Cast member Jennifer Kingsbury’s connection to Disneyland park goes back much further than her 15 years with the Walt Disney Travel Company. When her grandfather, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, 1st Lt. Robert “Bud” Kingsbury, returned from World War II a hero after a harrowing rescue, he worked as a pipe fitter during the construction of Disneyland park in the 1950s.
“Walt Disney let all of these people who helped build Disneyland in on July 16 for a ‘test run,’” Jennifer shares of stories she’s heard about the day before the park’s official July 17, 1955, grand opening. “My grandpa, my grandma, my dad at age 7 and my aunt, they got to go into the park and went on the boat with Walt and Fess Parker and do all these amazing things… So, for me, that’s our Disney anniversary — July 16.”
Today, her late “Grandpa Bud” serves as an inspiration to Jennifer in her work as a reservation agent and a member of the resort’s Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs) WIN, where she advocates for women, and SALUTE, in which she helps advocate for veterans and active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Services. Jennifer also pays tribute to her grandfather’s remarkable military legacy through an Orange County nonprofit called Bud’s Odyssey Foundation, which helps veterans and first responders with PTSD. During the war, Bud’s B-17 bomber was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea in 1943. After swimming for 30 hours, he reached the shore, nearly unconscious, and was rescued by three Italian girls. Some time later, he was captured and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp. His story was told in the 2018 documentary, “Bud’s Odyssey,” by Mark Kirkland, a director on “The Simpsons.”
“If I’m ever having a bad day, I think about Grandpa Bud in the ocean with sharks chasing after him and I go, ‘OK, I can do this,’ because I realize the true courage of conviction he had,” Jennifer said. “He kept swimming because my grandma and his daughter were waiting at home for him. He knew he had to live.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day this week, Jennifer said she’s proud of the role Disney has played in the lives of many veterans both during and after their service.
“There are so many military members that return from their service, and they have their own battle wounds, whether they’re internal or external, and I know Disney has given them such a good home,” Jennifer said. “They’re so good at what they do, and putting that into being a cast member is so powerful, so I just love being part of a company that gives that to our service people.”
In her own role helping guests make vacation plans, Jennifer also taps into her family connection to the park’s heritage.
“I get a lot of people from the East Coast who want to go to Disneyland, so for me, it’s always like, ‘You’ve got to go on the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour and really see where the magic began,’” Jennifer said. “This is where Walt walked, and I can’t help but think, ‘This is where my grandpa walked.’ I mean, this is where my Disney story started.”