…so let's take a minute to say Happy Birthday to a very special man.
Bill Koch was born in Evansville on January 10, 1915. He graduated from Reitz High School in 1932 and Purdue University in 1937. Then it was off to Annapolis for post-graduate work at the U.S. Naval Academy and ship reconstruction work at Pearl Harbor after the attack.
I had the pleasure of working for Mr. Koch for more than a decade.
I loved to sit it on interviews and learn about his fascinating life. Somehow there was always a story I hadn't heard before.
When Mr. Koch returned to Indiana after the war, he was at loose ends professionally. He checked in on his dad, who was working on a retirement project up in the tiny town of Santa Claus.
"I thought he'd gone crazy," he told me once, laughing.
Well, apparently the "crazy gene" has been passed along from generation to generation. Mr. Koch never left Santa Claus Land. Within a few years, his dad named him General Manager and park slowly began to grow. Here's a photo of him with his parents in 1956:
Mr. Koch didn't marry until he was 45 years old.
His bride was well worth the wait. Here's a wedding photo of Bill and Pat Koch with her parents from just a few days after Christmas in 1960:
Mr. Koch's legacy includes the development of the town, not just the park. He believed in consensus building, whether it was to help bring better highways to the area or work with Congress to help a local state park be named a national memorial for Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home.
Mr. and Mrs. Koch raised five children. As their children grew, so did the park. He was so delighted when we added first The Raven and then The Legend. Although he never rode our coasters, he still got a thrill out of talking to those who did.
Bill passed away in 2001 at the age of 86. His legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren (it's grandson William's birthday today, too!), the park, town and southern Indiana.
Happy birthday, Mr. Koch. I'm a better person for having known you.