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After 50 years, Holiday World Artist retires

By Leah Koch-Blumhardt

Rick Emmons, Holiday World’s artist of 52 years, retires this week

If you’ve been to Holiday World or Santa Claus Land in the last half-century or so, you’ve seen the work of Rick Emmons. Frankly, you’d have to work hard not to see his work.

His official title is Sign Shop Manager, but the title doesn’t entirely convey what Rick does. He’s our logo creator. He’s our carousel horse designer and painter. He’s our sign-hanger-upper. He’s designed, printed, and hung many of the banners throughout the park. And most famously, he’s our mural painter.

If you recall the murals from Kringle’s Kafe that stand today in Santa’s Merry Marketplace, those were painted by Rick. If you’ve taken a picture with our Santa Claus Land mural on the Skeeball building, that was Rick. If you’ve appreciated the artistry behind the Thunderbird logo, that was Rick. If you throw a rock in the park (not literally), you’ll probably hit something Rick has designed or painted.

Rick Emmons, Holiday World & Splashin' Safari's painter, poses with paintbrushes and palette in front of one of his murals.

When he began seasonally in 1972—almost a decade before Pat Sajak began his career on Wheel of Fortune, I might add—the signs were hand-painted. He made many signs the “old fashioned way” as he puts it. Some examples include the signs for the Banshee, Congo River, Virginia Reel, and Thunder Bumpers.


But as Santa Claus Land grew rapidly, so did the signage needs. Thankfully, technology was rapidly adapting, and my dad, Will Koch, was a total nerd. Here’s what Rick said about it:

“The timing could not have been better. It was the late 80’s and Will was just starting to take the reins from his father, and he was very enthusiastic about technology as I am sure you are aware. Anytime I would approach him about a new gadget to help with sign making he would try to work it in the budget. It wasn’t always successful, but maybe next year. Things were happening crazy fast in the infancy of computers and software and it was awesome to have your boss and CEO be as stoked about it as you were.”

Rick receives a service award from Will Koch

Even as technology advanced, Rick continued to enjoy painting large projects by hand. Rick painted the iconic Kringle’s Kafe murals around 1990/1991. One of my favorite memories is staring at the “big mural” and counting the elves. Rick remembers saving that one to paint last because it was so complex and there were so many elves.

In 1990, Rick also created the art for Raging Rapids advertisements. He’s had a shirt hanging in the sign shop for as long as I can remember, and I LOVE the art. The style is so unique, but what impresses me so much about Rick is that what he creates today looks totally different. Not only has he kept up with technology masterfully, but he’s also kept up with graphic design styles and trends without missing a beat.

The “Big” Mural with all the elves

Artwork of Raging Rapids in Boulder Canyon

Rick’s duplicated, hand-drawn Raging Rapids art

Rick is a humble guy, so you won’t catch him bragging about his work. But if you ask him what project was the most challenging, he’ll tell you Thunderbird—from helping create the paint treatment that went on our barn station, to creating all of the signs for a new ride, plus a gift shop, plus a restaurant, plus a bathroom. Not to mention, the sign itself, while proportional to the station, is enormous.

He’ll also tell you that the Santa Claus Land mural on the side of our Skeeball building was one of his most complex undertakings. From picking a font that had a wide enough stroke to fit the images in, to picking images that would translate well into the mural, to painting outdoors during a particularly snowy winter, it was a huge undertaking. But the result is outstanding.

Mural that reads "Santa Claus Land" with images from the parks' history embedded in the letters

If you ask Rick what his favorite project has been, he’ll say it’s the Wildebeest logo and sign. Because he loved the way the words turned into a literal wildebeest head and tail, but also because it was the last project he got to work on with my dad.

Entrance to Wildebeest Water Coaster at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.

But one of the best things about Rick is that he’s been quietly sharing his art with the entire community outside of Holiday World. He’s done hundreds of projects in the community. If you notice that our local hardware store has elves on the sign—that was Rick. He designed the original Santa’s Car Care sign, which featured Santa driving a Rolls Royce. He helped paint sets for the Lincoln Boyhood Drama. When he was a senior in high school, he helped draw homes for the Tour of Homes in Santa Claus in 1974.

Rick is retiring at the end of this week, after more than half a century of sharing his art with us. He generally shies away from the limelight, but we’ve convinced him to let us tell his story. Tune into The Official Holiday World Podcast on July 1 for an interview with Rick, and some of the history we found that he shaped. Here’s one of the most humbling things he said during the interview:

“People – they talk about, you know, what I’ve done – and they do see it and I hope they enjoy it. But I feel like I’ve gotten probably more out of it and am more thankful for having the opportunity that the Koch family and the supporting staff is having really the chance to do this close to home, to actually do something I have a passion for. And I’ve always thought I’ve been one of the luckiest people in the world. Thanks.”

It’s difficult to put into words the way that Rick and his talent have shaped Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. For 52 of our 78 years (that’s two-thirds, by the way!), he’s been designing logos and signs all around the park for three generations of this four-generation, family-owned business.

So to Rick, on behalf of my family, I say thank you. Thank you for your years of dedication and service. Thank you for sharing your talent with us and making Holiday World a more beautiful place. Thank you for being committed to making everything you do excellent.

More selfishly, thank you for sticking around these last 10 years. It has been a pleasure getting to know you better and work with you.

Congratulations on an exceptional career. We’re the lucky ones.

P.S. We hope you haven’t painted your last Holiday World mural. Come back any time.