WEDNESDAY WAS ONE lucky day for Bill Exner.

Exner, 75, drove to Cumberland Farms on College Avenue in Waterville to get gas and a cup of coffee.

He parked his 2003 burgundy Jeep at the pumps and began to joke around with a woman who was pumping gas into her gray van.

“I said, ‘When you get through pumping your gas, you can fill my Jeep up, too,'” Exner, of Waterville, recalled.

He went into the store, bought a scratch ticket and a cup of coffee, scratched the ticket — and discovered he’d won $100.

Then he went outside and learned the nice woman with the van had pumped $30 worth of gas into his Jeep — and paid for it, too.

“I thanked her and she just said, ‘Happy New Year and pass it on.’ She got in the van and took off. I’m standing there — I was just in shock.”

Exner began to think he was in some kind of dream.

On Thursday he went to Hannaford at Elm Plaza looking for a small bag of shrimp.

The store didn’t have the kind he wanted so a clerk gave him another type and said it was free.

“He put a tag on it and it says ‘On me.’ Isn’t that something? I said, this weekend I’m going to buy a lottery ticket. I’d like to find that lady’s name who pumped my gas and thank her, maybe buy her flowers or something. I mean, when does that ever happen? The lady in the store says, ‘Yeah, how about that? Pretty neat, huh?'”

Exner is an affable sort who likes people and likes to tell stories. A retired mine worker, he says he also was a private chauffeur in New York City and many years ago drove Joe DiMaggio around.

I thought Exner’s name sounded familiar when he called my office this week, wanting to put a notice in the paper to try to find the woman who bought his gas.

In 2007 I had written a story about Exner that went all over the world it was so unusual.

Back then, Exner and his wife, Shirley, had an errant mouse in their house. They caught it in a little plastic trap that the mouse walked into and then placed the rodent in a gallon-sized pickle jar in their bedroom. Twice more, the mouse escaped and twice more, they captured it.

One night Exner went to bed and was too tired to put his lower dentures in the bathroom as he usually does, so he placed them on his nightstand.

The next morning they were gone, and Exner knew right away the mouse had taken them.

He and his future son-in-law sawed through a wall and found the false teeth. An animal control officer at the time convinced Exner that it probably took two mice to haul off the teeth, with one pushing and one pulling, as they do in cartoons. The dentures probably had food remnants on them, which attracted the mice, he said.

The rodents kept making scratching noises inside the wall, and Exner eventually captured them and put them in a glass aquarium to keep as pets — for a short while. Ultimately, he took them to the fields at Colby College and released them.

“I named these little guys ‘Push’ and ‘Pull,'” Exner said at the time.

He and his wife were bombarded with phone calls after the story appeared in the Morning Sentinel and was picked up by other news media around the world. One woman in Lacrosse, Wisc., wanted to adopt the mice.

While it has been several years since the story broke, Exner still gets asked to speak at schools about it, and last year, National Geographic Kids called him and asked for permission to tell the story.

“I run into people all the time who say, ‘Oh, you’re the mice guy.'”

Exner shouldn’t be too surprised that he’s had some good luck lately. After all, they say what you put out there comes back to you.

He and his wife are givers. She makes dozens of winter hats and scarves every year and gives them away. He often speaks to school and college kids about his mouse adventure, as well as about what life was like many years ago. He donates clothes and returnable bottles and cans to homeless people, makes trophies for card games to benefit hospice programs and gives children toys and foreign coins he collects. “I help people a lot, here and there,” Bill Exner said. “Somebody needs something, we help ’em out.”

Meanwhile, he is bent on finding the mystery woman with the dark gray van who pumped his gas, so he can properly thank her.

“She was maybe 40 or 50, she wore a long coat and she had like a scarf over her head. A nice lady.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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