David Vonner, 38, grew up in Atlantic City’s Pitney Village and graduated in 1990 from Pleasantville High School, where he was a talented artist, comic book fan and a bit of a class clown. Teachers, such as Melanie Harrington at South Main Street School in Pleasantville, took his comic books away, and told him to focus on scholastics.
Now he has his dream job as senior product developer for Boys Toys at Hasbro, where he handles the Marvel Universe line of action figures. He’s still a big comic book fan, but he knows those teachers were right.
His life almost went in a much different direction. When he was 19, and struggling in the competitive world of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, he was in a car with some of his childhood friends from Atlantic City. Without his knowledge, they decided to rob a gas station, and got caught.
“I almost went to jail for 10 years for something I didn’t want to do,” he said.
Anthony Gould, one of the officers handling the case, (now a Pleasantville Police Department detective) knew him from high school. “(Gould) was so ticked off. He said, ‘You have so much going for you, something no one else has. You’re wasting it,’” Vonner said.
That experience woke him up, he said.
He wasn’t charged in the robbery. Given another chance, he worked as a dealer at Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City and finished his art degree.
His first job after graduation was with Carl Franke at Spencer Gifts in Pleasantville, where he worked on product development of Halloween masks, Jimmie Hendrix and The Beatles items, lava lamps, and more.
From there he worked at preschool toy company Shellcore, Marvel Toys (Toy Biz), and landed his current job about five years ago with Hasbro.
He’s the only child of single mom and former Sands casino worker, Gail Pippett Thomas, now of Philadelphia, who often visits her aunt Mildred Spellman in Pleasantville and cousins in Atlantic City. Thomas was always a big comic book fan, too, he said.
“She loved Thor. We had a dog named Odin,” he said, named for Thor’s father.
He remembers buying comics at Connie’s newstand in Atlantic City, as well as at Beachcomber Collectibles in the Shore Mall.
“Thor was always my favorite guy. My dad wasn’t with us. Odin was always the father I wished I had. He would teach him lessons, and smack him down if he had to. But no matter how much Thor messed up, his dad always loved him.”
Now he’s working on a line of toys to come out with the release of the film “Thor,” starring Chris Hemworth and Natalie Portman, in May 2011.
He and wife Pleshette (nee Cobb), 34, also from Atlantic City, live in Cranston, R.I., with daughters Mikayla, 14, and Jewel, 2; and sons David III (“Tre”), 5, and newborn Lyle.
Everyone Has a Story appears Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post: