Williams got the idea to hand out candy bars after reading several newspaper stories about people who would "pay it forward," the Register reported. Daily, he'd eat half a bar along with a banana and a glass of milk.
On one occasion, he bought three chocolate bars, so he handed out the others to random people in Long Grove, a town of 850 people. That was 6,000 Hershey bars ago, the Register reported.
“You’d think I’d given them keys to a new car,” Williams told the newspaper. “Honest to God, these people were thunderstruck.
“It made me feel warm.”
Williams played football at the Iowa State Teachers College (now known as the University of Northern Iowa) during the 1940s but went into the military during World War II, the Register reported.
Williams was wounded in western Czechoslovakia and got “40 percent disability, though my wife says I was closer to 80 percent.”
He married Mary Elizabeth Blazer on Sept. 9, 1944, in Ottumwa, Iowa, and delighted in giving her chocolate. They were married 68 years before she died in DeWitt, Iowa, on Sept. 18, 2012. She was 88. He visits her daily at a memorial bench along a bike trail in Long Grove, the Register reported.
Every Saturday, Williams buys some Hershey's milk chocolate bars. He hands two to the cashiers, one to the person behind him in line, and then heads out to pass out the rest, CNN reported.
Williams said people are grateful to receive them.
"I've only had three people decline in 15 years," Williams told the Register. "One was a little girl in the store with her dad. On the way out, I complimented her father for training her right — to suspect old men."
"It puts a smile on their face," Williams says in a video that Hershey's made about him. "It just makes me feel good."
Hershey's also gave Williams $1,500 so he could keep buying the chocolate bars, the Register reported, and a company official joined him for his birthday party last weekend.
“I came out smelling like a rose,” he told the newspaper. “And I get a lot of hugs. I’m 94. So those hugs are welcome.”
Bob Williams, 94, sits on a bench dedicated to the memory of his wife, Mary Elizabeth, who died in 2012.
Credit: Hershey's Co.
Credit: Hershey's Co.
Hershey's chief marketing officer, Jill Baskin, told Ad Age that Williams' example of kindness "sort of became our North Star."
Jan Hartwig-Heggen, a retired second-grade teacher, loves the idea of Williams’ acts of kindness.
"I just think there is no barrier then," Hartwig-Heggen told the Register. "It just takes that smile on his face to radiate on another person's face. It doesn't stop with chocolate. It opens the door to establishing friendships."
In honor of founder Milton Hershey's 161st birthday last Thursday, Hershey's sent its employees out to pass out chocolate bars as part of its #heartwarmingtheworld initiative, CNN reported.
Williams is a major part of that sweet story.
"A lot of people have said we need more sharing and smiling and patting people on the back," Williams told the Register. "I hope everybody picks up on that. We need to lighten up and smile a bit more. Share whatever you can with people. There is no charge for that last bit of advice."