As founder of the “University of Disneyland” training center, today called The Disney University, Van Arsdale France helped promote Walt Disney’s philosophy of creating happiness. Through this unique forum, he encouraged smiles on employee faces and the treatment of Park visitors as very important guests.
Van’s progressive concepts in guest service have been recognized as among the finest in the country. The training handbooks he authored, which feature themes such as “You’re an Ambassador of Happiness” and “You’re Here Because You Care,” have provided the foundation for the training of every new Disneyland Cast Member since the Park’s opening in July 1955.
Dick Nunis, former chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, once described Van as a combination of Jiminy Cricket, Mary Poppins, and an angry Donald Duck.
He elaborated, “Van believes in Walt Disney’s dream of Disneyland and has convinced thousands of us that our goal is to ‘create happiness for others.’ He goes into a Donald Duck fit if he thinks we lose sight of the dream when we have to watch costs and make a profit. To survive in this changing dream, Van’s mixed pixie dust with the grist of corporate reality.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, on October 3, 1912, Van earned his liberal arts degree from San Diego State College in 1934. His first jobs proved varied, ranging from a dishwasher on an Ohio-Mississippi Riverboat to a laborer in a kelp processing plant.
His experience as an industrial labor relations expert began when he was hired as director of education for the Fort Worth Division of General Dynamics. This led to an appointment as a civilian educational consultant for the U.S. Army in England and, later, Germany. Upon his return to the United States, Van became superintendent of industrial relations for Kaiser Aluminum Corporation’s Mead Works and director of labor relations for Kaiser Frazer in Michigan.
Van joined Disney in March of 1955, creating the University of Disneyland training program for the Park’s newly hired cast. Over the years he went on to perform many roles at the Park, including area manager of Tomorrowland, organizational chairman of the Disneyland Recreation Club, and coordinator of the first Disneyland Cast Member magazine, Backstage Disneyland.
In 1978 he retired from Disney and became a special consultant to Dick Nunis, who then headed the Park. He also went on to author Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks, a career guide for senior working adults, as well as his autobiography, Window On Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park. He remained an active member of the Disneyland Golden Ears Club and the Disneyland Alumni Club, and spoke on Disneyland history at conventions around the country.
Van France passed away on October 13, 1999, in Newport Beach, California.