110 years ago, a baby was born in Chicago, IL on Tripp Avenue in a house that was built by Elias Disney. Elias and his wife, Flora, named their son Walter.
I'm hoping you all know the rest of the story. The man grew up to be a creative genius and built the largest and most well known entertainment empire in the world. He was a son, father, grandfather, and friend to many. While he ran a very tight ship and rarely gave praise to his staff, he was insanely well respected and had few enemies. Everyone wanted to please him and everyone wanted to be around him.
While Walt passed away before I could ever write him a letter, let alone meet him, he managed to work his way into my life. As a child, I don't think I knew how every Disney t-shirt I wore, every animated cartoon I watched, and every dream about "Prince Charming" I had, all linked back to one man.
If it weren't for Walt, my childhood fashion statements would have been far more boring. I remember so many of my favorite outfits had some type of Disney cartoon displayed. I loved my 101 Dalmations tank top and matching bike shorts. Yeah, I just said bike shorts. On my fourth birthday, my Aunt Arlene bought me a tie-dyed dress with The Little Mermaid on it. I'm pretty sure I had a Mickey Mouse hat, shoes, socks, sweatshirt, and probably some cool patches. But, nothing compared to when I got my very first Mickey Mouse ears. I was so insanely proud that I owned those iconic ears that I practically slept in them.
Walt created the original Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. There was a reboot of this infamous television show in the early 90's and I was obsessed with it. I remember grabbing my mom's hand, pulling her out of my babysitters house because I COULD NOT miss MMC. If any of you know my past, I've been a performer since I was young. Hours and hours were spent in front of the television memorizing every dance move. I owe my passion for dancing and singing to MMC. And for that, I've gotta thank Walt again.
I've identified with so many characters in Disney movies all throughout my life. As a child, Belle from Beauty and the Beast understood me better than anyone. She came from a small town. No one understood her dreams. She felt different than everyone else. It's like someone talked to me and asked me about my life in Sturgis and then wrote a story about it. Only, my life didn't include a beast, a red rose, and a talking clock. Cinderella, despite her unfortunate circumstances, always had a blind belief that her life was going to get better. She taught me that if you work really hard and keep dreaming, you can end up happy. Hercules battled people doubting him constantly but, he knew where he belonged and what he had to do to get him there. The biggest struggle he encountered was his own self doubt. I've been through many circumstances in my life where I could totally identify with Herc. Lastly, as a kid I looked forward to trips to my oldest brothers house because he owned Mary Poppins. I didn't own it but I was totally obsessed. I remember thinking how imaginative it all was. I'm pretty sure that Mary Poppins shaped my mind and even made trip out from time to time.
The Disney movies, music, and parks, have made learn to break free of my typically logical way of thinking. Somewhere as I've gotten older my mind has begun to warp into something less dream like. My feet are sometimes so securely placed on the ground. I can't watch a romantic movie and believe it is true love. I can't watch many horror movies and believe something enough to get truly scared. Basically, I can be jaded about life at times. But, with Disney, I forget every bit of logic and just allow myself to believe what I'm seeing. There is this moment at the end of Fantasmic when the music builds and Sorcerer Mickey appears at the top of the mountain, conducting the fireworks and water affects by a wave of his arm. A huge explosion goes off and suddenly, Mickey reappears at the bottom of the mountain in classic Mickey garb. Tears well up in my eyes every time as I stand up and shout for Mickey. It's like I'm overcome with absolute joy. Being there with all those people, enjoying the same magical show, well, it's a completely perfect moment that cannot be recreated anywhere else on Earth.
I've done a lot of research on Walt's life. He was an amazing man. What impresses me most about Walt is the way that he looked at things in his life. When he wanted something, he went after it. He didn't let things stop him. It was so easy for him to find his passions and pursue them. So many people, young and old, are told every day to stop their lofty dreaming because nothing will come of it. Walt believed the opposite. He thought that your dreams showed you who you were and what your heart desired most. I'd let myself believe that I'd never do certain things and never become what I wanted. I just gave up almost completely. The more that I started to learn about Walt the more I knew I couldn't just stop dreaming.
With Disney, I found my true passion. Sure, I still love performing and feel very strongly about music, but with Disney it's like I KNOW for a fact where I belong. Any day of my life when I feel down about myself I just think about something Disney related and I'm reminded that I do have a purpose even if it doesn't feel like it sometimes. I'm so thankful that I have Walt to look up to. In a way, I feel like I want to make him proud with what I do in my Disney "career." I like to believe that if he were alive today, and met me or read something that I wrote about Disney, I'd bring a smile to his face. I just wish I could repay Walt and show him what his lifelong work has meant to me. How he, just one man, has given me a purpose and a reason to want to wake up on those dreadful days when I have the mean reds.
Before my dad passed away when I was 6, he told my mom that he wanted to do two things for me before he was gone... buy me a pony and take me to Walt Disney World. He never got to personally experience either of those things with me but when I was in the 4th grade my mom saved up enough money to take me to Disney World. After the picture perfect first trip, the plane took off to bring me back to Michigan as I sat there bawling my eyes out. I was convinced that I got my biggest wish and God was going to make the plane crash. Yeah, I was a morbid child, I know. Looking back on it now, my reaction then was an early expression of how much Disney meant to me. Even now, when I walk down Main Street U.S.A., heading toward the castle, it's like the first time. I feel my dad's presence with me and I have a feeling that he's watching over me proudly.
All of that being said, I have to thank you, Walt. You've given me childhood memories, an imagination, entertainment that will last a lifetime, a positive dreamer's attitude, and a purpose. I'll never be able to repay you fully but I'm going to spend my life honoring your life's work.