September 17, 2001
Santa Claus, IN -- The man who developed the world's first theme park and built the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, passed away at home this evening at the age of 86.
William Albert Koch, Sr. will be remembered as a man of great vision. From the development of Santa Claus Land (now called Holiday World & Splashin' Safari) to the establishment of Christmas Lake Village, a rural community designed to reverse Spencer County's population drain, Bill Koch took risks to fulfill his dream of developing the town of Santa Claus into an exceptional place to live and visit.
Born in Evansville in 1915 to Louis J. and Clarice A. Koch, William (nicknamed Bill) was a 1932 graduate of Reitz High School and a 1937 graduate of Purdue University. He conducted post-graduate work in naval architecture at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and served in the Navy in World War II.
After returning from the war, he was on hand when Santa Claus Land opened on August 3, 1946. Despite initial concerns that his father's retirement project was a folly, Bill Koch became involved and was soon general manager of what would eventually be known as the first theme park in the world.
In 1962, Koch was present when President John Kennedy signed legislation creating the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in nearby Lincoln City, Indiana. He was also instrumental in persuading the federal government to reroute Interstate 64 so that when it was built in the 1970s it would run through extreme southern Indiana. One of his most recent projects was the upcoming rerouting and expansion of U.S. 231 through Spencer County.
Visitation arrangements for Bill Koch are pending. A funeral mass will be conducted St. Nicholas Church in Santa Claus, with burial in the church cemetery.
Koch is survived by his wife of 40 years, Patricia Yellig Koch, plus their five children: Will and Philip of Santa Claus, Daniel of Miami, Florida; Dr. Kristi Koch George of Indianapolis, and Natalie Koch, of West Lafayette, Ind. He is also survived by a sister, Katheryne Bosse, of Longboat Key, Florida.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the W.A. Koch Family Fund, which is part of the Spencer County Community Foundation.