Behind the Scenes

Colorful Counties

Kaye Malins preserves the Disney childhood story for visitors to the Disney Hometown Museum.
By Diana Lambdin Meyer

The magic that is Disney began in tiny Marceline, Mo., the rural community where Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, lived from 1905 to 1910. It was on a family farm here that Walt would daydream under a big oak tree and sketch the farm animals that eventually became Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse.


Above: Kaye Malins, left, and mother Inez Johnson pose with a Mickey Mouse statue at the Disney museum in Marceline. Diana Lambdin Meyer photo

Below: The museum is in a renovated train depot. Missouri Division of Tourism photo


Kaye Malins now lives on the Disney family farm and can see that old oak tree from her kitchen window. She is director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline. Malins and her mother, Inez Johnson, work at the museum and share stories about how Disney was influenced here, how the town has been influenced by Disney, and on a more personal level, how the Disney brothers became a part of their lives.

Malins was a precocious 8-year-old in the summer of 1956 when the city of Marceline built a new park and swimming pool. As the city leaders debated a name for these new facilities, someone suggested it be named for Walt Disney. Just the year before, Disneyland had opened in California, and the animated movie, “Lady and the Tramp,” was released.

When a city representative wrote Walt Disney asking his permission to name the pool and park in his honor, he was thrilled, so thrilled that he invited himself and his family to Marceline for the dedication.

“Of course, everyone was very excited, but then became the problem of where they would stay,” says Malins.

As luck would have it, her parents, Rush and Inez Johnson, had just built a new home and it was one of the few houses in the area that had central air conditioning. So it was decided: The Disneys would stay with the Johnsons, and Malins gave Walt her pink bedroom in which to sleep.

Over the years, the Johnsons maintained a close friendship with the Disneys. Each time, they returned to Marceline, they stayed at Malins’ home, and when her family went to Disneyland, they visited Walt’s apartment at the theme park.

“My brother and I were really spoiled,” she says. “We never had to stand in any lines and we ate at Walt’s table at his favorite restaurants in the park.”

During summer breaks from college, Malins worked at Disneyland as an attendant at the Matterhorn ride. Later she married, settled in Marceline and raised children of her own, but was always devoted to the magic of Disney in her hometown.

Malins has led the effort to restore the old Marceline Train Depot, turning it into the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, which opened in 2001. Each year, she and her mother talk with thousands of visitors to the community about their memories of Walt and the things he told them about Marceline’s influence on his life.

“It was the little things in his life–like fishing at the pond or running away from a bull in the pasture–that he remembered and shaped his creativity,” Malins said.

And for the past 15 years, Malins has been invited to speak with Disney employees in a variety of settings, including the prestigious Disney Leadership Conference, providing background on the young brothers to a new generation that very often has forgotten Walt Disney was indeed a real person, not just a brand name.

“There are so very few people left who actually knew Walt and Roy and there are many misconceptions out there,” Malins said. “We are the warm and fuzzy in this mighty company that is Disney today. We remind the world that Walt Disney was just a farm boy from Marceline, Mo.”

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

Nov/Dec 2009 Issue


The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is at 120 E. Santa Fe St. It will open for 2010 on April 1 and close Oct. 31. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday, and from 1–4 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday. Admission is $5 for guests 11 years and older, $2.50 for children 6–10 years, younger than 6 years admitted free. For more information, call (660) 376-3343 or click on

To visit Marceline, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri through online Reader Service by clicking

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