A pearl-inlaid harpsichord from a few centuries
back. A satellite prototype that never made it to
Half of a Humvee.
These are Joe Hennager’s standard answers
to the question: What are the weirdest things you’ve
seen pass through your doors in the 28-or-so odd
years you’ve worked at UI Surplus?
And odd is right—from centrifuges to toilet
paper dispensers, filing boxes to fax machines, he’s
seen it all.
| Joe Hennager, UI Surplus manager, helps a
customer during a Thursday morning rush to grab
the good stuff.
“Oh, people are always asking me about the
most unusual items. Sometimes I don’t even
know what the stuff is,” says Hennager, UI
Surplus manager. “I learn by selling it. I
won’t let something go until I find out what
it is. Then I’ll know the next time I see one.”
Hennager has become the University’s prince
of paraphernalia, its keeper of campus castoffs.
Recently, UI Surplus has attracted the media’s
attention, including The Chronicle of Higher Education,
for its quirky Thursday ritual—the day each
week when the building at 1225 S. Gilbert St. opens
for a public sale.
Surplus’s flea-market atmosphere and consignment-store
appeal may be entertaining, but the campus department’s
goals are serious ones to Hennager and his staff
of one full-time and 11 part-time employees.
Their top priority is recycling. University departments
contact Surplus when they want to rid their inventory
of no-longer-needed supplies. Surplus picks them
up and sells them either to other University departments
or to the public.
On average, 15 tons of items come in each week.
During peak time—just before the end of the
fiscal year—it’s more like 30 tons a
Between selling items to consumers or to recyclers
of scrap metal, wood, glass, and so on, Surplus manages
to keep about 95 percent of the items from going
to the landfill.
Besides being environmentally conscious, Surplus
saves the University money—as much as $1 million
a year, campuswide, according to Hennager’s
calculations, comparing the cost of new equipment
to that purchased through Surplus for a fraction
of the price.
Departments buying through Surplus get the items
at half what the general public would pay. Also,
departments receive half of the money collected on
any of their items that sell for more than $50.
“We’re the alternative to buying new,
and that’s very important in this budget-crunching
time,” Hennager says.
Gary Anderson is a vocal supporter of UI Surplus,
in addition to being the associate director of Business
Services, which oversees the department.
Several years ago, when General Stores (another
of Anderson’s departments) moved to a new building,
Surplus helped round up used office dividers.
“It would’ve cost us $18,000 for new
ones, but we got perfectly nice ones from Surplus
for only $1,000,” Anderson recalls. “It’s
a great service for the campus.”
Kevin McGlynn agrees. The accounting clerk for the
School of Art and Art History uses Surplus to help
his department find an impressive stock of desks,
chairs, projectors, blackboards, and other office
and classroom furnishings.
Don’t wait—Surplus staff members
say that if you haven’t used equipment
in at least a year, you probably never will.
So recycle it; it’ll probably be worth
more now than in five years.
Surplus first and often—New items
come in daily, and you never know what you
might find. Many items are still in excellent
condition, nearly as good as new for a lot
you need it, ask—Surplus staff members
are willing to keep an eye out for particular
items you may be searching for and will notify
you if they find an item that meets your needs.
is open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays
(for computers only)
and Thursdays (for all items). Other days,
Surplus is open to departments by appointment.
For more information, call (33)5-5001 or visit
“Surplus is the first place we think of when
we need something,” McGlynn says. “It’s
very cost effective. Bottom line, everyone’s
trying to tighten their belts, and it’s another
way to save.”
Chris Coretsopoulos is another of Hennager’s “regulars.” Coretsopoulos,
adjunct associate professor of chemical and biochemical
engineering and director of the Microfabrication
Lab, says a combination of curiosity and necessity
draws him to Surplus.
He and fellow researchers often search for vacuum
pumps, furniture, pipettes, heating baths, and other
small machinery needed for research projects.
Surplus is particularly helpful, he says, when researchers
want to try an experiment but don’t want to
invest thousands of dollars in new equipment in case
the project fizzles.
And what about that half-a-Humvee that Surplus obtained?
Coretsopoulos remembers it well. It sat in an office
area on his floor in the Iowa Advanced Technology
Labs for a while after the engineers who had been
working on military experiments with it moved to
Turns out it was sold in parts—wheels, seats,
bumpers, metal, and transmission—to two or
three people, Hennager reports.
Among Surplus’s other missions is protecting
the public from technological hazards. Equipment
is tested for biohazards, such as radioactivity,
and is not resold if deemed dangerous. Surplus also
must painstakingly “clean” computer hard
drives so that there is nothing left in the memory
to be used inappropriately.
Finally, Surplus offers its goods to the public;
shoppers may delight in adding to unusual collections,
furnishing a start-up business, restoring equipment
to resell on eBay, or enjoying the thrill of bargain-hunting.
Hennager is one who enjoys a bargain. His office
is a testament to his recycling efforts.
“Everything in here is from Surplus,” he
says, pointing to each item. “My fan has holes
in it. My chair has a wiggle. There are scratches
in my desk. My printer only feeds through one sheet
of paper at a time. Even the paint on my walls was
“It’s important to me that this stuff
doesn’t get dumped somewhere,” he says. “It
all works just fine for me.”
by Amy Schoon