Ron Dominguez, a Disney legend who grew up on an orange grove ranch that later became part of the Disneyland theme park, has died. He was 85.
Starting in 1955, Dominguez worked taking entry tickets as the park first opened. He then quickly moved through the ranks, and in 1990, he was named executive vice president for Walt Disney Attractions for the West Coast. He retired in 1994 and in 2000 he became a Disney Legend. He also was given a window on the theme park’s Main Street.
Getting the window was a significant honor, said Scott Fleener, who was among the first to learn of Dominguez’s passing early Friday, Jan. 1.
“It’s given to someone who made a large contribution to what the resort is today,” Fleener explained.
Fleener, president of the Order of the Red Handkerchief, the oldest alumnae club in Disneyland and made up of people associated with Mine Train Ride through Nature’s Wonderland, learned of his friend’s passing from Dominguez’s wife, Betty. The couple was married 41 years. They met at Disneyland.
“He was a natural leader who took the time to develop future leaders from cast members,” Fleener said. “Ron was very friendly and one of the things he said was, ‘The higher I go up, the more I miss getting to know the people who work in the park.’ If he or his wife were to look back now, I would say he had a great life.”
Richard Ferrin, chairman of the Disneyland Alumni Club, agreed, calling Dominguez “the spirit of Disneyland.”
“He was there from the very beginning and fully understood what Walt wanted in a cast member,” he said.
Ferrin said he met Dominguez while working in the park’s entertainment division and as a theme park designer.
“When Roy Disney and Wally Boag asked me to assist with the Disneyland Alumni Club, Ron Dominguez helped and supported me in my planning and events,” Ferrin said. “He helped out tremendously during my production of the 50th anniversary event and the celebration video documentary which I directed.”
“Ron was a good friend, and I will miss him very, very much,” he added.
Fleener said he last saw Dominguez in October when he and other members from the alumnae club presented him with a challenge coin made for the Mine Train ride. The ride operated from 1956-1977 when Thunder Mountain replaced it. Dominguez had been the first foreman of the attraction.
In October, Fleener recalled, Dominguez was already quite frail but spoke at the club’s luncheon sharing some fun trivia about Disneyland and his family.
For Dominguez, Disneyland was in his roots. His family owned and lived on 10 acres of orange groves purchased by Walt Disney for Disneyland in 1954. Dominguez said that the family’s home was near today’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Cafe Orleans. The Spanish-style, two-story family was later moved behind Main Street U.S.A. and converted into administrative offices.
He also told the group about a giant palm tree that now stands near the entrance line to the Jungle Cruise. That palm had been a gift to his grandparents, who were married in the 1890s, Fleener said.
“It was very sad to see him so frail, especially because he was so vibrant,” Fleener said.
Dominguez had been in hospice for the past six weeks following a fall in which he broke his hip, Fleener said.
Dominguez was born on Aug. 19, 1935. He attended Anaheim High School and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Arizona.
His first day working at Disneyland was on July 13, 1955, when at 20, he took a summer job collecting park entrance tickets.
A year after starting at Disneyland, he had been trained on every attraction, including the Mine Train.
Later in 1956, he was named a temporary supervisor of Main Street U.S.A. He moved on to supervisor positions of other areas throughout the park, and in 1970 was made director of operations. In 1974, he became vice president of Disneyland.
Fleener said Dominguez was known as “Mr. Disneyland.”
“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known,” he said. “Sometimes ‘nice guys’ do finish first. It’s very sad.”