How they met: It all started with a mouse

News-DemocratFebruary 9, 2014 

Mike and Heather Clemmer met 17 years ago in the Magic Kingdom.

Heather was a 19-year-old college student who answered an ad to "come work for the Mouse."

Mike, a year older, grew up in Florida. He had another job but thought earning extra money working for Disney would be fun.

"We got lucky," said Heather, sitting at their dining room table in Maryville. "We were both put in Fantasy Land."

They worked at Tinker Bell's Treasures, a gift shop next to the castle. "So I always say we met in the shadow of the castle," said Heather, whose job was to restock shelves, sometimes from a list Mike gave her.

He added his own special spin: three Mickey hats, a princess tea set, two sheets of plywood, 10 pounds of cat litter.

"The stock rooms are down underneath," said Heather, whose long dark hair might be compared to Snow White's. "I would be in a dark tunnel. I'd go down to pull stock and it would make me smile."

"She thought I was a dork," said Mike.

"Yes, I did."

"Then I changed her tire and we weren't even dating."

Their Fantasyland friends suggested they'd be a good pair. Who knows? Maybe a little fairy dust landed on them.

"It's a neat place to fall in love," said Heather. "At Epcot's World Showcase, you can hold hands in Germany, kiss in France and have a romantic dinner in Italy.

"We looked at the prices there and decided to go have pretzels in Germany," Mike said.

Heather, a 1995 Collinsville High grad, asked her mom if she could stay another semester. And another.

"He was one of the deciding factors," she said. "He had my heart."

They married in Orlando, walking down the aisle to "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes."

"It was the same song that was playing the first time we told each other 'I love you,'" said Heather. "After Ethan was born, we moved back. We were so young. We had a new baby. I am an only child. I missed my mom -- my grandmother, too. I always thought we will go back, and we will."

Disney World is never far from the Clemmers' thoughts. Disney memorabilia fills their two-story home. Tinkerbell is the topper on a small Christmas tree in the dining room. It once decorated the Disney hotel room where they stayed.

A curio cabinet holds Vinylmations, a Disney collectible. Heather's framed "Mouster's degree" hangs above the family piano. Look carefully at the black metal screen in front of the fireplace and you'll see a Mickey Mouse head design. A framed print of Mickey bears the saying they heard at closing time.

"Remember it all started with a mouse," the booming voice of Walt Disney would announce.

Heather, 36, is a preschool teacher at Learning Tree in Collinsville. Mike, 37, is a network security office for Centene Corp. in Clayton.They now have three sons, Ethan, 15, a freshman at Metro-East Lutheran High School; Clayton, 12, a sixth-grader at Good Shepherd Lutheran School; and Hudson, 5, a kindergartner.

Disney World remains their favorite vacation destination.

"We go at least once a year, sometimes twice," said Heather. "One of the reasons we are able to go so much is we do is we have friends there. They help us get into parks, and get us discounts on food and stuff.

"We are the type of family who will open the park and close it. We don't leave for the pool or rest in the afternoon."

Continuing the Disney theme, last year, they visited Marceline, a small northern Missouri town where Walt Disney lived.

"They have the only ride that ever left the property. Midget Autopia. That's where Hudson wants to have is next birthday."

The Clemmers would like to live in the Orlando area again, but that would mean selling their home, finding new jobs and leaving family and friends.

"All of our kids would go in a heartbeat," said Heather. "I know for sure we will retire there." Why?

"It's happy," said Mike. "It's carefree." "It's really magical," said Heather. "It's not just watching the kids' joy. It's watching the eyes of parents and grandparents, too."

Mike, just back from a Florida business trip, brought treats, Rice Krispie Mickeys dipped in chocolate from you know where.

"Where are those Minnie Mouse cookies?" said Ethan. "Everything tastes a little better in Disney World."

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