William A. Koch
|William A. Koch|
|Born||William Albert Koch
January 10, 1915
Evansville, Indiana, US
|Died||September 17, 2001
Santa Claus, Indiana, US
|Christmas Lake Village, Santa Claus, Indiana, US|
|Alma mater||Purdue University|
|Occupation||Owner and founder of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari|
A native of Evansville, Indiana, Koch was the son of Louis J. and Clarice Koch. He graduated from Purdue University in 1937 with a degree in architecture, but, although he worked in that field while in the Navy during World War II, it would be a project started by his father that would change his life.
Holiday World: From father's "folly" to money-maker
In the 1940s, Louis Koch retired, and decided he wanted to breathe life into the tiny town of Santa Claus. He started a mail-order gift shop, and, in 1946, a small theme park that he called Santa Claus Land.
At first, Bill Koch didn't think much of his father's project. "I thought it was sort of a folly," he said later. "I didn't think it would go anywhere."
But it did.
In 1984, Koch and his family decided to include other holidays (namely Halloween and Fourth of July) in the park, and the name was changed to Holiday World.
In 1993, a water park - Splashin' Safari - was added, and a new Thanksgiving-themed area was also constructed in 2006. Over a million visitors a year now visit what Bill Koch once thought was nothing more than a folly!
Bringing an Interstate south
With so many projects going - seemingly all at once - Bill Koch discovered in the late 1950s that Indiana's segment of Interstate 64 was going to run from Vincennes to New Albany. This did not go over well with the man who wanted the new highway to bring people to his theme park and growing town.
So, Koch started knocking on doors and attending meetings.
Recalled Koch: "I told them, 'Gentlemen, I think the route for 64 is too far north. What do I need to do to get it to go straight across?' They said, 'You have to get the governors of Indiana and Illinois to agree to get the road changed so the Bureau of Roads will agree to relocate it.'"
The governors couldn't resist Koch's insistent efforts, which gained traction when Evansville interests got involved as well. The highway moved south.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Spencer County and the state of Indiana had for many years worked to build a memorial to the formative years of Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the area around what is now Lincoln City from 1816 to 1830.
Bill Koch was 45 when he married Patricia Yellig, the daughter of Santa Claus Land's original Santa Claus, Jim Yellig. Patricia Yellig had been a nun, but left the Daughters of Charity in the late 1950s to move back home. Despite their age difference (Bill was 16 years her senior), Patricia and Bill were married in 1960 and had five children.
Building a town around the park
As Santa Claus Land grew, Koch believed that the town of Santa Claus needed to grow along with it. In the mid-1960s, he developed a 2,300-acre (9.3 km2) gated community known as Christmas Lake Village, where the majority of the town's residents now live. He also built the town hall and a shopping center that today is decorated in a Christmas theme all year long.
When Koch started, the town had a population of 37 people. Today, more than 2,200 call Santa Claus home.
Bill Koch died at his home in Santa Claus on September 17, 2001, at the age of 86.
Following his death, and in recognition of the many developments he was responsible for, the state of Indiana named Indiana State Highway 162 from Gentryville to Interstate 64 as the "William A. Koch Memorial Highway."