Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press.
Pat Koch smiles when she recalls her son Philip John’s days in drama, while he was a student in the 1983 class at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.
Philip, standing 6 feet 4 inches in height, appeared in the school’s production of “Oklahoma” and delivered the line, “I was small once.”
The audience roared with laughter.
“Philip always said he could deliver a line,” his mother said.
Philip — who was also the son of the late William A. Koch Sr. — had a serious side as well, as the CEO of HO HO HOldings LLC, which is the parent company of Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Kringle Place Shopping Center and Santa’s Land LLC.
Philip Koch died unexpectedly April 9 at Deaconess Hospital. His wife, Carol, said the cause of death was brain trauma, caused by cardiac arrest.
His death followed that of his brother, Will A. Jr., 48, president of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, by accidental drowning in his family’s swimming pool on June 13, 2010.
In a recent interview, Pat Koch — whose efforts to mentor young people and to keep Holiday World wholesome and family-oriented are legendary — described the deaths of her sons as “the town’s biggest losses.”
She said, “Will passed away, and now three years later Philip … It’s impossible to replace that kind of vision that both had.
“Will was more for the continuation of the family legacy of Holiday World.
“Philip was more about the continuation of growing the town.
“Their passion and love for the community stemmed from their grandfather, Louis J. Koch, Santa Claus Land founder, who said, ‘We have to do something for children.’”
Pat Koch said she wants to reassure the public that the Koch family will continue operating and growing Santa Claus.
“I can see my grandchildren, as they get older, stepping in and taking bigger roles,” she said.
Philip Koch was highly regarded in the national campground and recreational vehicle industry for his success in growing Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort into one of the nation’s largest.
Dave Lovell, HO HO HOldings’ director of marketing, said the local campground/resort attendance averages from 3,000 to 3,500 guests a day on most summer days — more than the Santa Claus town population of around 2,500.
The huge attendance proves to be good for the economy, though it often drains area grocers and convenience stores of food items.
Lovell said Koch was also revered for always putting the guests’ comfort foremost in importance.
“What impressed me the most about Philip was the fact he was always thinking about how to improve guest experiences, so the guest would have a good time,” Lovell said.
Koch’s expertise and business sense are used as models for similar properties across the nation.
Koch’s father started the campground in 1958 on a much smaller scale.
The Campground Today
Today, the campground offers a total of at least 272 family rental RVs and cabins, nestled in a wooded setting.
The campground also includes at least 188 full-hookup RV sites, with more than 100 paved sites, and 40 tent sites with water and electricity.
A guest can enjoy the RV experience without owning his own RV.
The campground was voted one of the top 10 favorite parks in North America in 2011 in a Woodall’s nationwide guest survey.
The campground received the Chamber Choice Business of the Year in 2008 from the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
On a recent personal tour, by open golf cart, of the 168-acre campground, Pat Koch pointed out nearly two dozen new Rudolph’s Christmas Cabins, including one which is handicapped accessible.
All were recently erected in time for this season.
The fully furnished cabins include covered decks with grills, Christmas decor, electric fireplaces, flat screen TVs with cable, upscale appliances, large loft areas, king-size bedrooms and other amenities.
There also were several new permanently anchored RVs and five additional water slides included in the $4 million expansion.
“How Philip would have loved to have seen this. It looks amazing. It just really looks impressive,” said Pat Koch, 81.
She explained that he knew every inch of the 168-acre campground, for as a child he played on the acres and explored all the hills and valleys that the scenic area comprises.
Koch said her son, a 1988 graduate in business administration and management from Purdue University, always dreamed big and did everything big.
“He also encouraged other people to invest in the town.”
Koch said, “My husband and I never dreamed the campground could grow to such proportions … And, then there’s Philip’s beautiful Santa Claus Christmas Store and Santa Claus Land of Lights.”
Pat Koch said, “Philip brought the town to its fullest and decided on the phrase ‘America’s Christmas Hometown’ for promoting the community.”
He didn’t take time to linger over decisions he made.
One day, he told his mother he wanted to start a Christmas ornament store.
A short while later, he had his Santa Claus Christmas Store operating.
The store’s personalized ornaments section includes a staff and building of its own. The staff works exclusively, adding names and other personal touches to ornaments and shipping the finished orders to customers.
Koch said she has learned Philip planned to surprise her on her 82nd birthday this summer with pieces of an original Santa Claus Land ride, which he found in Ohio.
He stored them in his barn, out of sight.
“His gifts were always over the top. He enjoyed giving,” said Koch.