An office tour

Walking from one department to another in many businesses entails little more than going across a room, down a hall, or riding the elevator up to another floor.

Here at Holiday World, I'm learning you have to go the distance to get from one co-worker’s "desk" to another.

There are three ways to get between our different offices and work spaces sprawled across 125 acres here at the park. You can hop in your car and spend half a minute driving to another area of the park, but that can feel just downright silly. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones with a golf cart, the trip is even easier and you can stay on grounds. (I'm finding you can usually stick out a thumb and hitch a ride from a coworker, too.) The third and final option is to go for a stroll, down one hill and up another to get from point A to point B.

Yesterday, I chose to go by foot. Depending on the route you take, it’s a good five to 10-minute trek. It’s a time to grab a bit of fresh air and enjoy this amazing spring weather, the blooming Bradford pear trees, and everything else that comes with it.

Bradford pear trees blooming in spring

The symphony of preparations for the 2011 season is loud and clear. The beeping, creaking and grinding of heavy equipment rumbling around push dozens of park projects closer to completion.

I caught sight of several of our Coaster Maintenance Technicians, working high above the park, rhythmically driving new bolts into The Legend’s track. From a distance it sounded like a percussion competition with coaster techs going head to head with a woodpecker furiously tapping away in one of our stands of trees.

As I detoured for a closer look at what the racket was about, the coaster guys quickly questioned who was this strange man standing below them with a camera. Believe it or not, these guys aren’t regularly in the public spotlight, doing their most visible work during the hours we’re not open to the public.

Working on The Legend

“So who are you?” Bryan shouted 20-feet above me while drilling out a hole for a new bolt. I know I stick out like a sore thumb walking around the park, my dress slacks and polo shirt undeniably different from the Holiday World work uniforms.

I’m the new kid in class.

“I’m Nathan, the new guy working over in the PR department,” I hollered.

We shouted niceties back and forth, getting to know each other from a distance separated by wooden pilings, coaster track and safety nets.

“Well, I could use some extra hands up here,” Bryan laughed. “How about I just call over to Paula and let her know we’re going to put you to work up here on The Legend’s track for a little bit?”

“Give it a shot,” I tossed back, hoping my new boss wasn't ready to loan me out to a different department just yet.

Then another one of our Coaster Maintenance Technicians, James, arrived to help Bryan as they worked a new piece of side steel into The Legend’s track. I snapped some shots of them working high above the ground.

Coaster maintenance technicians, working on The Legend

“We do require a $100 royalty for each photo and it can be payable by check,” joked James.

It’s good to see these guys still have a good sense of humor while they’re physically toiling away and getting downright filthy to keep our coasters in tip-top shape.

Next, I nearly stumbled over members of our Grounds Crew marching up one path and down another planting dozens of new trees, fertilizing the grass, and pressure-washing every square-inch of surface in the park. (I'm quickly learning we like to keep everything exceptionally clean around here!)

Pressure washing the park prior to season opening.

This is the time of the year that you can feel the excitement of Opening Day steadily headed in our direction. Whether it’s learning to use a fire extinguisher (see video below) or scrubbing every available surface, scores of employees are already hard at work inside the park.

Soon, rather than the sounds of tile saws and pressure washers, the air will be filled with squeals of joy and excitement as families make even more memories here as we begin our 65th season.

“Oh, heavens!”

Joe Hevron, Army photo

If, in the past 65 years, you worked at Santa Claus Land or Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, you will no doubt recognize that phrase.

And who said it.

Oh, Joe…

Joe Hevron.

He’s the only person who worked here every year of our history.

All except when he served his country in the Army, during the Korean War.

Joe Hevron, Army man

Joe lived in the same house all of his life. How many of us can say that?

The house moved, but Joe never did.

Let me explain: Joe lived all his life in Lincoln City, which is about four miles west of us here in Santa Claus.

His family home was on land that was part of the original Lincoln farm. (Yes, that Lincoln.)

When the State of Indiana purchased the land so that Lincoln State Park could include the full Lincoln acreage, Joe’s family home was physically moved, but it remained in Lincoln City.

