When Dick Nunis joined Disneyland in 1955, the Park employed 600 cast members. By the time he retired from his “summer job” 44 years later, Disneyland boasted 13,000 cast members and Walt Disney World employed another 50,000.
During those early years, Dick learned Walt Disney’s theme park philosophy firsthand. And, as he guided the growth of Disney’s outdoor attractions from a single park into a worldwide resort, the premier theme park executive always kept his focus on the people.
“Walt believed strongly that what would make Disneyland different was the people—he wanted them to feel that they were part of the organization,” Dick once said. “That’s why he established the first-name policy—he was Walt, I was Dick, and so on. From an overall operations point of view, the most important thing is to work together to make sure that when guests come, they have a wonderful experience.”
Born May 30, 1932, in Cedartown, Georgia, Dick received a football scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC). His ambition to become a professional football player and coach was cut short, however, when he suffered a broken neck while playing ball. In 1955, he graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Science in education.
Dick learned about Disneyland through his classmate, Ron Miller, who was Walt’s son-in-law. On a lark, he decided to apply for a summer job at the new theme park and was hired by Van France, founder of The Disney University and author of the Park’s orientation and training program. Just prior to the Park’s July 17, 1955, debut, the duo began training Disneyland employees. Among members of their first class were Walt and his executives.
Dick soon worked his way up to attractions supervisor, developing standard operating procedures for all of the Park’s attractions. Many of these are still in use today. In 1961, he became director of park operations and helped develop “Project X,” better known as Walt Disney World.
From 1967-74, Dick also served as chairman of the Park Operations Committee, and, in 1968, was bumped up to vice president of operations. By 1971, the year the Magic Kingdom opened at Walt Disney World, he was named executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
In 1980, a month after his 25th anniversary with Disney, he was named president of the Outdoor Recreation Division, overseeing Walt Disney World, Epcot Center and, later, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park. Dick also consulted on plans for Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland while serving on the Walt Disney Productions Board of Directors.
On May 26, 1999, exactly 44 years to the day since he joined the Company, Dick retired as chairman of Walt Disney Attractions.