Sunday, April 10, 2016

Remembering Bill Sackter

I went to Bill Sackter's 103rd birthday yesterday at Uptown Bill's Coffee Shop. Sackter was a mentally disabled man who was institutionalized in Minnesota until he was 44-years-old. He was eventually discharged and placed in a halfway house. I understand that he was quite the character and he certainly drew people to him. He eventually connected with a man named Barry Morrow and his wife and they slowly adopted him into their family and became his legal guardians.

Morrow was eventually hired by the University of Iowa. He and his wife brought Sackter to Iowa City with them, but struggled to find work for their ward. So they assisted Sackter with starting his own business called Wild Bill's Coffee Shop.

This was back in the 1970s and this type of effort was virtually unheard of. Sackter was named Handicapped Iowan of the Year in 1976 and later met with President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to be honored for his efforts. His story was later told in a pair of TV movies (in 1981 and 1983) called "Bill" and "Bill: On His Own," starring Mickey Rooney.

Bill Sackter died in his sleep at the age of 70 on June 16, 1983 -- a few months before "Bill: On His Own" premiered.

I've been watching a documentary of Sackter's life and achievements called "A Friend Indeed: The Bill Sackter Story." You should check it out by following the link. It's pretty good.

In 1997, the Extend The Dream Foundation (EDF) was founded as a non-profit organization. It had spun out of Wild Bill's Coffee Shop and has worked to provide employment opportunities for disabled and aging individuals, and to assist these people with establishing their own micro enterprises.

One of those businesses is Uptown Bill's Coffee House. You can get coffee and supper, listen to live music, purchase a used book, attend your NA meeting, and then work on an art project. I've been spending more time at Uptown Bill's recently due to my involvement with KICI 105.3 FM, which is part of the EDF network.

Yesterday's celebration featured a variety of musical performers. You could also catch up on Bill's story and share a slice of cake with the many people who showed up to commemorate his life.

It always amazes me when one man or woman captures the collective heart, mind, and imagination of so many. Typically one doesn't expect someone from a mental institution to cast out his shadow 30+ years following his death. But Bill was one of those people and I really regret missing the opportunity to meet him in person when he was still with us.

Bill Sackter (04/13/1913-06/16/1983)

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