Oh, heavens!

Joe was born on May 9, 1929. The Great Depression was still months away and World War II a decade away.

Joe was a country boy.

Joe Hevron, school boy

He graduated from Dale High School in 1947. His uncle had helped him land a job down the road at a new place called Santa Claus Land.

He may not have realized it yet, but he was a career man.

Over the years, Joe worked on just about everything here at the park. Whatever needed to be done, Joe was happy to step up and do it.

Well, maybe not entertainment.

Come to think of it, though, my oldest son, Tom, tells me Joe would occasionally perform for his Cash Control crew: He’d bring in the CD for Les Miserables. When “Master of the House” played, Joe would dance along. It was hilarious.

Joe also brought in doughnuts every Sunday morning for his crew.

Just because he was Joe

As a parent, knowing Joe was my two older sons’ first boss was a blessing. I knew they would work hard and would enjoy every moment of it. Countless parents knew the same over the decades.

Here’s Joe Hevron, long before his Cash Control days:

Joe Hevron, train conductor

This photo was even a postcard. “Hey! You’re famous, Joe!”

Oh, heavens!

Joe would use that phrase in just about every way. It was his all-purpose reaction. It worked just fine whether he was surprised, amazed, interested, shocked or amused.

Kris Kamp grew up knowing Joe and eventually worked with him. Kris’s great-grandfather was Louis J. Koch, who founded Santa Claus Land.

Kris wrote: May Joe rest in peace while he joins Bill Koch and Will Koch in Heaven … playing cards together and having conversations about the past. Joe was a great man to work for and know personally; part of my work ethic I have today was learned from him. I will always remember his jokes, laughter, and knowledge he shared with me every day for eight years in Cash Control. I will truly miss him … and all he shared with me.

Joe Hevron, 1929 - 2011Natalie Koch, the youngest of Bill and Pat’s five children, writes: Working in Joe’s office was a rite of passage for all the Koch kids. The time I spent with Joe was one of the most enjoyable of my work experiences growing up. I remember working late on Saturday nights with Joe. After my father would leave, Joe would turn on the radio and listen to “A Prairie Home Companion.” I loved the way he would laugh at the jokes even though I was too young to understand them at the time.

Joe always set the example for hard work and he truly loved his job. Joe knew all the history of Santa Claus Land and Holiday World. He was a great source of information on just about any topic.

He taught me much about what it meant to be a loyal person with integrity and honesty. I will miss him tremendously. He was not just an employee but an important part of my family.

Joe didn’t have any children of his own; he never married.

But he was everyone’s favorite uncle

Joe Hevron and scholarship winners

Joe loved to see his crew members succeed. He’d applaud their plans for college and encouraged them to go after professional internships, even though it meant leaving him.

Joe studied, too. He loved history, especially to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, in particular, the 14 years young Abraham lived in what was to become Lincoln City, Joe’s hometown.

When he was just 12, Joe was chosen to help lay the cornerstone of the new Lincoln Memorial being built by the State of Indiana in what was then Lincoln State Park and is now the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Oh, heavens!

Joe and Pat in 1941

Joe is doing the heavy lifting in this 1941 photo. And who is the little girl in the ringlets? None other than 10-year-old Patsy Ann Yellig. (You know her as Pat Koch.)

Here they are together, a few years later:

Pat Koch and Joe Hevron

When I called Mrs. Koch on Tuesday evening to tell her Joe had gone to heaven, she sighed. So many years of friendship and fun. So much laughter and hard work. “Joe was the very definition of loyalty. Such a wonderful man.”

Several years ago during a meeting of the park’s directors, Will asked us about taking on a new challenge. He wanted us to help him decide whether to move forward with his idea. The reaction was mixed, and as we went around the conference-room table, some gave good reason why the proposal might not be do-able. Until we got to Joe. He took a deep breath and said very simply, “Will, if you think this is the right thing for the park, then we need to do it.”

You could have heard a pin drop. The decision was made. And we moved forward without looking back, continuing to grow and prosper.

