These days it's fashionable to look for the dark side of Disney. Of course Disney has a dark side, but Dean Gaschler does not. As the Magic Kingdom's grand marshal coordinator for 14 years, his job was to make people happy. His book, chronicling those years, will make you happy.
Did you ever wonder how Disney chose the families who waved and smiled from the lead vehicle in the Main Street parade? Or the ones who helped open the park at the Main Street train station with Mickey and the other characters? They weren't celebrities, usually; and they didn't have an uncle working at the park.
They were just regular families, in the park for a special day, a celebration, or sometimes to recover from a traumatic event, or to stave off an impending medical or personal tragedy.
Dean Gaschler's job was to pick one or two of these families, each day, from out of the thousands in the park, to be parade grand marshals.
Dean truly did make magic every day, and the families he chose never forgot his kindness, or his big smile, and many of them became friends. Dean tells their stories in this book. And you know the cliché about how you'll laugh, you'll cry—well, you will.
Chapter 1: Jay and Barbie Wise
Chapter 2: Mary Carey
Chapter 3: The Tattered Letter
Chapter 4: How Do You Like My Band?
Chapter 5: Goofy Meets Goofy
Chapter 6: The Perfect Family
Chapter 7: Sharing Their Dreams
Chapter 8: Walt in the Beauty Shop
Chapter 9: A Watchful Eye
Chapter 10: Paul and Sharon Tilley
Chapter 11: You Are the Man
Chapter 12: The Purdom Family
Chapter 13: Kelly's Life Dream
Chapter 14: Millennium Marshals
Chapter 15: The Olson Family
Chapter 16: Remembering Mick Seal
Chapter 17: Captains Henry and Jim
Chapter 18: Lacey's Best Day
Chapter 19: The Fabulous 50s
Chapter 20: Lisa's Wish
Chapter 21: Mayor Weaver
Chapter 22: Celebrities
Chapter 23: Rachel's Tenth Birthday
Chapter 24: Mom's Letters
Chapter 25: A "Dean" Moment
Chapter 26: "She Has a Prince!"
Chapter 27: A Father's Wish
Chapter 28: Disney Tears
Chapter 29: Life Changing
Chapter 30: California Girls
Chapter 31: God Bless America
Chapter 32: Madison and Belle
Chapter 33: We're That Family
Chapter 34: Shirley's Birthday
Chapter 35: Fred's Answered Prayers
Chapter 36: Nicki and Bohee
Chapter 37: This and That
Chapter 38: Rebecca, Rachel, Robyn, and Danielle
Chapter 39: Last Day at Disney
Chapter 40: Two Engagements
Chapter 41: Aaron and Kara
Chapter 42: The Meaning of Disney
Recently, while teaching classes at the Christ Church in Orlando, Florida, I received a call. The caller ID displayed the name Dean Gaschler and I thought, “Should I answer or let it go to voicemail?” Dean and I have been friends for over 20 years and occasionally contact one another. I made the mistake of answering. He wanted to tell me he was working on his new book and asked if I would consider writing the foreword. I immediately replied, “Dean, have you lost your mind?” I thought retirement may have gotten the best of his decision making. He was serious and explained what the book was going to be about. I was honored that he had asked me and humbly accepted his request.
I had the pleasure of working at Walt Disney World for 23 years, meeting guests from all over the world, and working with some tremendous people. My role took me to temporary projects in California, Italy, and Hong Kong. One of the critical success factors in working on those projects was building relationships with people—which could possibly be Dean’s next book. He had the unique role of selecting the honorary grand marshals for the Magic Kingdom’s 3 o’clock parade. Dean spent most of his mornings on Main Street, U.S.A. and throughout the park meeting guests. He had a knack for making friends and finding just the right guests to serve as grand marshals for the day. He exceled at his role and hosted nearly 7,000 families during his 14 years as grand marshal coordinator.
Dean did much more than select his guests, he took the time to get to know them and develop a relationship with them. The purpose of the grand marshal program was to create a magical moment for an unsuspecting guest. It was important to keep the element of surprise in his selections. I know that Dean was contacted on numerous occasions with requests for grand marshals, and there were special circumstances that warranted pre-selections, yet he kept the unknowing guests first in his selection process. Dean took his calling to be grand marshal coordinator with the utmost respect and integrity.
