WATERVILLE — Bill Exner wondered for several days who the generous woman was who pumped $30 worth of gas into his Jeep on Jan. 7 at a city gas station and then paid for it.

Exner, 75, contacted the Morning Sentinel with his story, which appeared in a column in Monday’s newspaper.

On Wednesday, the good Samaritan’s identity was revealed — in an email to the paper.

Maryann Stevens, 45, of Waterville, wrote that someone brought the Sentinel column to her attention, and at first she decided not to respond — to keep her identity private.

“However, in thinking about it, I realized it is not about me. Mr. Exner has put himself out there to find me. I am glad his day was made and that he was able to reach out to convey the kindness he felt. It was received in the spirit it was given, with kindness.”

Exner, a retired mine worker and former private chauffeur in New York City, was at Cumberland Farms on College Avenue on the night of Jan. 7 and struck up a conversation with Stevens, who was pumping gas into her van. He jokingly told her that when she finished filling her vehicle, she could fill his up.

He went into the store to buy a cup of coffee and a scratch ticket — on which he won $100 — and then went outside to pump his gas, only to find the woman had pumped it and paid for it already. He was so shocked, he could only thank her. She asked him to pass it on and drove off. The next day, he went to Hannaford and a clerk gave him a free bag of shrimp. His luck was so good that he joked about buying a lottery ticket.

Stevens is a mother and full-time student at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield who is scheduled in May to receive an associate degree in liberal studies with a concentration in mental health and English. She said she hopes to work as an activities director in a nursing home some day to help make a difference in seniors’ lives. Too often, older people are forgotten or treated as if they are no longer viable just because of their advanced age, she said.

“We can bring these people back to life and make them realize their lives mean something,” she said.

Meanwhile, pumping and paying for Exner’s gas is not the first charitable act Stevens has performed and it will not be her last, she said Thursday.

She enjoys making people happy and seeing them smile. Stevens said she started doing little things for people, such as buying them a cup of coffee, after she took a sociology class at KVCC that required her to do a service learning project and to volunteer a minimum of 10 hours a week.

She liked the feeling she got from helping people so much that she continued even after the class ended.

“It just feels good to give back,” she said. “The people at Cumberland Farms know me. I started out there. I would pay for a cup of coffee, or a couple of times I’d say, ‘Charge me for the next five coffees that come through.'”

She recalled pitching in $2 for someone at the Walmart checkout who was short of money for a purchase. Each time she helps, people have been grateful, she said.

“It’s typically positive. I have not yet had a negative response. One person looked at me and said, ‘You just changed my day.'”

Exner, learning of Stevens’ identity Thursday, said he was grateful for what she did and happy that he finally knows who she is.

“I want somebody to acknowledge her, too,” he said. “You don’t find too many around like her.”

Stevens’ email to the Morning Sentinel said that over a year ago, she started an experiment for herself to find out whether a person’s perception of his day could be changed by a random act of kindness.

“It has been the simplest of things, such as saying good morning, buying a coffee, opening a door. Nothing I have done has been expensive and only takes a moment of my day to make someone else’s day.”

Stevens said she has had the opportunity to see people smile, and she enjoys seeing the looks on their faces, especially the look that seems to ask why a stranger would do such a thing for them.

“This look is priceless. I also ask myself, have we, as people, gotten so caught up with our daily lives that we cannot be helpful or kind? I am pleased to say the experiment has gone so well that I intend to continue, just because. Doing this makes me feel better. I have had conversations with people that I may never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Connections have been made. My hope is that others would do the same thing for people they do not know or do know. Making the conscious decision to do something for another person can be life-altering for yourself as well as the other person.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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