Joe and Mr. Koch were wonderful friends. It was always fun to see them together. Sometimes it was all business. Other times they would swap stories and remember the days they were bachelors together.

Oh, heavens!

Here’s Bill Koch handing Joe a Service Award certificate (a company tradition, given out following each five years of service).

Joe Hevron and Bill Koch

Over the years, the Service Awards became plaques and then etched crystal awards.

One year, Will Koch added something new: the Holiday World Hall of Fame.

Joe Hevron was the first recipient

Will Koch and Joe Hevron

With the Holiday World Hall of Fame, there was more than a plaque. In future years, recipients received a generous check.

But for Joe, our Cash Control Chief, the bonus came packaged more appropriately.

Here’s Natalie Koch and her brother Philip, presenting a tray heaped with wrapped coins for Joe. (That’s Philip’s daughter, Alexa, taking a peek as Joe laughs.)

Natalie and Philip Koch with Joe Hevron (and little Alexa Koch)

Oh, heavens!

Susan Lautner, our Purchasing Manager, tells this story: I worked seasonally in cash control one entire summer and then weekends-only for several years and the ONLY time the radio was turned on was on Saturday evenings for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” My coworkers and I thought the show was kind of corny but hey, at least the radio was on! Joe loved that radio show and to this day any time I hear mention of Garrison Keillor it reminds me of Joe.

Sometimes, though, Joe would be much less predictable.

My middle son, John, remembers the time Joe switched it up. Instead of Les Miserables on the CD player, Joe popped in an ABBA album. The stunned crew said not a word as “Mama Mia,” “Honey Honey” and “SOS” played over and over all afternoon. When Joe stepped out for a minute, his staff members grinned in amusement.

“Joe – what the heck?”

Dan Koch remembers Joe fondly:

He always had a smile and a laugh. He was a kind-hearted, good-natured man. We should all strive to have the qualities that Joe had as an individual. He was a dear friend of my father from the time my father moved to Santa Claus in the mid ’40s until my father’s passing in 2001.

I have been told far too many stories about Joe and my father’s after-work fun to repeat here. But both Joe and my father had a tremendous work ethic, sense of values, enjoyment of work and respect for all individuals. Joe was a beloved friend of the Koch family beginning with my Grandfather L.J. Koch (Joe was hired by my grandfather) and all of my father’s siblings and their descendants. Joe was also a beloved friend of the Santa Claus Land and Holiday World family. I am brought to tears as I write this. God bless Joe. He will be missed.

Joe Hevron in a Lewis & Clark car

It was just last year that Joe faced a cancer diagnosis. He fought it like crazy and still came to work when he could. He didn’t want to be fussed over. Joe just wanted to be part of the team.

Everyone’s favorite uncle, Joe A. Hevron, will be buried in Old Pigeon Cemetery, on the same quiet plot of land where Abraham Lincoln’s only sister was laid to rest nearly 200 years ago. It’s located inside of Lincoln State Park in Joe’s beloved Lincoln City.

Visitation is tomorrow, Friday, March 11, from 3:00 to 8:00 pm CST at Fuller Funeral Home in Dale.

A Celebration of Joe’s Life will be held Saturday, March 12, at 10:00 am CST in the Lincoln Hall at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. If you’ve ever worked at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari (or even Santa Claus Land) and would like to wear your uniform, please do. Joe would be so pleased.

In lieu of flowers, Joe’s family suggests donations be made to the Dale Presbyterian Church Building Fund or the Old Pigeon Cemetery Fund.

This last story can’t be credited to anyone in particular, as nearly everyone has brought it up: Joe never forgot a person’s name. If he met you once, he remembered your name. And your story.

And Joe, we will never forget yours

Joe Hevron, 1929 - 2011

Rest in peace, dear friend.

“Excuse me, may I have this dance?”

Using this blog for little slice-of-life stories has been fun over the years.

Here’s a memory from 2002 I’d like to share. It involves Mrs. Koch and a very special coaster enthusiast.

Matthew Sullivan’s name may not be immediately recognized among coaster enthusiasts, because everyone called him Mamoosh.

Or simply Moosh.

