Holiday World owner passes away at age 48

June 14, 2010, 7:24 AM · Will KochI'm not sure if you have heard the sad news about Will Koch, president of Holiday World and CEO of Koch Development Corporation, which owns the park. He died last night, at age 48. Below is what was written on Holiday World's Facebook page.
We are heartbroken. Our beloved leader, Will Koch, passed away last night. We believe it was due to his Type 1 diabetes. Please say a prayer for the family and for all of us here at the park. He was so much more than a boss, he was a dear, sweet friend. As we know he would have wanted, the park will be open today and we'll all try our best to smile and provide wonderful memories to the families who visit us. And also as Will wanted, the park will remain owned and operated by his family.

Editor's note: Stunning. Yeah, I'm supposed to be a writer, but I can't possibly articulate anything that expresses how crushed I feel as a theme park fan, nor how many of you surely feel.

Holiday World's The Voyage won our Best Theme Park Attraction Tournament this spring, and I heard from multiple sources how thrilled Will was to earn that honor.

I never met Will Koch, but he was one of the good folks in the theme park business, someone who helped build what was once a roadside attraction into a world-class theme park. And he did it, as everyone who has done that, through an obsessive focus on customer service. For that, we are all grateful.

Koch is survived by his wife, Lori, and three children: Lauren, Leah, and William. He is also survived by his mother, Pat, and siblings Dan, Kristi, Philip and Natalie.

Let's send our condolences to the Koch and Holiday World families, via the comments.

(Update (June 16): Since the death of a person in his 40s is somewhat unusual, I thought that I should note for the record that the coroner reports that Koch drowned in the family's swimming pool.)

Replies (33)

June 14, 2010 at 7:42 AM · Very sad. Our thoughts and condolences go out to them. Their family has meant a lot to those of us living in Indiana as well as theme park fans all over.
June 14, 2010 at 7:52 AM · This indeed is a heartbreaking news. My condolences are with family. Will Koch created an ideal family themepark and will always be remembered by themepark fans.


June 14, 2010 at 8:00 AM · I've been to a large number of parks in the Midwest. I must say none has the feel of Holiday World. The reason this park is different from all others is that it still has that family feel. The Koch family is the reason Holiday World is the "Happiest Place in the World." Will really had fun and it showed. Many are wondering how I know he had fun, it's because if you attended his park you saw him. He walked the grounds, ran the rides and even subbed in the band because one of the band members had to attend his graduation. He was a stand up guy and ran a first class park.
I can't imagine how terrible his family and employees feel at this time. I do know that most of Southern Indiana is in shock and very sad by this news.
June 14, 2010 at 8:33 AM · How sad to hear this. My mother has had type 1 diabetes for over 30 years and I know the worries his family has had to deal with concerning his health. My prayers are with them as they not only have to deal with his sudden death, but also now the job of trying to run the park the way he would have wanted.
June 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM · I've never been to Holiday World, but it is on my to do list, especially with all of the great press it received here during the tourney. The way the park has been praised recently as being in touch with it's guests has impressed me, and made me glad to think that there was a park that had a personal touch of magic to it, much in the way that Disneyland had in it's early years. The park as an entity seemed to get IT, and I respected management for what they had accomplished and were trying to do. Now that I hear Mr. Koch was the type of owner who walked the grounds and was in touch with the park intimately, much in the way Disney was, I am very saddened to hear of this loss. First and foremost for his friends and family of course, my codolences and thoughts go out to them. Also though for the theme park industry. In a world of corporate run chains, and upper management turnover where the next suit in charge could care less, I find it refreshing that there was a park where the owner truly cared, and his efforts were rewarded by the level of success and good will that was returned and wished upon him by the community he aspired to serve so thoughtfully. Farewell Mr. Koch, I hope that your legacy at Holiday World is reflected in the care and integrity that you sincerely put into your job, by the people you have left behind, and that the park continues to grow and florish for generations to come, while never losing sight of the ideals instilled by you that got them there in the first place.
June 14, 2010 at 12:16 PM · How sad and tragic. My thoughts and prayers to the family. I never knew him, nor did I meet him, but if Holiday World's philosophies and customer service are any indication of the man who was at the controls, I'm sure that this world is a lesser place today.

