Theme Park Ranger
11:58 AM EDT, August 8, 2013
Pardon me for staring, young Disney World cast member. I was just admiring your name tag.
I've been borderline obsessed with the white oval designators with blue engraved lettering since childhood. I used to imagine my name on one in a now-retired font (The 'E's were cool-looking, and my tag would have two 'E's). Now I like checking out the city names that appear below the name, scouring for folks from my hometown, presumably so we could work up kin.
Every so often, I see a name tag with a reverse color scheme: blue oval, white letters. For a while, I imagined they were team captains or visiting from overseas theme parks or just feeling blue. What made them so special?
As it turns out, they are special — special enough to be winners of the Walt Disney Legacy Award, a recognition of cast members, nominated by fellow cast members. This spring 350 of 66,000 Disney World employees were bestowed the Legacy Award and the accompanying blue name tag.
They will wear those blue tags for the duration of their Disney employment.
The winners must excel in three categories dubbed "dream," "create" and "inspire." Those three words are incorporated into the blue name tag as well. The guidelines say award winners go above and beyond every day, help improve the work environment and inspire others, a Disney World spokeswoman told me.
A panel of cast members, leaders and executives reviews the nominations and picks winners, who come from all departments of the Walt Disney World resort. The company always has had employee-recognition programs, but they varied from park to park. A few years ago, the system was unified. It also includes Disney workers in parks in California, Paris, Hong Kong and Japan, plus operations in Shanghai, the Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney Imagineering.
Legacy winner Jennifer Matteson was a teacher for 14 years before coming to work at Disney six years ago. She started as a driver on the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. She liked it because it was a speaking role and included a message of conservation. Now she works at the park's guest-relations desk.
Sometimes that means dealing with unhappy folks, including a 4-year-old girl who didn't want to give up her balloon. (Balloons aren't allowed at Animal Kingdom, in accordance with Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines.)
Although the youngster was told she'd get the balloon back at the end of the day, she was sad, says Matteson, who had a brainstorm: Send the balloon to balloon camp.
"We journaled everything the balloon did," says Matteson, 43. "The balloon watched its favorite movie — 'Up,' of course — it got to meet characters, it got to have singalongs, it got to have snack time."
When the little girl returned, she was "positively giddy" to see what adventures her toy had.
"What I really enjoy about my role is being able to turn situations around," Matteson says.
Fellow Legacy Award winner Ron Fox is a "precision driver" for the "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" at Disney's Hollywood Studios. His job is pressure-packed and a bit remote, but he finds ways to connect with guests. One day, he says, he encountered a family that was disappointed that they had to leave the park before the last show. The son loved Herbie, a Volkswagen bug that, at the time, was featured in "Lights, Motors, Action!"
Fox, 48, went backstage to arrange a special meeting with Herbie. The boy "broke into a run and ran up to Herbie and hugged his wheel well," Fox says.
He credits park leadership with making that be able to happen.
"We all get to work together and we focus on accomplishing these goals and dreams together, not just for our guests, but also for our fellow cast members," Fox says. "It's just incredible the relationships and bridges you build."
Legacy winner Kareem Patterson works with Walt Disney Imagineering on mechanical issues, specializing in the famed Audio-Animatronics. The goal is to keep attractions operating as originally envisioned through the power of preventive maintenance, he says.
"With anything mechanical and electrical, there's always some kind of issue that could happen," he says. "We do our best to never let stuff get to the point of failure."
Patterson, 34, prides himself in being available at all hours, including nights, weekends and vacations, he says. And although he's behind the scenes, he has a show-must-go-on attitude.
"I really have a strong passion for Disney ensuring that our magic is always available for everybody," he says.
Winners are announced in individual surprise ceremonies. (Note: If it's an odd meeting and there are balloons and a vice president around, be suspicious, cast members). For Patterson, an oversize blue name tag was unveiled. He says he was speechless.
Since then, many fellow cast members have taken note of his regular-size blue name tag and his achievement, he says.
"They always say, 'Hey, congratulations. We appreciate you,'" he says.
The Legacy Award announcements are crowd-pleasers.
"My in-box exploded when the list came out," Fox says. "I had no idea that many people were paying attention. I was really humbled."
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