I got up the nerve to ask him once where that silly name came from, hoping the explanation wasn’t too blue. Indeed, it was darling, just like Moosh. A young nephew had trouble pronouncing Matthew, and instead managed "Mamoosh."

It stuck.

Moosh was iconic in coaster-enthusiast circles. And it wasn’t because of how many coasters he’d ridden (although the number was quite high) or how many parks he’d visited (ditto). Moosh was special because he was so incredibly friendly and fun.

Matthew loved nothing more than to introduce friends who hadn’t yet met. He was a modern-day Coaster Yenta.

Moosh always worked the room, er, park during our enthusiast events … just having fun. Yes, he rode the coasters (and famously coined the term "Mooshed" for when a lateral force on a ride (most notably on The Legend) caused him to lean on (and squoosh) any ride partner lucky enough to be along for the fun.

Back in 2002, Mrs. Koch was finishing up her Masters Degree in Pastoral Ministry. During a meeting over the winter months she joked about never getting to go to a prom, no matter how many times she graduated.

An idea was born.

A quick phone call to Los Angeles later and Mamoosh got to work, quietly contacting enthusiasts who were planning to attend our Stark Raven Mad event to let them in on the secret. All told, during the event, Graduate Koch was showered with hundreds of graduation cards and countless hugs and good wishes. It was wonderful.

That evening at dinner, we even had a little dance (as all good proms do). There was a last-minute surprise guest that year — professional wrestler Mick Foley (aka Mankind, Dude Love and several other monikers) visited with two Wish Upon A Star children.

When the music started, Mick asked Mrs. Koch to dance. (She loves to dance, by the way.)

After a minute or so, I caught Mamoosh’s attention across the room and mouthed encouragingly, "Cut in!"

Moosh’s brown eyes widened and he shook his head slowly, sizing up the immensity of the legendary wrestler.

"No way!" he mouthed back.

Apparently, though, I was a bit more intimidating than the Hardcore Champion. It took three more "Get up there and cut in!" mouthings on my part and Moosh slowly stepped forward and tapped Mick lightly on the shoulder.

Of course, Mick was a gentleman and Moosh got his dance.

Pat Koch and Matthew "Mamoosh" Sullivan

Mrs. Koch was delighted.

This memory is especially sweet in that the angels took Moosh to heaven today.

Rest in peace, good and kind friend. Heaven just got a little bit more fun.

Retiring? Say it ain’t so!

We've known the day was coming since last year.

Should have been plenty of time to accept and prepare.

But still, it's a shock.

Our friend Rich Davis from the Evansville Courier & Press is putting down his pen.

And his laptop.

And videocam.

Surely there was a typo in Rich's column in the Sunday paper. It said he was 62. 


Rich, indeed, was "old school"; but never old.

"Old school" in that he believed in face-to-face, take-your-time interviews. He'd sit down for a chat, smiling that almost-shy, sweet smile. He'd really listen. And then he'd craft a story. Not an article, but a story.

I first met Rich in 1992, when he came to Holiday World to cover our bungee jumping show. We did "the bungee thing" for just one season and Rich was fascinated.

At least once a season, sometimes more, for the next two decades we looked forward to seeing Rich in person at the park. And he always rode what the new ride was — from The Raven in 1995 to Wildebeest just last May.

There were phone calls, too. He got to teasing me late each season: "Hey, Paula — I'm reading online you're getting a new coaster. What can you tell me?" Oh, Rich … you know I can't tell you anything yet…

Over the last five years or so, Rich has had to push beyond old-school duties. Suddenly he was also photographer and videographer.

"Paula … do you know how to work this thing? They showed me right before I left to come up here, but I'm not sure which button…"

Here's Rich back in 2008, interviewing Will the morning we announced Pilgrims Plunge. Rich took notes, recorded audio, plus shot photos and video.

Rich interviews Will back in 2008

That next spring, we planned a tweet-up for the first rides on Pilgrims Plunge. Rich wanted to follow the contest to choose the first riders, but called me in a near-frantic state, hoping I remembered his Twitter handle.