The industry has indeed lost one of the good guys. As all great showmen do, Will Koch put his audience first and gave them more than their money's worth. Because of that, his small regional park in the middle of the southern Indiana corn is now nationally recognized, highly regarded, and dearly loved by the people who've been there. The success Holiday World now enjoys was obtained in ways that make the heads of corporate suits and MBAs spin. Instead of charging his customers for the little things, Will Koch said to hell with the bottom line and gave them away. The 4 dollar soda at another park became a free one at Holiday World, and the 10 dollar parking fee simply didn't exist. Despite the disregard for profit and revenue, Will and his park were able to come up with some of the greatest coasters in the world, one of which toppled the Theme Park giants to win best attraction here at Theme Park Insider. Holiday World created an atmosphere not of hundred million dollar rides and technology, but one of tradition, integrity, value, service, and fun, and they continue to win the hearts of almost everyone who walk through their gates because of the values he instilled.

From the looks of things, I don't think it was all about money for him and his family so much as it was about entertaining and treating every single guest like they were a piece of gold. He knew that this business isn't really about money, it's about people. For that reason, Holiday World is a success and a shining example of all that is good about amusement parks and American business. He leaves behind not only a family, but also a gold standard for the industry to measure itself by, and a painfully simple philosophy that corporate boards in glass towers will have to study for years to come. Because of Will Koch and his family, Holiday World is truly an American success story.

June 14, 2010 at 9:29 AM · I was very sad when I saw the news this morning. My family and I were going to visit HW last week, but postponed due to weather.

Every year we have seen Pat at the front gate welcoming guests (we like to refer to her as "Grandma".) Each year we would see Will makign his way through the park greeting guests and mentoring his team.

He obviously loved his job. I like my job, but he LOVED his job. That love showed in everything in the park. He was always smiling and it wasn't an act. He was born to run Holiday World.

He had 20 years to make millions of people happy - if only for a day or two. Any life that can speak to that level of accomplishment is a life well lived - no matter how short of a time he had.

The McLain family sends our thoughts and prayes to the Koch family and all of the extended Holiday World team. Will is going to be missed by his family, the company and the community around Santa Claus, IN.

Today, Santa shed a tear.

June 14, 2010 at 10:44 AM · My first trip ever to Holiday World was just a few short weeks ago over the Memorial Day weekend. After all of the hype surrounding The Voyage during this year's TPI tournament, I just had to check it out, and I'm glad that I did. Will Koch's hard work, determination, and love for customer service did not go unnoticed. I appreciated his park's attention to detail as well as the family-friendly service that is so often overlooked at many of the large chains. Although I did not know this man, I am saddened by this sudden news. May his park live on in Will's memory, and may his family find some peace in this time of sorrow.
June 14, 2010 at 11:34 AM · I am just heartbroken to hear this sad news. It is not only a loss for the Koch family but for the theme and amusement park world.
The Koch family has done such an amazing job with Holiday World & Splashin' Safari. Will's enthusiasm was contagious and his spirit will live on through the park. I hope to get up there this season to have a ride on the Voyage just for Will.
My thoughts & prayers go out to the Koch family and all the wonderful staff at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari.
June 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM · I'm shocked and saddened by this news. I had the unique experience of dealing with almost every theme park executive team last year as I pitched them my theme park iPhone App that I had built. Every single theme park executive team I talked with was interested in the economics first, but Holiday World was interested in how it could help their customers. Even though they went with a different company at the end of the day their executives were fast, professional, and courteous when dealing with me. Their commitment to their customers is amazing, and you can tell they are true theme park fans. I hope that the Koch family can continue the legacy that Will Koch built and protected.
June 14, 2010 at 12:47 PM · So sad to hear this news. Our family has been going to Holiday for many, many years. It was always clean & very economical. I love that it is close to home & it was family owned. Will had a wonderful vision & I want to express our sympathy to his family.
June 14, 2010 at 12:58 PM · We are shocked and sad to hear of Will's passing. We are sorry for your loss our family wants to extend our prayers to all the Holiday World Personnel as well as to the family. We did not know you personnally but we sure felt we knew you and your family because of all the visits to the park and just seeing your smiling face. You seemed to never meet a stranger. God bless you! Sandra Jones and Family Owensboro, KY
June 14, 2010 at 1:02 PM · I am so sorry to hear of this loss - we have season tickets to Holiday World and love what this family has made - a place for families to get away from the hustle & bustles of the world and enjoy having fun together as a family in a place that is a relaxing, safe & fun environment that seems to be untouched by some of the moral changes in the world. Thank you for the legacy that you leave. My prayers are with the family and his friends as they deal with their grief, may the Lord strengthen them & bring them comfort and peace. May they be comforted in knowing the millions of smiles that have been enjoyed throughout the years.

