WMU Students Trace Disney's Path to Fame

May 28, 2015

Western Michigan University students with a piece of the set from "The Gnome-Mobile" at the Gilmore Car Museum
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

The name Disney means more than just entertainment to a group of Western Michigan University students. This summer they’ll trace Disney Company founder Walt Disney’s life and career in a trip that will take them across the country. And they've made one stop in advance near Kalamazoo.

At the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, tour guide Fred Colgren stands what appears to be the backseat of a giant car. It’s a set piece from the 1967 Disney movie “The Gnome-Mobile.” Colgren explains how it got there.

"Donald Gilmore had a home out in Palm Springs California and one of his neighbors was Walt Disney. And they became really good friends and Disney came to the museum a number of times," Colgren says.

The back seat is a rare gift, as Disney usually keeps or re-uses its sets. Disney group leader Chris Tremblay says that while everyone knows Walt Disney name, few realize how he struggled to establish a successful movie company.

"He only has one year of high school education, did not go on to college, and so it was really his passion that drove him but he also had a lot of ideas," Tremblay says.

The group will make stops everywhere from Disney’s birthplace in Chicago to Kansas City, Missouri, where Disney launched his career. The tour concludes in Los Angeles. Along the way, junior Elizabeth Blasko says each student gets a turn teaching.

"My day is the last day in Los Angeles, that I get to be the expert, when we’re going to the Walt Disney studios and the archives. And I’m really excited to dig deeper into the research on that," she says.

The group departs in July.