By Richard Sayre

Dawn Thomas knew everything there was to know about Celebration before the town even existed.

As one of the original team of seven people hired by the Disney Company to sell homes and apartments in the planned community, Dawn and her colleagues were tasked with studying thick binders packed with information about the town-to-be.

When the triple-wide sales trailer opened, the sales staff was overrun by prospective buyers and renters and national and international press.

“Thousands of people came to find out about what Disney was planning and how they could get in on it,” she said.  “Huge crowds gathered around each of us whenever we gave a presentation.”

Dawn remembered the early days in Celebration to a full-house in Johnson Hall on February 25.  The “Community Conversation Series” featuring Dawn was sponsored by the Celebration Foundation’s New Urbanism Committee.

Interest in the new town was high even though there was little to see.  “Downtown was a dusty hard-hat zone,” she said.  And so much earth was moved to create Lake Rianhard at the foot of Market Street that workers called the new wetland “Snake Lake,” as large numbers of uprooted critters searched for new habitat.

Dawn eventually became so intrigued by the plans for Celebration and the development she saw taking place that she became one of the town’s first residents, renting a downtown apartment where she and her son lived.  And she’s been in Celebration ever since.

Many residents know Dawn as an incurable volunteer in local civic organizations, schools and her church.  Others know her as a singer of the national anthem at town events.  She traces her devotion to volunteering to her mother, who “volun-told” Dawn and her brother at an early age to get out of the house and serve people.

Dawn said that the charms of Celebration are obvious in the attention to architectural and landscape design, in the many parks and pools, and in the trails carved through the town’s undisturbed, accessible wilderness areas.

But, she said, the best thing about Celebration is its people.  “If someone is sick or needs help, word gets out fast and all of sudden food starts piling up in your kitchen.  I’ve always felt that neighbors have my back here.”