Leah Koch-Blumhardt grew up in Holiday World. Her favorite park attraction is the Legend, the iconic wooden coaster named for Washington Irving’s classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” She’s fondest of it, she said, because it is the “middle child” of the coasters — and she’s the middle child of her family.
“My dad, when he was around, built three wooden coasters, and he had three kids,” she said. “I’m the middle child, and the Legend was the second coaster built. And it has always been treated like a middle child — for a long time, it had a very middle-child reputation. It was like ‘Oh, you got to hit the Raven, and you got to hit the Voyage, and if you have time, hit the Legend.’”
Along with being the middle Koch child, she is also director of communications, fourth-generation park owner and two-time IU alumna.
“I always loved the park and always kind of knew this was going to be my home,” said Koch-Blumhardt, BAJ’13, MBA’18.
The children were expected to work for the park during their summers, but as they grew older, Koch-Blumhardt said her father, Will Koch, “kind of actively pushed us away from the business.”
“If we were going to do it, he wanted us to really want to be a part of it,” she said.
Koch-Blumhardt originally planned to explore a career outside of the park. But her father died unexpectedly at age 48 in 2010. Suddenly, she became a park owner while still completing college. After graduation, she returned to work for Holiday World full-time.
Her undergraduate curriculum was diverse, which prepared her for a career where no day looks precisely the same, she said.
As director of communications, she works with content creation, social media, influencer management, media relations, event logistics and more. One of her favorite aspects of the job is writing and blogging about the park.
“There’s so much history and so much meaning in the park,” she said. “We have a very strict code of honor of, ‘We respect the past, and we want to know it, and we want to appreciate it’ — because we have three generations that did a lot of things very well to get us to this point. But we also want to leave our imprint.”
She also enjoys having the opportunity to plan new rides, attractions and initiatives.
“Any time we get to plan, look toward the future — what the park is going to be, what’s coming — that’s really my favorite thing,” Koch-Blumhardt said.
She has experience building new strategic plans and customer experience research from her time in a previous position as director of research and development. As a member of the board of directors, Koch-Blumhardt oversees management of the family business, which includes authorizing major contracts such as a $22 million steel roller coaster built in 2015.
The skills she garnered from her time at IU help her on a regular basis, she said.
“We got trained like Swiss Army knives,” Koch-Blumhardt said about her undergraduate journalism studies. “That made (Media School students) even more valuable.”
Reporting and writing courses, involvement in the Public Relations Student Society of America chapter and exposure to top-tier mentorship helped prepare her for her communications career, even if returning to the park so quickly after graduating from school wasn’t always her plan.
But Koch-Blumhardt did return, and she continues to use her journalism, business analytics, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship education in her work at the park — which celebrated its 76th anniversary this summer.