By Tiffany King
There are two things that Connie Hiott absolutely loves—holidays and Disney World. Her love for Disney is palpable as soon as one steps into her office. Disney is everywhere—on her desk, table, file cabinets, and walls, as if it was a portal to the park itself.
Hiott is the faculty affairs specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs. She previously worked at the College of Coastal Georgia from 1996 to 2000 as administrative assistant to the registrar and was also the information specialist for the Office of Advancement. Hiott then returned to the College in 2014 after working for 14 years at the American Cancer Society. Though a serious, seasoned professional, Hiott brings a light-hearted spirit to the workplace.
"If I'm having a hard day, a trip to Connie's office is sure to put a smile on my face," said Director of Marketing and Public Relations Christy Lynn Wilson. "Her office matches her spirit—joyful."
Her office is currently decorated for a Disney Christmas. Visitors are greeted by an inflatable, smiling Olaf standing in the corner. Mickey and Minnie are on hand to add their own Disney welcome. Throughout the year, Hiott decorates her office for all of the major holidays: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Her favorite holidays to decorate for are Halloween and Christmas.
Hiott first started decorating her office because she doesn't have a window and wanted to brighten the space. She started with hanging a daytime picture of Cinderella's Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom on one wall, then added a nighttime version of the castle on the opposite wall. From there the Disney spirit spread to every corner of her office.
"My love of Disney began during my teenage years. I had never been to Disney World until I got married and my husband and I went on our first big vacation, and the love just grew from there," said Hiott, who has been married to her husband Chuck for 39 years. "We lived in Charleston, South Carolina, and then we moved to Brunswick, which was great because we were that much closer to Disney World and could go more often. We never went until I was in my 20s, but we made up for it—we've been over 100 times."
At home, Hiott has a Disney village with all the characters and a whole room dedicated to nothing but Disney.
"A day bed, ceiling fan, television, phone, pictures, hope chest, figurines, clocks, gumball machine—you name it and I have it," she said laughing. "In every room in my house, I have something Disney."
Hiott also loves snowmen and keeps a snowman in every room of her home throughout the year.
Though her family thinks her Disney decorating is over the top, she describes it all as fun, joyful, and her happy place.
"In this day and age, there are so many bad things happening. Disney World is the one place you can go and experience your childhood over and be happy. No one thinks it's odd if the adults have just as much fun as the kids. The rides, seeing the characters, it's pure joy," Hiott said. "When you arrive at the castle, you feel this sense of wonder. It's all so magical, whether it's the holidays or not. Then you go in and see what Walt Disney did, all the incredible things he started, the details put into everything, and it just blows your imagination."
Some of Hiott's favorite memories are being at Disney World with her husband. The Hiotts go to Disney World every year at Christmas time for their anniversary and mark the occasion with a dated Disney ornament. In 2006, while the Hiotts were at Disney World celebrating their anniversary, they were chosen to be the grand marshals for that day's parade.
"We were having lunch and a man who works for Disney World as a cast member started talking to us and saw our buttons that said, 'Happily Ever After' for our anniversary. We planned to go to another park at Disney that afternoon, but he said we should stay and asked us to be the grand marshals. I had a permanent smile from ear to ear the rest of the day," said Hiott.
The Hiotts rode in a special vehicle during the parade and waved to onlookers. They were introduced to the crowd, received personalized Mickey Mouse ears, and had their own photographer for the parade. It was definitely the highlight of her day and remains a cherished memory.
Hiott's goal is to work part-time for Disney after she retires from the College. Her dream job is to be a VIP cast member who takes clients on tours of the park for behind-the-scenes access. Hiott has gone on a special tour herself. She met cast members and learned how the park functions, calling the operation a "a well-oiled machine."
"After visiting more than 100 times, I know all about it. I get books, emails, newsletters, I'm just a real Disney fanatic, and that's where I find my happiness," she said. "I would either love to do that or book travel vacations for people to Disney."
Hiott has frequented the many restaurants and hotels at Disney World. When a friend or family member wants to go to Disney, they call Hiott for help.
"If I could go to their Disney University, I know I would really enjoy it. It wouldn't be work but fun, plus you get to go in all the time for free," she said with big smile. "Even though retirement is a long time away, I have a plan."
There's always Mickey Mouse and chocolate in Hiott's office, which she loves to share. She enjoys seeing the smiles on people's faces when they see her decorations.
"It makes everybody happy and people say, 'This is my happy place,'" said Hiott. "It's nice to know that when people come into your office they feel happy and positive."
Her door is open to anyone who wants to stop by and see her mini-Disney World and help themselves to some chocolate.