Joe Rohde spent four decades with Walt Disney Imagineering. In his exit interview, he talks about lessons learned and what future generations need to know.

The famed theme park designer and patriarch of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is alternately a student and a teacher, an academic and an artist, a tourist and a documentarian.

He’s also the most vocal champion of the belief that theme parks — you know, places filled with popcorn, candy-coated churros, lowbrow stuff — are cultural institutions.

But as of this week, Rohde, 65, is officially retired after 40 years at Disney, where he’s led teams behind major projects at resorts and parks in Anaheim, Florida, Hawaii and Paris. He’s leaving at a time of huge disruption for the Walt Disney Co., including significant pandemic-forced layoffs, more than 400 of which hit Walt Disney Imagineering, the secretive arm in which designers like Rohde create theme park experiences. Where Imagineering goes next without him is a question for many and a worry for some.