Old-school came in handy with his pal Frieda. Rich interviewed our perennial "flower lady" several times over the decades. Whenever Rich and I spoke, he'd always ask, "How's Frieda?"

When Frieda retired two years ago, we didn't want to turn her party into a media event, but still we invited two journalist friends, including Rich. Last year, he was even invited to her 100th birthday celebration.

Hmmm. Rich is retiring at 62 and Frieda retired at 99.

Rich — if you're looking to start a second career, we're still hiring in Rides…


Mrs. Koch, a stand-up lady

This morning, a TV crew came to the park to interview Mrs. Koch about her induction into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.

As they were fussing to balance their lighting angles, she just couldn’t help herself…

"Wow. This is taking more preparation than for my colonscopy yesterday!"

Well, that more than broke the ice. 

And she was off to the races…

"Before they started. they asked me to show a photo i.d. Like I would try to sneak in to get a colonoscopy? Who does that?!"

All work stopped.

"And why do they make you drink that horrible stuff? All I would need is a bowl of onion soup. That would do the trick just as well."

Mrs. Koch, you should do stand up…

Somehow the concept of a colonoscopy patient standing up to crack jokes made us laugh even harder. She told us eventually her doctor asked her to … well … hush.

Pat Koch

But how could we hush a woman who’d just received news that she was cancer-free for a full decade?

We’re so grateful Mrs. Koch was able to overcome her colon cancer in 2001. And we can’t help but agree with her declaration that "whoever finally invents a better way to do a colonoscopy will win a Nobel Peace Prize!"


“Whatever you are, be a good one”

One of those funny little coincidences in life — when I gave Will a plaque bearing that Abraham Lincoln quote for Christmas a few years ago, I had no idea it was his favorite.

Will was such a fan of our 16th president.

In fact, he was a bit fanatical.

I'll never forget the year we were working to help get the nearby Lincoln Amphitheatre reopened with a new show about Mr. Lincoln.

Lincoln City, where young Abraham lived from the time he was seven until he was 21, is just four miles west of us and it would be mighty tough not to be proud of the fact that Abe's character was forged here in southern Indiana.

I vividly remember Will rushing into the office day after day, arms overflowing with books. Will Koch, tweeting about his love of Lincoln

Books about Lincoln.

Will was bursting with excitement and couldn't wait to share what he'd learned. Lincoln was his kind of guy.

I daresay Will would have been Lincoln's kind of guy, too.

At a Lincoln meeting one day in 2008, a board member brought out a beard and stovepipe hat. Will immediately donned both and tweeted about it.

This morning, the Koch family announced a $25,000 donation to the Lincoln Amphitheatre in memory of Will, whose untimely death last June left the organization without its president and one of its top supporters.

They're hoping the many, many friends and … well, you were all his friends, would consider making a modest donation in Will's memory to help boost their gift to $50,000.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

Visionary, philanthropist, mentor, leader, husband, father, son, brother, friend.

Will was a good one.

More letters than in the alphabet

Every spring, Mrs. Koch hops in the car and drives north.

All the way to North Daviess Elementary School.


One of our wonderful seasonal employees is a teacher there and Mrs. Koch figures if that employee can make the 90-minute drive to work every day over the summer, Mrs. Koch can make the drive every spring to read to the fourth graders.

A week or so after her fun visit, the packet of letters arrives.

Thank-you letters.

Letters for Mrs. Koch!Here are just a few:

Thank you for coming down to read us a story.  Your schedule is probably packed with stuff to do and I’m glad that you could fit a story in. I hope to see you at Holiday World.Morgan O.

Thank you so much for reading. You are so very sweet. You took time to come down here in the fog. Thank you so very much. Sincerely, Andrea

Thank you for driving in the horrible fog to read us
The Keeper. It brightened my day. Ashtin W.

Thank you for coming in to read to us. You wouldn’t guess how much I liked it. It was very interesting. I like how you read the story with great expression. I hope you can come back next year so you can read this story to the coming 4th grade. Thanks again for your time you put into this.
Sincerely, Tyler W.

I think you should keep on reading
The Keeper every year because the way you read it is as incretable as our library teacher. Thank you again for reading The Keeper. And you are #1 for family fun.Evan K.


