featured in a television movie and a sequel about his life. The first movie, which won Emmy awards for co-writer Barry Morrow and actor Mickey Rooney (as Bill), was called Bill (1981); the sequel was entitled Bill on His Own (1983). Years later, Morrow would win an Oscar for his script of Rain Man.

Since Bill's death in 1983, the Coffeeshop has expanded. It was remodeled in 2009 and now employs 12-14 persons with disabilities.

In 2008, Iowa Citian Lane Wyrick made a documentary about the real life of Bill Sackter, called A Friend Indeed—The Bill Sackter Story. The movie has won numerous awards. You can watch it for free on YouTube or at http://www.billsackter.com/Bills_Homepage.html

Special Events

We're always on the lookout for for performers—especially students, who would like to share their talents at Wild Bill's. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights from 6-9 pm are available for live music, theatre, poetry, art projects and other special events. The coffeeshop is also available for use by student groups for meetings or conferences at no charge. It seats a maximum of 49 people.

The shop also has a kitchen with a coffeemaker, microwave, small convection/toaster oven, hot plate, dishes, etc. for use. Please email jefri-palermo@uiowa.edu for a reservation.

Current Coffeeshop Staff

  • Jonathan Dehn
  • Katrina Johnson
  • Ben Lewis
  • Shana Prescott
  • Bart Smothers
  • Amy Sunstein
  • David Gaule
  • Neil Hubbard
  • Isaac Wolf
  • Maurice Campbell
  • Gloria Gomez
  • For the 2015-16 academic year, Jackie Watkins is the staff  manager of Wild Bill's and Brittany Best is the business manager.

Support the mission of the coffeeshop!

Help sustain Wild Bill's for years to come by making a donation through the UI Foundation. Donations of $200 or more allow you to create a commemorative tile that will be permanently attached to the coffeeshop wall. Click here for more information.