Joe Rohde of Walt Disney Imagineering is retiring after spending more than 40 years bringing to life some of Disney Parks’ most notable attractions, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park and Pandora — The World of Avatar area of Walt Disney World.
Rohde, who will retire Jan. 4, reflected on his career in an Instagram post. Given his multi-decade-long tenure, he said the “strange quiet time” of the pandemic affords him the opportunity to step back.
“It has been 40 years since I stepped foot in the door at age 25, not knowing anything about theme parks, Disney, or what it meant to work for a big company,” Rohde wrote. “Every day of my life since then has been a learning experience. I’m very glad to have had that opportunity, and proud of the work that has been done, not just by me, but by all my fellow Imagineers, and especially those who worked by my side over the decades.
Rohde began his career with the company as a model designer on Epcot, eventually speaking at panels at the D23 Expo and its “Destination D,” as well as spearheading events such as the opening ceremony of Pandora and fifth anniversary of the Aulani resort that Disney operates in Hawaii. The Imagineer described his experience as a “coming-of-age” story, and said he is ready to explore life outside of the company.
“I started at Disney as a child, and I learned almost all my life lessons there, developed my confidence, recognized my skills and weaknesses, and went on to work with both… and do what could be done,” Rohde wrote. “I could stay forever, but that is like remaining in another kind of womb. I want to see what a grown man might be able to do on his own.”
Rohde added he owes a “tremendous debt” to the fans “who have been so generous” throughout his career, writing “Working as an Imagineer has made me a good designer, but it is all of you who have made me a better person.”
Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, also shared a note on Instagram lauding Rohde on his years of service. “His unyielding commitment to excellence across all aspects of projects, and his demand for authenticity and including diverse, indigenous cultures in design and production, are hallmarks of his projects and what differentiate them from all others … while I respect and accept his decision, I know he will remain part of our Imagineering family, a mentor to our current and future generation, and certainly the best example to our worldwide audience of what it is to be an Imagineer.”
(Pictured: Pandora — The World of Avatar)