Walks in the Park Ending for Disneyland Veteran


He came for the summer, stayed a lifetime and is departing a legend.

Bob Penfield, the only remaining Disneyland employee to have worked at the park since its opening on July 17, 1955, will retire at the end of this month.

In doing so, the facilities supervisor, who considers himself something of a Disneyland trivia buff, will see his name etched permanently into park history. Literally.

That’s because on July 31, his last day at the Magic Kingdom, his name will be painted onto a window of one of the faux storefronts on Main Street, joining the likes of Walt’s father, Elias Disney, and retired Disneyland president Jack Lindquist.


It is the highest honor the park can bestow. Not bad for a working stiff who started out as a teenage carousel operator in Fantasyland and hung on for the ride of his life.

“I always thought the windows were reserved for the movers and shakers of Disneyland,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I was never a mover or a shaker. I just happened to be the last one. But I’m very proud of that.”

Penfield, 60, is the last active West Coast employee to have been a member of Club 55, the rapidly shrinking group of Disneyland alumni who actually met Walt Disney and who were on his payroll on opening day.

Three Club 55 members are still working at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. But Penfield’s departure from the original Magic Kingdom marks the end of an era, according to Ray Van De Warker, an old high school buddy and fellow Club 55er who retired from Disneyland last year.

“They’re going to miss him out there,” Van De Warker said. “The old regime is completely gone now.”

Raised in Middletown, Iowa, population 300 “on a good day,” Penfield moved with his family to Anaheim in 1954, just in time for his senior year in high school.


He and Van De Warker became fast friends and hired on together at Disneyland in June 1955, just weeks before Walt Disney changed the face of family entertainment forever.

The park’s historic first day is still the most memorable for Penfield. He recalls vividly the near hysteria of the excited children who sprinted through Sleeping Beauty Castle and into Fantasyland following the opening ceremony.

“I don’t think I caught the whole impact then,” Penfield said. “But I do now.”


Penfield worked in park operations for the first 11 years of his career, becoming a full-time supervisor in 1963. He eventually moved over to facilities, where he managed a host of departments through the years, from maintenance services to roofing and long-range planning.

He worked temporary stints outside Disneyland, helping to launch Walt Disney World in Florida as well as Tokyo Disneyland.

For the last several years, Penfield has worked as a project manager, coordinating new construction projects at Disneyland.

“Everything from a couple of thousand dollars to a couple of million,” he said.

The park has always been a family affair for Penfield. His mother, Ethel, was one of the original baby matrons at the old diaper changing station on Main Street. He met his wife, Judy, a former ride operator, at the park. His son Chris worked summers there from high school through college.


In retirement, Penfield said he plans to do a little fishing, finish a number of projects around the house and maybe do a consulting project for Disney from time to time.

He says 42 years is enough for anyone. And yet he wonders how anything can replace those early mornings at the park, walking down Main Street before the crowds rush in, the setting as colorful and promising as the opening of a Disney animated feature.

“I’m going to miss that more than anything,” he said. “That park has meant so much to me. There’s no place like it. It’s my life.”