On the day I was informed of Dean’s retirement we had a memorable conversation and I made a point of telling him how special he was. I know that it was a difficult decision for Dean to step away from something he loved so much, but I also know that he left a legacy that Walt would have appreciated. His passion was to make someone’s day memorable and special. His gift was finding just the right people who deserved this special honor; this is what makes him an exceptional person. The emotional experiences that conclude many of his grand marshal stories are truly inspirational.
Do you believe in magic? In my humble opinion, magic does exist at Disney. I truly loved my 21 years at Walt Disney World and every day was unique and rewarding. Each time I walked into the Magic Kingdom I felt an energy that was real. The guests and cast are equally responsible for that feeling. These pages contain the heartwarming stories of some of the amazing individuals that I was privileged to meet.
Thousands of guests enter the Magic Kingdom each day … and each guest has a story. This was why it was so important for me to make each guest feel extra special. What had the guest experienced before entering our turnstiles? Would we celebrate a marriage proposal, a long-awaited family reunion, birthday or anniversary, a safe return home from military duty overseas? Or, more sadly, had the guest just learned that the tumor was inoperable? I’m sure I greeted guests each day that had experienced these situations and dozens of others we can only imagine. The following is a perfect example.
I began my career with Disney at the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, U.S.A. Early one morning a lady and her two young sons entered the shop. The boys had seen in a Disney brochure that Main Street featured a turn-of-the-century barber shop. Getting a haircut from the “Disney barber” was high on their to do list. As I trimmed the boys’ hair I struck up conversation with their mom. Her husband was fulfilling one of his dreams by playing a round of golf on a Disney course. He would join the family later in the Magic Kingdom. This was the family’s first visit to Walt Disney World, though they had dreamed of a Disney vacation for years.
This lovely lady went on to explain that she was a nurse and her husband worked construction. With two growing boys the couple had very little left from their paychecks at the end of each month. A Disney vacation was simply a luxury they could not afford, and the couple refused to be burdened with credit card debt. The hospital where this nurse was employed offered an additional couple of dollars per hour to individuals willing to work the midnight to 8am emergency room shift. After a family meeting, it was decided that Mom would take the shift, the men would help a lot more around the house, and the extra money would be put aside in a special “Disney” account. After more than two years, here they were enjoying the results of their sacrifices.
I admitted this was an amazing story and just had to ask, “Was everything you did worth it?” The lady beamed and enthusiastically answered, “Yes, yes, oh yes!”
I was blessed to work in two very unique locations at Walt Disney World: at the barber shop and with Guest Relations as grand marshal coordinator of the Main Street parade. Additionally, I selected the veteran of the day for the flag retreat ceremony. The following chapters contain a variety of guest and cast experiences. These stories are inspirational, entertaining, and moving. In many cases I share their Disney moment with a letter, thank-you card, or email that I received from them. To me there is no better way to communicate the feeling than with the guest’s or cast member’s own words.
On to chapter one, where we’ll meet Jay and Barbie, and discover how Jay’s curiosity about a trash can on Main Street changed their entire day.
Dean Gaschler was the grand marshall coordinator at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for over 14 years, selecting guests for special roles like leading the Main Street parade. Now retired, he enjoys staying in contact with the people whose lives he touched at Disney World, and documenting their stories.
From Afghanistan to the Magic Kingdom is only a dream—or maybe a Dean&mash;away.
Several months after my retirement I received a call from my dear friend Jodi, an entertainment manager at the Magic Kingdom. She and I had worked together on a number of events, and Jodi is a total delight. She asked how I was enjoying retirement, then explained the reason for her call.
A young serviceman had returned from Afghanistan after his tour of duty. He had been away from his family for far too long, and his children desperately missed their daddy. The children were traveling to Walt Disney World with their mother, believing that their father would not be returning to America for another month. The soldier and his wife had requested that their children be surprised by his return. On the day of their visit to the Magic Kingdom, Mom and the children were scheduled to have breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, but nothing could have prepared them for the magical surprise that Jodi had in store for them.