Robin LaChance

P.S. The Voyage Roller Coaster which he helped to design is my favorite wooden roller coaster around. Thank you Mr. Koch!

June 14, 2010 at 1:02 PM · My family and I are very saddened to learn of his passing. We travel to the park every year and we all LOVE it. My children choose the park over a beach vacation every year.
Our thoughts and Prayers go out to his family and friends and to his "Holiday World family" as well.
May God Bless and surround you all during this tough time.
The Daniels family
Lowmansville, Ky
June 14, 2010 at 1:03 PM · I just returned from taking a group of Boy Scouts to Holiday World. We spent the day there Saturday, June 12. I hadn't been to the park for a few years and was very impressed with what I saw. We were grateful for the free soft drinks and sunblock. It was really hot and sunny and this saved our wallets and saved the boys' skin from sunburn. As we went all through the park, we were very impressed with the atmoshphere. The young people there always asked to make sure that we were having a good time. They weren't just going through the motions to collect a pay check; they had been taught that happy customers are the life blood to their business. These "kids" really wanted to make sure that we had a good time. The family atmosphere spilled over in to the attidtude of every employee that I cam in contact with. They were friendly, courteous, polite, and kept the park spotlessly clean.
I wish that I had met Mr Koch because he sounds like he was one of the really great guys. I have met the legacy that Mr Koch has left behind and he can rest knowing that he did a great job in helping to better all of those that he came in contact with, either directly or indirectly.
May God bless and comfort the Koch family and family of employees that continue to make others forget about their cares and have the best times of their life at Holiday World and Splashin' Safari.

Jim B of Indianapolis

June 14, 2010 at 1:05 PM · we are so sorry for your loss, our family has gone to holiday world for the past 9 years, we always stay in the area, we have family that travel to holiday world from as far as Oklahoma. holiday world is more than a theme park it is a wonderful family park. please know that your family is in our thoughts and prayers.
the mckown family
June 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM · This is so very sad, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Holiday World sure does represent what a wonderful man he truly was. We are very fortunate to have such a wondeful place here in Indiana and he will be greatly missed.
June 14, 2010 at 1:11 PM · My heart goes out to the Koch family and Holiday World Staff. My family always took a trip up there each summer. Now that I have children of my owm my husband and I were planning our trip for next week to take our kids for their second time going to Holiday World The trip just won't be the same without seeing Will there. Mrs. Pat Koch is a amazing women to be at Holiday World working today unlike most of us who would be at a total loss of what to do. She is a very strong lady and must know that Will would have wanted it that way. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family and the staff at Holiday World. I bet Will is on the fastest and the highest rollar coaster of his life right now enjoying every bit of it! God Bless them and to always remember it's our loss but Heaven's Gain!!!!!

Holiday World Fan (Gone but Not Forgotten) Melody!!!!!

June 14, 2010 at 1:20 PM · I have been to Holiday world several times and try to make it part of every summer. The Koch family is very involved in their park and even visit with the visitors. How many theme parks do you see that at??? it's a great place and I hope the loss of Will doesn't interfere with that and if the rest of the family is like him, it won't change.
June 14, 2010 at 1:25 PM · I have been visiting Holiday World since it was Santa Claus Land way back when. I have never left upset with anyone or unhappy with how my visit went. Will Koch and his family made sure that our time with them at Holiday World was an unforgettable experience every time we were there. This morning as I watched the local news, my heart ached as if I had lost a family member of my own. I was also touched when I saw his mother in many pictures posted on the Internet, standing at the front gate this morning to greet park visitors, as well as well-wishers and mourners. She is truly a class act! The Kochs are such an inspiration to all of us. May God's hand be upon them during this difficult and tragic time!! I pray for comfort for his mother, wife, children, siblings and park employees. God Bless them all!
June 14, 2010 at 1:25 PM · Nearly speechless..

