Perhaps Bob Williams' son, also named Bob, summed up his father in the best way possible.
"Bob is not a CEO of a huge corporation, or a famous sports star; he's the kind of man who contributes to and reinvests in his community," wrote Bob's oldest son in nominating his father for the Distinguished Service Award. He added that his father is a good "example to all of us."
Indeed. Not only has Williams dedicated himself to his community over the last 70 years, but he's done so, as his son eluded, in the humblest of ways.
Over the years, he's garnered a number of accolades, including being name the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year and a WCCO-Radio "Good Neighbor," among others. But for the most part, Williams has made his contributions in an under-the-radar manner.
That's not to say he hasn't had a big impact locally. For many, many years now, Williams, a former local newspaper editor and public relations director for the Old Log Theater in Greenwood, has long been known as, for all intents and purposes, Excelsior's unofficial historian.
The title makes sense when one considers all that he's done in this regard. After moving to Excelsior as a boy, Bob wrote for The Breezes newspaper at and then graduated from Excelsior High School in 1939, became the jack-of-all-trades editor, reporter, photographer and ad salesperson of two local newspapers, wrote informative historical novels set locally, has spoken to myriad grade school classes and senior citizen groups about newspapering and the history of the local area, and for years has given engaging, entertaining and extremely popular walking tours of Excelsior highlighting the town's history, people, houses and downtown buildings.
While giving those tours, Williams would often weave stories of his own Excelsior childhood into the history lesson. On one tour in particular, he stopped a group of 30 or so people in front of what is now the Antiquity Rose restaurant, which, when he was a 12-year-old boy, was the home of Elmer Bardwell, Excelsior's mayor and most prominent undertaker. With the Depression making it difficult for the Williams' family to put food on the table, Bob's mother had sent him to the mayor's house to pick up the family's government relief check.
"I sat there fidgeting in the parlor while Mayor Bardwell sat as his desk, which looked like the size of New Hampshire to me, writing out the check," Williams remembers. "I was not all that happy to be there, and finally, when we got up and Mayor Bardwell handed me the check, he put a hand on my shoulder and said, 'Son, if this town is going to die because of this Depression, at least they have the right guy as mayor.' The joke went right over my head. Years later I realized what it had meant, he being the undertaker and all."
Possibly most telling – and remarkable – about Williams' commitment to his community is the fact that over a 50-year span he had perfect attendance at Excelsior Rotary meetings. Being involved with Rotary all those years was, according to Williams, rewarding in its own right, but it also led him to what he considers one of his most-gratifying and fulfilling volunteer endeavors.
For a number of years now, Williams and several other Excelsior Rotarians have been mentoring Minnetonka High School seniors wanting to improve their grades and make the most of their last year in high school.
"I've taken on the role of conveying stories about what it means to have a good, persistent and positive attitude," Williams says. "I love telling stories, so I talk to the students about people I know, even relatives of mine, or people I've researched, such as presidents or other famous figures, who overcame overwhelming odds and dire, dire circumstances. And the key is always attitude."
As for his years as a local newspaper editor, Williams spent time on the staff of the Hennepin County Review, the Minnetonka Record in Excelsior and the Deephaven Post back in the 1950s and '60s. It was an era when local newspapers played important roles in their communities, often taking stands on local issues and, at times, influencing decision-makers.
"We were a part of the community and reported the good and the bad, all in the name of helping make the community a better place," he recalls. "For example, we, as a newspaper, were the first to suggest that the city put in parking meters near the Commons and the swimming beaches in order to help pay for the lifeguards and upkeep. We figured because so many people from other cities visited the town to recreate, they should help pay those expenses and not just leave them to the taxpayers of Excelsior."
Some other interesting tidbits about Williams include: After graduating from Excelsior High School, he served his country in the Army Air Corps at the end of World War II; he returned home to receive a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota; not only was he the public relations director at the Old Theater for more than four decades starting in 1965, but he also wrote a number of songs for children's plays produced by the theater; he spent 60 years on the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior; he's lived in the same house in Excelsior for 59 years with his wife of 65 years, Patty.
At age 91, Williams is enjoying as much time as possible with his three sons, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.