All guests visiting Cinderella’s Royal Table are greeted by Cinderella in the lobby of her castle. However, on this morning Jodi arranged for Fairy Godmother to be there to make the moment even more special. As the family was in line to meet Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, the cast members in the lobby secretly gave each guest in line a small American flag and whispered to them what was about to happen.
As the children were greeted by the Fairy Godmother, she made an observation: “I see your mom is here with you today … where is your daddy?” The children responded that their daddy was serving our country in Afghanistan and couldn’t be here. Fairy Godmother made sure that the children’s backs were toward the crowd and explained that the Magic Kingdom was the place where wishes came true. She gave each of them a handful of fairy dust (magical confetti) to hold to their heart and make their wish. On the count of three they were to toss the fairy dust in the air and hope that their wish would come true.
The children huddled with Fairy Godmother, closed their eyes, wished as hard as they could, and on the count of three tossed their fairy dust in the air. When all the wishing was done, the children were turned around and there, standing behind them was their daddy, in full uniform. All the guests in line were proudly waving their American flags, and there was not a dry eye to be seen.
The team at Cinderella’s Royal Table was so excited to honor this wonderful family. A special table near the window decorated with red, white, and blue linens, American flags, and flowers had been prepared and was waiting for them. As the young man and his family were escorted through the dining room, everything came to a complete stop. All of the other guests stood up at their tables to applaud and recognize these special guests. Again, this was not rehearsed or even mentioned to anyone else in the restaurant—it was a completely spontaneous gesture.
Many of us, myself included, have seen these surprise reunions happening all around America. Watching these families reunite after their loved ones return from dangerous missions helps us all put things in perspective. Jodi said that she wanted to share this special moment with me because it reminded her of some of the events we’d choreographed together. She called it a “Dean” moment. I was honored.
Continued in "Main Street Memories"!
Sometimes all it takes is one special moment to change a life.
I began my 21-year career with Disney in 1991 at the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, U.S.A. At the time, I had no idea how fortunate I was to have this unique location for my first role as a cast member. The shop was the “hangout” for the Dapper Dans, the Magic Kingdom’s barbershop quartet. The quartet had been a part of the Magic Kingdom and Main Street since opening day in 1971. From these fellows I learned what Disney was truly all about. The shop was an entertainment location along with being a place to get a shave and a haircut. I also discovered what a brotherhood barbershop singers were. Members of quartets from around the world stopped by on a daily basis to seek out the Dapper Dans, who were the envy of these visitors. Just imagine, singing and entertaining for a living; a dream job indeed.
One of my earliest and fondest memories of the shop was a letter I discovered in what would be best described as a “junk” drawer. The letter was tattered and had obviously been in that drawer a number of years … long before I appeared at Harmony Barber Shop. The content of this letter is timeless. Part of the quartet’s schedule at that time was a late afternoon routine at the Crystal Arts store, across Main Street from the barber shop. During this daily performance, a young girl, usually around age 12, was randomly selected from the crowd. The fellows would then sing “Mr. Sandman” (Bring me a dream, make her the cutest that I’ve ever seen) to that day’s lucky young lady.
On the day referenced in the letter the little girl selected was visiting the Magic Kingdom for a very special reason. In a span of less than two months, this young lady had been fitted with both braces and eyeglasses. So much change in such a short time at such an impressionable age. According to her mother, this change had devastated her daughter to the point that she all but refused to look in a mirror. Her parents had arranged the trip to Disney in the hope that something positive would happen for their child. The Dapper Dans had no way of knowing the circumstances of the girl they had selected to participate in their show. Her mother noticed the change nearly immediately. On the plane ride home, the little girl told her mom that the singers could have chosen any one of many girls to sing to, yet they had chosen her. Mom also mentioned that the little girl’s teacher also noticed a huge change at school.
I read that letter from the very appreciative parent many times, amazed that a random event had literally changed that little girl’s life. Being the new guy at the barber shop and being a new Disney cast member, I wondered if I would ever have that sort of opportunity. As I said earlier, I was truly blessed to work at a location where I could witness, first hand and on a daily basis, how magic was made.
Continued in "Main Street Memories"!