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28 September 2011 - 6:48pm
22 September 2011 - 6:06pm
It was the summer of 2002, less than a year after Mr. Koch passed away.
A lovely bipartisan effort by our state legislature resulted in the renaming of a portion of Highway 162 the "William A. Koch Memorial Highway."
We put together an unveiling ceremony, using one of the huge highway signs.
It was to be in the Hoosier Celebration Theater, the outdoor theater located not far from the entrance to Splashin' Safari. And Governor O'Bannon would be on hand to talk about his late friend Bill Koch and take part in the unveiling.
I'm one of those cross-the-t's-and-dot-the-i's person. A multi-page memo was in everyone's hands well ahead of time to make sure everything went perfectly.
And it did.
Well ... almost.
The Hoosier Celebration Theater is located on the edge of the Halloween section. I was rather pleased with myself that I'd thought to include a note to make sure the themed music for that section was turned off shortly before the ceremony commenced. That way, the speeches and vocal performances within the outdoor venue wouldn't clash with the Halloween music (theme from Psycho, anyone?).
The news media arrived en masse. Former Indiana Governor Whitcomb, local officials, the Koch family, curious park guests, and some of our staff packed the theater.
We were waiting for Governor O'Bannon to arrive and make a suitable entrance. The spirit was jovial and the Governor was only a few minutes late.
Just as he entered the back of the theater to thunderous applause, I realized that turning off the Halloween music wasn't enough. 4th of July was still going strong.
No problem ... everyone likes a patriotic tune, right?
But just as Governor O'Bannon, beaming, entered the theater, those of us located on the left side of the seating area heard it immediately. From the 4th of July section, the unmistakable anthem: Daaaah-dum dah daaaaaah-dum!
The Imperial March.
Darth Vader's Theme.
I looked over. The Governor was still surrounded by his constituents. Lots of hand shaking, back slapping and chatting.
Good. They couldn't hear it.
I then turned to look at the news media.
They were in stitches.
Watching me instead of the governor. Enjoying my discomfort far too much! I clutched my two-way radio and called Base: Please turn off the 4th of July music immediately! The reply was that the Entertainment Director would have to do it. Chris just happened to be in the theater's tech booth--mere yards from me. I looked back there -- our eyes locked (his were as big as saucers).
I knew he couldn't leave the booth.
Daaaaaaa-da-da duh-dah-duh... I thought I heard the Dark Lord's labored breathing.
Oh. That was me.
The news media's mirth was becoming audible. Chris made a quick phone call. Suddenly The Imperial March halted. And the ceremony continued without further incident.
I always thought the Governor (on the far left) would get a kick out of that story.
Sadly, that kind and gracious man passed away the following year.
I'll always remember that day as a mixture of tears and laughter.
And the day the Force was with us.
Originally posted 5/19/05
17 September 2011 - 11:09am
Ten years ago today, we said good-bye to a wonderful man.
Bill Koch devoted his life to developing Santa Claus Land and the town of Santa Claus.
Bill and Pat Koch made quite a team.
Here there are in 1999, trying out one of the trains for The Legend wooden coaster, which opened in 2000.
Nathan put together this video tribute to Mr. Koch, which will be shown at this afternoon's Golden Ticket Awards ceremony.
Thanks to Rick Sebak at WQED public television in Pittsburgh, for sharing this interview footage of Bill Koch, shot in 1998 as part of Rick's "Great Old Amusement Parks" documentary.
15 September 2011 - 6:29pm
With the annual Golden Tickets Award ceremony coming up this Saturday (we're hosting the event), thought it would be fun to dust of this Hospitality Training story, which was first posted on 6/6/05.
It doesn't just happen, folks.
It's not something in the water. ...or in the free, unlimited soft drinks.
We have to work on being friendly.
It means reporting for work at 7:30 am for Hospitality Training.
In the morning.
How friendly is that?
We pack the Holiday Theater for three mornings this week as we bulk up on what it's all about.
We tell stories and read emails aloud. One in particular brought tears to my eyes: A father wrote to thank us for helping his family to forget about his cancer for a day. He hadn't heard his wife and son laugh in a long, long time.
We remind everyone that we don't know what the families visiting us might be going through. Maybe they're celebrating a birthday. Maybe they've been counting down the days for months. Maybe there's just been a divorce in the family. Maybe Junior barfed in the car on the way down.
You just don't know, do you?
We talk about the little things...and the big things. And someone (it was Will this year) always asks for a show of hands:
Anyone out there shy?
Well...if they're truly shy, they might not be too eager to raise their hands, right? We always get a chuckle out of that.
Corny, I know.
Next, Mrs. Koch told us about how she enjoys greeting families as they arrive at the front gate. Even though not everyone responds, she keeps trying.
Will couldn't resist: We have to do a good job. Otherwise, the business will fail and we'll have to close. And Mom will have to get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter.
"No way!" she countered, somehow louder than the laughter. "I'd be an exotic dancer!"
Then Will: I'll give you all a moment to wipe that image from your mind.
Well, 7:30 am or no 7:30 am, everyone was wide awake then. The theater rocked with good-natured laughter.
Those two are quite a pair.
Mother and son.
Setting an example every day for the rest of us.
And starting our day with a smile.
8 September 2011 - 6:27pm
When a family-owned business has been around for 65 years, there are always new discoveries.
By that I mean ... we're forever finding precious old photos and mementos tucked away in odd places.
The other day, Mrs. Koch bounded into my office carrying a big box.
Look what we just found in the attic over Liberty Bell!
It was, indeed, a treasure trove of Koch and Santa Claus Land memories.
They're one and the same, really. Can't separate family photos from park photos.
There were old photos, slides, movies ... and this:
Now why in the world would we have an old menu in storage?
And one that's written on, for heaven's sake!
Here's the story...
In 1955, Bill Koch (five years before he married Santa's daughter, Pat Yellig) went on an around-the-world tour. He was quite the adventurer and enjoyed himself immensly. Nowadays, he would probably have been a blogger, but back then, he typed up "letters to home" about his trip, which were eventually made into a book for his family members.
While in Rome (sorry, couldn't resist) ... Mr. Koch dined at the famous Ristorante Alfredo.
Yes, that Alfredo.
Honest, this is Alfredo. This is the wonderful Italian who created the soothing mixture of noodles, butter and parmigiano cheese to help his expectant wife regain her appetite (Alfredo II was on the way, after all!).
Alfredo loved to make theater when he prepared his dish for others.
Although not a boisterous man, Bill Koch instinctively knew how to promote. He put Santa Claus, Indiana, on the map.
Can't help but wonder if that delicious plate of pasta, prepared with a proud flourish, might have inspired him in any way.
We lost that wonderful man not quite a decade ago. Nathan and Mrs. Koch are working on a tribute video, which we'll post here in a week or so.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are intrigued by the menu cover, we scanned the inside and back for you.