Patsy [no relation to Walt] Disney was born in Richmond, Kentucky, to two entrepreneurial educators.
“It was a small town, but they owned half of it,” she said. “We’d move into a home and they’d put drywall up and rent a portion of it out. Then they’d buy another house and do the same thing, or rent out the upstairs or downstairs. They owned over 50 houses. My brother, Roger, and I grew up cleaning apartments.”
Disney’s parents were strict. “Back in the day, children didn’t talk a lot,” she said. “I played dress-up and had a chalkboard in the garage. Even then I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
She loved watching her mother at work. “The rentals were furnished, so I’d go with her to thrift stores, listening to her haggle, learning how to get the best prices.”
It was a skill that came in handy when she became a landlord herself.
Disney’s parents never argued, she said, but were primarily business partners. To try and patch up a deteriorating marriage, they bought a log cabin in an even smaller community named, ironically, Hazel Patch. The family visited every weekend.
“It was like [C.S. Lewis’s] The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Disney said. “A different world. No indoor plumbing. I was used to two kitchens, two baths and a Cadillac in the driveway.” An aunt there raised foster children. “We always had kids to play with. I learned from every one of them.”
Disney used her knack for writing early, hand printing 10-page neighborhood newspapers. “I’d go around interviewing people — who’s pregnant, who’s getting married, add local lost and founds. I loved writing.”
Now an artist, Disney had no such inclination growing up. She played softball and basketball, strove for good grades. Graduating early, she held a variety of jobs including working as a waitress. “Everybody needs to be a waitress once in their lives.”
In order to complete three college degrees at once, Disney attended summer school while adjusting to “big city life.” She waitressed at a bar on Thursday nights, learned to play pool and met her future husband. She also landed her first teaching position.
Disney’s first 11 years were spent with learning disabled students and students with behavioral issues. She loved the challenge of teaching students others might not want to try to handle. “I kept ‘magic dust’ in my pantry,” she said. “Treat them like they’re your own kids and they love you.”
The school system she worked at was always looking for innovative ideas. Disney and five other teachers came up with a nongraded, year-round system called Synergy.
“They tore down walls for us,” she said. “If you were in third grade, you could go to the sixth. You could go to the ninth grade classes. There was a long waiting list to get in.”
During Disney’s last 10 years in education, she taught fifth graders, holding poetry slams and offering incentive to students who excelled. She also encouraged service projects such as visiting a nearby nursing home and creating student-led stores.
“The students were amazing,” Disney explained. “They crocheted hats to sell, took photos on a motorcycle. If they brought baked goods, they had to borrow money for the ingredients from their parents and paid them back with interest. There are so many skills you can incorporate.”
By the time Disney retired in 2013, she was twice divorced. “I don’t regret marrying either wonderful man, but I went to a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous meetings.”
Planning to downsize in Ohio, she agreed to look at her stepfather’s home in Port St. Lucie when he died and moved here permanently in 2018. “I’d been shopping for a chandelier and when I walked in and saw the one [in the stepfather’s home] I thought ‘there’s my sign.’”
Her creative juices began flowing in the studio space she set up beside her kitchen. “I wanted it where it was nice and light. I turn on music — Yanni or country or classics. Or silence. I’m beginning to love the silence, the older I get.”
Disney paints and creates multimedia artwork including cards, vintage journals and larger pieces. Her artwork hangs throughout her house as well as at Cool Beans Brew and the Painted Giraffe in Fort Pierce, at Coffee Grind in Tradition, and at Hani Honey in Stuart. Occasionally, she participates in vendor events. She also donates her work to worthy causes such as Lil Feet of St. Lucie County but stresses she has no desire to do commissioned work.
She enjoys inviting other artists into her home to work — or just talk — and values the creative energy and intellectual curiosity it generates. “What goes around, comes around. If you’re good to people, good things happen. That’s what I love about art, what I’m passionate about. It’s therapy. I work when the spirit moves me.”
She gestures out her window. “This is paradise. I love it here.”
Lives in: River Park section of Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Retired teacher; acrylic and multimedia artist
Family: Two sons, two grandchildren, and a dog, Max
Education: Undergraduate degrees from Eastern Kentucky University in elementary education, learning disabilities and behavior disorders; master’s in school counseling from the University of Dayton.
Hobbies: Reading, art, learning new ways to be creative, stock market, car shows, thrift store shopping
What inspires me: “Affirmations, books, online art classes, people, memories.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m a two-time cancer survivor. The first occurrence was in 1988 and then again in 2000. I thank God every day that I’ve lived this long. I’ve far outlived both my parents.”
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