We have all lost an amazing person from our reality.
I'm so very happy I got to see him a week ago; engaged and enjoying his life!

June 14, 2010 at 1:32 PM · I have seen and spoken to Will Koch at Holiday World before. He was a nice man with an awesome theme park. RIP Will Koch. The world will mourn your passing. All my prayers go out to your family.
June 14, 2010 at 3:41 PM · im so sorry to hear what happened ill be going to the park for the first time this year phyllis brody elizabethtown ky
June 14, 2010 at 3:46 PM · i work there in 09 till 09 and he was a really great person. he loved the park and he loved meeting new pople. i will be in the park in about 2 weeks. he will be miss so much i am praying for the family and friend. and the co works..
June 14, 2010 at 3:47 PM · This is absolutely shocking & heartbreaking news. Just last weekend I was at Holiday World for Holiwood Nights & saw Will spending time with guests, laughing, answering questions, & even playing with a cover band during our cook-out on Saturday night. This was my first trip to Holiday World & it was probably my most memorable amusement/theme park experience & Holiday World quickly became my favorite park. Each & every guest seemed to be treated like they were VIPs & the entire staff, Will included, aimed to please.

My condolences go out to his family, his friends, his coworkers, and everyone that he touched.

June 14, 2010 at 4:27 PM · we will miss you but are prayer are with you and your family. we will miss you
June 14, 2010 at 4:36 PM · There are times when words cannot fully express that which one wishes to share. Therefore I will simply offer my sincerest condolences...and my gratitude to a man whose life's work had an extremely positive impact on my family in a very short span of time.
June 14, 2010 at 4:59 PM · My heart and prayer's go out to Will's family, and the staff of Holiday World. Ive only been there once, but I had the time of my life with my family for two day's. I think Will has created a World class park, and his legacy will live on for year's to come. Steve Headlee. Columbus, Indiana
June 14, 2010 at 6:31 PM · The last time we were at Holiday World, Will and Pat were greeting everyone at the front gate, at the opening of the park at the beginning of the day. That is something you don't see with the other parks. I was stunned to hear the news today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.
June 15, 2010 at 7:06 AM · My sincere condolences to the Holiday World family. As a huge theme park fan, I've often thought of just picking up and heading out there to visit the park, but have just not gotten there. Just simply from what I've read about it here on TPI and in other media, it sounds like an incredible place - a place where the focus is on families having a great day doing fun things together! Financial success is a side effect of providing excellence in customer service. There are so few places like that in today's world. I hope that they honor his legacy by keeping things exactly as they are. Rest in Peace Mr. Koch
June 15, 2010 at 9:58 AM · I have read everyone's comments so far, There is so much missing but I am so speechless. Prayers to the family, friends and workers. From the first Class theme park, to a first class water park, to free Pespi and sunscreen, Free parking and customer pick up in the parking lot to and from your car, van or what ever.
They Koch family made you think you are coming over for a fun time in there BIG back yard. Boy do they have a Great back yard.
They made you feel welcome from the time you are driving to park. to when you get off the train to leave. If you have never been there, you are missing a great family outing.
Love the Lazy river that you can float on ALL day and never have to leave.
Rest In Peace, Will.

Kevin Goedde
Haubstadt, In.

June 16, 2010 at 5:24 AM · My wife always talks about the quality of Hloiday World no matter what park we attend and how great the Koch's have made it. Our prayers and condolences are with you in this trying time.
June 18, 2010 at 11:35 AM · About 10 years ago we had season passes to Holiday World. My kids loved the water park and I'd work in the mornings then we'd run over (about 1 hour drive) and spend the afternoon there. I remember a couple times when I really needed to keep working, I took my laptop and found a table in the center of the waterpark. The kid would splash and slide and have a great time and come back and check in every hour. However, there were no clocks around on the buildings at the time.

Will Koch came by, sat down, and we talked for probably 20 minutes one afternoon. I suggested that clocks on the buildings would help with keeping track of time for everyone for meeting up to regroup, eat, or whatever.

The kids and I were back at Holiday World and Splashin' Safari 2 weeks later for an afternoon. And there were clocks!!!

That's the type of guy Will Koch was. He'd take time to visit with guests and listen to their needs and ideas.

Praying for all the family and employees during this difficult time.

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