It happened two months ago while I was at home playing my Disney Treasures Disneyland USA DVD for my family. We were watching Disneyland's Opening Day dedication ceremony, when a gentleman stepped forward to recite the opening day prayer. "WAIT!," my mom announced, "rewind that!" It would have been an easy part to look over, as it directly followed Walt's well-known "To all who come to this happy place, welcome" speech and because the fuzzy grain of the black and white broadcast made it difficult to see the faces clearly.
The gentleman giving the dedication prayer, it happens, was Reverend Glenn D. Puder who served Bakersfield's First Presbyterian Church (see photo below) as senior pastor for nearly four decades or so. As it turned out, Reverend Puder was connected to the Disney family by way of his marriage to Walt's niece Dorothy (Daughter of Herbert Disney). An article on Disney's faith and Glenn Puder's role is available here. I think it's fascinating that he played a part in Disneyland's opening day and is well-known in the Bakersfield Community. The photos above are stills from the DVD. The first shows Reverend Peuder standing to Walt's immediate right and the second, of course, is of Reverend Puder giving the speech. You can also view the opening day dedication in its entirety, which includes Reverend Peuder's prayer, on YouTube here.
My second connection features a man who, while never knowing Walt personally, has made a big name for himself in the Disney industry. Mr. Richard "Dick" Cook, who has served as Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios since 2002, was born and raised in Bakersfield. The connection comes from my aunt, Shannon Clarke, who had a childhood friendship and took dance lessons for years with Dick's sister.
Dick's story is indeed remarkable. Begining his career with Disney in 1970 as a humble Monorail ride operator, Dick climbed from the bottom up to become the manager of Disney Studio's pay television and non-theatrical release department in Burbank by 1977. Over ten years later, Dick was promoted to President of the Buena Vista Pictures Distribution where he oversaw, as the Disney website puts it, "Disney's animation renaissance" when such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were released. Mr. Cook has sometimes been referred to as the "nicest guy in the Disney jungle" thanks to his "down to earth" personality. As one of the few non-controversial figures in the Eisner downfall, Cook has garnered support from most everyone he works with.
But Dick hasn't forgotten his Bakersfield roots. During the opening of Hollywood's restored El Capitan Theater and neighboring Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store, Cook had a helping hand in the entire project down to the details, including what type of ice cream should be served at the Soda Fountain. According to an article on LaCanadaValleySun.com, the inspiration for an old-fasioned soda fountain came from Richard Cook. In order to find the perfect ice cream, "he and a team traveled all over California sampling ice cream until they reached Dewar's Family Ice Cream Parlor in Bakersfield. With all homemade ice creams and toppings, this was voted the best." And so, Dewars' ice cream is trucked down to Hollywood every week in order to make all varieties of old fashioned sundaes including, according to the menu, "DC's favorite", the Black and White.
So maybe it all does come back around to Dewars' ice cream (see paragraph two of The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 1). At the very least, as we wrap up this series on my little hometown of Bakersfield, California, we can say Walt was onto something when he pitched that well-known proverb for his famous ride, "It's a small world afterall!"