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The Bill Sackter Award

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The Bill Sackter Award

Tyler was honored to receive The Bill Sackter Award from the ARC of the Cedar Valley for his work advocating for folks with disabilities and for spreading the message of Ability Awareness. To understand the significance of the award, we must first understand who Bill Sackter was. Here’s a little bit about Bill Sackter as related in Wikipedia.

William Sackter (1913-1983) was an American man with an intellectual disability whose fame as the subject of two television movies and a feature-length documentary helped change national attitudes on persons with disabilities.

Early life – Bill Sackter was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1913, the son of Sam and Mary Sackter, Russian Jewish immigrants who ran a grocery store. When Sackter was 7 years old, his father died from complications of the Spanish Flu. It was 1920, and Bill was having difficulty learning in school, and after taking a mandatory intelligence test, he was classified as “subnormal”. The State of Minnesota determined that he would be a “burden on society” so he was placed in the Faribault State School for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. Sackter remained there for 44 years, never again seeing his mother or two older sisters, Sarah and Alice. He was diagnosed as intellectually disabled, although diagnoses performed decades later would prove his intelligence was near normal. He was never taught to read or write or even how to use a telephone.

Later life – In 1964, when new light was being shed on the treatment of the mentally ill and disabled, Sackter was moved to a halfway house and worked odd jobs to support himself. He eventually became a handyman at the Minikahda Club, where filmmaker Barry Morrow and his wife, Bev, befriended him. Morrow began slowly to make life a bit more comfortable for Bill, getting him new dentures and becoming his friend. Morrow became his guardian, and when he took a post at the University of Iowa, Sackter followed him to Iowa City, and became the sole proprietor of Wild Bill’s Coffee Shop on the campus, in which he excelled.

Recognition – Sackter was named Handicapped Iowan of the Year in 1976, attending a ceremony in Washington, D.C. President Jimmy Carter gave him special recognition in 1979.

Movie depictions – Sackter’s story was related in a television movie entitled “Bill”, first broadcast in December 1981. This starred Mickey Rooney in the title role. Rooney won a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award. The movie also won an Emmy as Outstanding Drama Special. A sequel “Bill: On His Own”, with Helen Hunt, was released in 1983.