As you likely read here or heard elsewhere, Will Koch, former President and Owner of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, passed away a couple of months ago after drowning, likely due to complications from diabetes.
The loss of Will Koch struck home with me, as I always found him to be a bit of a role model in terms of the way he ran Holiday World. He managed to put the park on the map of amusement destinations, without ruining the traditional family appeal of the park, combining the old with the new…no small feat. It’s one of the parks that I always used as a model and influence for my own “dream park,” should I ever find the means and money to open it. Free parking, free soda, free sunscreen, great wooden coasters, a great selection of other rides, clean, friendly, and good food…what more could you ask for?
As an ACE member, I have a great appreciation for traditional-style and family owned parks, as they have an atmosphere which the big-thrill and corporate parks just can’t match. I have an even greater respect for the families who continue to run the parks for the love of the business and industry, rather than strictly the bottom line (though obviously they MUST consider this to stay in business).
After his death, I contacted several ACE Representatives as well as others who I thought may have had experiences with Will they might want to share. I wanted to create this blog in remembrance of Will and all he did for the amusement industry.
ACE has always had a special relationship with the staff of Holiday World, so his death, no doubt, comes as a huge loss for both Holiday World and ACE. When asked about Will’s relationship with ACE, Mark Cole, current ACE President, said “ACE and Will have had a good relationship over the years. He looked to ACE when they were building Raven to ask what kind of cars would we like to see on the coaster. We were asked to participate in many activities at the park.” Similarly, Anthony Tanner, Asst. Regional Rep for the Midwest Region, responded that “Will greatly understood us crazy ACE'ers and we greatly appreciated Will. The manner in which he ran Holiday World & Splashin' Safari were exactly what ACE was looking for…ACE loves Holiday World because of Will Koch.”
Will was responsible for many innovative amusement park ideas, such as the aforementioned free sunscreen, free parking, and free sodas—things rarely seen at ANY amusement parks these days. This, however, is only a small piece of his legacy. He added three world class wooden coasters, helped the park break one million visitors annually. Tanner summed it up with a simple phrase, “My personal opinion is that his biggest legacy is Holiday World.” He went on to say that “free parking, free soda, worlds best wooden coasters would all be signature topics of a park, but will did it all. Every aspect of Holiday World is his legacy.”
Tanner recalls one of his few encounters with the legendary Will Koch at the Holiday Hustle event at Holiday World this past year. He mentions that the National Geographic Channel, school bands, and ACE were all there on the same day, and Will had a wedding to attend that day. Despite all of this going on in one day, Tanner was impressed that he still made an appearance at the event. “I was amazed that he had all kinds of things going on at the park and a wedding, but he felt it was important to tell us goodnight at the end of our event. Great man!”
To many, this is just another simple example of the kind of man Will was, and his and his family’s close relationship with ACE and those who love the industry. I have never heard anyone say anything bad about Will ever, and I doubt I ever will. Too often, the charm of a park is lost in its corporate budget, its search for the “next biggest thing,” or an owner who cares more about the bottom-line than the park itself, its atmosphere, and fully satisfied customers. Will was proof that if you truly love the industry you work in, and strive to make things better and make sure your customers are satisfied, success will follow. His brother Dan, now the new owner and manager of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, has some big shoes to fill, but given the family’s history, I feel confident for the future of the park.