In amusement park parlance, Leah Koch’s world had become a merry-go-round of disappointing dates when she met Matthew Blumhardt in 2018 at Holiday World, the theme park in Santa Claus, Ind., that her family has owned and operated for almost 76 years.
“By the time I met Matt, I had pretty much become a homebody who didn’t venture out too often,” Ms. Koch said.
Holiday World, which until 1984 was known as Santa Claus Land, is one of the oldest themed amusement parks in the United States. Ms. Koch’s great-grandfather, Louis J. Koch, opened it in 1946, nine years before the opening of Disneyland, the first theme park to bear Walt Disney’s name, in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955.
As Holiday World’s original name suggests, Christmas has always been a central theme at the park, which has celebrated the holiday every summer since it opened. “In my great-grandfather’s day, an amusement park with a central theme didn’t exist,” said Ms. Koch, 31, who has been an amusement park buff from the moment she got into her first bumper-car pileup.
Following her father’s death in 2010, she became an owner of Holiday World and its sister water park, Splashin’ Safari, along with her mother, sister and brother. Ms. Koch, who started working for her family’s business as a food-stand cashier when she was 14, is now also the director of communications for both parks.
Like Ms. Koch, Mr. Blumhardt, also 31, has been an amusement-park aficionado ever since he set foot in one — specifically, Michigan’s Adventure in Muskegon County, Michigan, which Mr. Blumhardt, who was raised in Brooklyn, Mich., first visited at the age of 6.
But Holiday World hadn’t always been on his radar.
“I was working in 2009 as a cashier at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, when one day my boss said to me, ‘Let’s go down to Indiana tonight to check out some of those roller coasters I keep hearing about at Holiday World,’” Mr. Blumhardt said.
“I was like, What? What’s a Holiday World?” he added.
His 2009 trip to Holiday World would be the first of many. Years later Mr. Blumhardt, who graduated from Michigan State University, began interviewing for a job as vice president for revenue at the park in December 2017.
“Looking back at it now,” Mr. Blumhardt said, his visits to Holiday World were critical to his interviews for the job, “as I was able to discuss the park in great detail, and with a lot of love.”
By February 2018 he had been hired. Months would pass before he would meet Ms. Koch, who in August 2016 had relocated to Bloomington, Ind., to pursue an M.B.A. at Indiana University, where she had previously earned a bachelor’s degree.
After completing the master’s program, Ms. Koch returned to Santa Claus, where she met Mr. Blumhardt at HoliWood Nights, an annual Holiday World event for roller-coaster enthusiasts, in June 2018. But it wasn’t until the following year, when she started helping him on some projects in early 2019, that they got to know each other better.
“First and foremost, we were both really into amusement parks,” Ms. Koch said. But working together, the two learned that they shared other passions, including finance. In their regular brainstorming sessions on how to improve things around the park’s 125-acre spread, Mr. Blumhardt displayed a financial prowess that Ms. Koch found attractive.
“When he started talking about free cash flows and all sorts of financial strategies and about things we could build here, I knew right there and then that I had a partner,” she said.
At that point in time, she meant business partner. But it wasn’t long before she had fallen head over Ferris wheel for him.
“We had a lot of meetings that turned a little more friendly than businesslike,” she said. By June 2019, a year after they met, the two had officially started dating. (They disclosed their relationship to Holiday World’s human resources department, Ms. Koch said, noting that because neither directly reported to the other, it did not violate company policy.)
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Around that time, Ms. Koch moved to Louisville, where Mr. Blumhardt was living. Their first date took place at a restaurant in the city. On later dates, she would cook him meals including steak with béarnaise sauce, demonstrating a culinary prowess that he quickly came to appreciate.
“That’s the one thing that was lacking for me in previous relationships: No one knew how to cook,” Mr. Blumhardt said. “But Leah was different, she was an amazing cook and so passionate about it that she taught me how to cook.”
Ms. Koch, he added, has a thoughtfulness that, as they continued to date, taught Mr. Blumhardt “that sometimes you need to slow down and think about things and be a little more deliberate.”
It wasn’t long after they got together that the couple started talking about marriage. As Ms. Koch put it, “We had been building a friendship for months, and were already best friends by the time we officially started dating, so we knew enough about each other to know that this was the relationship.”
In June 2020, the two relocated to Santa Claus, where they moved in together and still live. Months later, on Nov. 20, 2020, they became engaged. Mr. Blumhardt proposed to Ms. Koch at Smothers Park, which overlooks the Ohio River, in Owensboro, Ky.
The following year, in January 2021, Mr. Blumhardt was promoted to his current role of chief operating officer at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari. That August, he and Ms. Koch helped give a party to celebrate Holiday World’s 75th anniversary in operation. The event, which followed the park’s temporary closure because of the pandemic, was “a celebration of the resiliency of the industry we love,” Ms. Koch said.
The amusement-park industry would also play a role in their nuptials.
“Before we were even engaged, Matt had asked for one thing in our wedding,” Ms. Koch said. “That we find a way to incorporate a carousel horse somehow.”
They did, including carousel horses on the save the date cards and invitations for their wedding on April 2 at the West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden Springs, Ind., where the couple were married before the Rev. Tim Ahlemeyer, the lead pastor of Santa Claus United Methodist Church, and 400 guests.
At the reception that followed, also held at the hotel, guests arrived to find the most special carousel horses of all. As part of the décor, the couple had arranged for the wooden horses from the Star Spangled Carousel at Holiday World to be transported to the site.
Said the bride, “The carousel is a symbol of the multitude of family members, including my new husband, who have kept Holiday World humming all of these years.”
On This Day
When April 2, 2022
Where West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden Springs, Ind.
The Attire The bride wore a sparkly champagne-colored gown by Monique Lhuillier and a white veil. The groom donned a black tuxedo by Ralph Lauren for the ceremony then changed into a custom-made, black and gold dinner jacket for the reception.
The Menu Entrees included a choice of grilled salmon or filet mignon, and for dessert, an almond cake with almond buttercream or chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream.