The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Wild Bill’s Coffeeshop founder Tom Walz remembered by legacy of social justice work

Tom Walz, the founder of Wild Bill’s, died last weekend. His memorial service will be Feb. 17.


Former UI School of Social Work Professor Tom Walz died last weekend, leaving behind a legacy of social justice and dedication to the community of those with disabilities.

Walz, who died Feb. 10 at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer, founded campus coffee shop Wild Bill’s, an establishment in North Hall employing more than 10 individuals dealing with disabilities.

Walz founded Wild Bill’s, and later Uptown Bill’s, because of his friendship and partnership with Bill Sackter, a man who faced mental challenges, Walz met Sackter through a former student. Sackter’s guardians, Barry and Bev Morrow, were looking for jobs to occupy him and were instructing him on refinishing furniture in North Hall until chemicals almost burned down the building. Because this venture was unsuccessful, they taught him to make coffee, and Wild Bill’s was born.

Walz created a grant as a disability consultant so that he could continue providing Sackter with a place to work and a community of support.

“Tom Walz could really see the beauty and gifts that Bill could offer the world,” said Jefri Palermo, the development coordinator for the School of Social Work. “It changed him and became a cause of his to let other people know Bill so that they, too, could benefit from what he had to offer.”

Walz devoted much of his life to social work, “dedicating his life to serving others,” Palermo said. He was the first person to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, started an international journal for social justice, and dedicated lots of time and resources to helping those with disabilities.

“Tom was a very active person and was very interested in getting things done,” said Professor Mercedes Bern-Klug, the Social Work School director of Aging and Longevity Studies Program. “He spent lots of his time and effort to make sure people with disabilities were integrated into the community, and he would listen to people’s aspirations and be the inspiration.”

Walz had a large effect on the School of Social Work. As director of the school for five years, he worked to empower the administrative staff, encouraging them to further their education and striving to provide a suitable working environment.

“He took a sincere interest in his students,” Bern-Klug said. “He continued to teach even after he retired, and he really left a lasting impact on the students in his classroom. He leaves behind many friends in our community and our state.”

Walz also helped to start a School of Social Work branch in Des Moines, which has been in existence for more than 50 years. He also taught for the Sioux City social-work program for many years and helped to organize nursing-home workers on a state level.

He had a wide influence in gerontology, writing some of the first works in sexuality and aging and giving talks around the region.

On Feb. 17, Uptown Bill’s will hold a memorial service for Walz at the coffeehouse at 6 p.m.

“We had planned to honor Tom with a Founder’s Award this coming Saturday,” current Wild Bill Director Tom Gilsenan said. “We will go ahead and hope people will come to reminisce and tell stories about him.”

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