Speaking in the House

Last week, Mrs. Koch and Dan accompanied our marketing director to the Statehouse for some meetings with elected officials.

When they peeked in to see the goings-on in the House, our local Representative, Sue Ellspermann, asked Mrs. Koch to say a few words.

Since it was off-the-cuff, there was no script. (Not even a few notes for a  blog post.)

Happily, Representative Ed Clere posted an opinion piece about those brief yet poignant moments in his local paper:

Not everyone who spoke on the floor of the House last week was an elected official. In any given week, we typically hear from a number of Hoosiers from all walks of life. Before the state of the judiciary address, we heard from Pat Koch, whose family owns the Holiday World theme park. Her remarks are worth quoting:

“I usually don’t ask permission to speak, but that was very kind. I am the cleaning lady at Holiday World, and I’ve enjoyed all of my 50 years there. Our park will celebrate its 65th year this summer, and we will do it without our firstborn, who left us in June, but we will carry on the family tradition of 65 years that Louis Koch began when he came there in 1946, that my husband, Bill Koch, who’s been in this room many times, carried on and then our son Will and now our son Dan and Will’s family.”

Will Koch died last year at age 48, and his mother’s voice wavered when she mentioned his passing.

Rep. Sue Ellsperman with Pat and Dan KochShe continued: “We know that our mission is not to be an amusement park or a theme park, but our mission is to serve people — to bring joy to people, to be a Mecca of love and respect, cleanliness, friendliness — all those good values that we keep and that we hold, and we're going to keep working at that year after year after year, and to train, mentor and to develop young people, who learn many, many skills. So we love what we do. We are very appreciative of all of you and the wonderful work you do. We are all servants, are we not? We are all here to serve. And if we do that well and make a difference, our world can be a better place. So thank you very, very much for this opportunity. Our family thanks you. Our Holiday World family thanks you. Come on down. I might give you a free pass.”

With that, the chamber erupted in laughter and applause, and Mrs. Koch's son Dan, who was by her side, gestured to dismiss his mother's offer, which she quickly amended: “I promise free soft drinks.” Of course, soft drinks are always free at Holiday World.

It was a light, funny conclusion to a poignant appearance by the matriarch of a great Hoosier family business.

Several representatives added their remarks. Among them was Rep. Bruce Borders, a Republican from Jasonville, a small city west of Bloomington. The House is full of colorful characters, and Rep. Borders is no exception. The insurance agent, former mayor and Elvis impersonator joked about his late friend's lobbying efforts: “Whenever he would talk to me about legislation, we were usually like 15 stories high.”

I’m expecting some highflying debate this session, but after a good start, there’s no reason it has to become a roller coaster. Hoosiers deserve a smoother ride.

Do you remember your first visit?

Steve does.

He grew up visiting his grandparents in Bedford, Indiana, each summer … and remembers the "long, long" drive to Santa Claus Land back in the 1950s.

His mom ran across this wonderful old photo recently.

That's Steve on the left; his sister Sharon is in the middle — and that's their uncle Raymond on the right.

This area is "back of the house" now, with the Santa statue moved out into the Christmas plaza.

Does anyone else remember riding this little train long ago?

Santa Claus Land, circa 1957



When the snow falls in the town of Santa Claus … a lot of Santa statues get snowy.

Felt so sorry for this fellow that I took off one of my gloves and used it to clear the snow from his eyes (you probably recognize Santa from our Christmas Plaza — he’s considerably taller than me, so I could only reach his eyes by standing on tip-toes and fwapping my red leather glove back and forth).

Worried a bit at first he might think I was challenging him to a duel, but he was very understanding.

And grateful.

Santa in the snow

Since I was so up-close-and-personal with the jolly gent, I got an eyeful of my own. A good inch or two of snow was resting a-top his snowy-white beard.

I don’t know exactly why, but it made me think of those Chia Pets that get marched out each Christmas shopping season. Only white.

And now that jingle is stuck in my head: Sa-sa-sa-Santa!

It's so fluffy!