Gov. Eric J. Holcomb recently honored community leader and originating partner of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Patricia (Pat) Koch, with the 2022 Sachem Award, the state’s highest honor. A ceremony to celebrate the honor was conducted at Will Koch Family Auditorium at Heritage Hills High School on Friday, December 2.

“Pat Koch is a Southern Indiana powerhouse who put Santa Claus, Indiana on the map. While her pathway to success has had many turns and detours, the fundamental theme in her life’s work is to serve others,” said Gov. Holcomb. “Pat embraces her fellow Hoosiers with love and kindness. From the countless smiles you will find at Holiday World or the love you feel from each letter she writes to a child who asks Santa Claus for that special gift, Pat is a reason the spirit of Christmas is alive and well and why she deserves Indiana’s highest honor.”

The Sachem is given annually to recognize an individual whose lifetime of excellence and moral virtue that has brought credit and honor to Indiana. Previous recipients include civic leader Jim Morris (2021), Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor (2017) and Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and world statesman (2006). Koch is the sixth Sachem honoree named by Gov. Holcomb.

The 91-year-old Koch is an active member of the Spencer County Chamber of Commerce, America’s Christmas Hometown Committee in Santa Claus, Wisdom Program in the Diocese of Evansville, Santa Claus Museum and Village and she sits on the executive advisory council at the Sisters of St. Benedict. Koch continues to oversee the Patricia Koch Family Education Endowment which offers financial assistance to students attending Reitz Memorial High School and Mater Dei High School.

Koch started a career in servitude by making the ultimate commitment for those of Catholic faith by entering the community of the Daughters of Charity St. Vincent de Paul. While there she received her undergraduate degree from St. Louis University and became a registered nurse. Koch made the difficult decision to leave the order when her father became ill. She eventually married the late Bill Koch and together they operated Santa Claus Land, now known as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.

While co-operating the Spencer County theme park, Koch made a lasting impact on the community through volunteerism and hospitality. In 1996, she was involved in the building of St. Nicholas Church in Santa Claus and is a current member. In 2006, Koch founded the Santa Claus Museum and still holds the title of Chief Elf of the Santa’s Elves who help Santa answer letters sent from children around the world.

Throughout the years, Koch took the opportunity to mentor students working at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari and share with them her love of hard work, perseverance and education. Koch set an example when, at 70-years-old, she earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry.

Born in Mariah Hill, Indiana, Koch and her late husband raised five children; she has 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Sachem (Say-chum) background:

In 1970, Gov. Edgar D. Whitcomb introduced the Sachems, a group of business, industry, publishing, banking and legal leaders, who served as state hosts, welcoming visitors to Indiana and promoting the state’s culture and economy. The organization’s name came from the Algonquin term applied to village leaders, implying wisdom, judgment and grace.

Following Whitcomb’s term, the Sachem project was not pursued, and the organization dissolved in 1989. Whitcomb visited Gov. Daniels in 2005 to acquaint him with the concept. Gov. Daniels recreated the Sachem to underscore the importance of moral example; achievement alone without exemplary virtue does not qualify a person for this recognition.

Including Koch, seventeen Sachem awards have been bestowed since the honor was revived in 2005. Each Sachem honoree receives a specially designed sculpture. All Sachem recipients are selected by Indiana’s governor. Click HERE for a complete list of recipients.