Bradenton man designed Disney merchandise for 30 years

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BRADENTON, Fla. - Since the Suncoast is such a magnet for retirees, we shouldn't be surprised that we have some really notable neighbors living among us – including a Disney Legend.

Al Konetzni is an artist. You can see his work in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and his story and many of his designs have been featured in popular photography and many other publications. And you may have treasured some of the items he created when you were a kid.

Konetzni is a Disney Legend, an honor bestowed on those who've made extraordinary contributions to the Walt Disney Company.

Drawings he made when he was 18 got him his first job. He'd been an art director for 18 years when he was hired by Disney. "I was hired as an idea man. I had to come up with ideas."

And he was boiling over with ideas; for toys, clothes, jewelry, you name it. And he was good at selling those ideas.

He used one of those ideas, the Disney character head on top of the Pez candy container, to sell an idea for a night light. "I broke the head off Pez, and put it on a little thing that GE had…it had like a 1-watt night light for children. And I snapped the Pez thing on it, and I said I hope this works, I’ve never tried it. I plugged it in the wall, it lit up, and we got the contract."

The inspiration for his most famous creation came on the way to work one day. "I saw a school bus; I said nobody ever made a toy out of a school bus." Then it hit about a school bus lunch box?

"I made a beautiful pastel drawing of a school bus, and put all the characters in the windows. And we presented it to Aladdin Industries in Tennessee. Bang, they took it right away."

9 million of those lunch boxes sold.

He also came up with the Donald Duck pencil sharper, and many others.

And he says for him, the Magic Kingdom hasn't lost its thrill. "Oh I love it. I love to go see the children's faces and parent's reaction with the children. I think that's so interesting."

Al will soon celebrate his 98th birthday, but he's not done yet. "For 30 years I come up with ideas, and you know what? I'm still coming up with ideas."

Al was married for 61 years until his wife Adeline passed away several years ago. He has 4 children, the oldest son is a retired Vice Admiral, and 27 grandchildren.

Hats off -- or in this case, mouse ears off -- to a Disney Legend, and the great life he has led.