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Still making Patches Pals

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

J.P. Patches’ summer of content had him here last weekend for Federal Way’s Festival Days. He also entertained at two birthday parties in Edmonds and Puyallup where hosts had him surprise the guests of honor, 55 and 26 years old. Up this week is the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.

And on it goes for the man who, with 76 years under his belt, remains a non-stop television legend for a whole generation and the Puget Sound area’s favorite clown.

“Yep, I’m 76,” he confirmed for an incredulous interviewer. “That’s one of the first things people ask me. Why hide my age?”

He’s as popular now –– and having as much fun –– as he was while starring on a children’s show for nearly 24 years on KIRO-TV channel 7. The last one aired in 1981, yet adults who grew up watching his antics can’t resist the steady diet of laughs and nostalgia he serves at fairs, festivals and other personal appearances.

“I enjoy it. Besides, they pay me,” said the entertainer who signs his paychecks as Chris Wedes.

Kidding aside, the fellow who’ll always be J.P. Patches to his fans gets a kick out of spanning generations, as he did last Saturday during Federal Way’s Festival Days. On a stage in the parking lot at SeaTac Village, he entertained a small but attentive crowd of adults and children with gentle wisecracks and jokes and lots of audience participation, all in the same TV makeup and costume that still make him instantly recognizable.

“When I was on the air, kids were fascinated with me,” he said. “Now their kids, who don’t know me, still want to come up and hug me and get my autograph.”

They’re the new Patches Pals, the name given in his TV days to his young legion of fans. Grownups remember that fondly. One of them is Governor Gary Locke, who sees J.P. occasionally at events “and tells me he’s still a Pal,” Wedes related.

Wedes arrived in Seattle in 1958 from Minneapolis, where he’d done several kiddies’ shows, and started one of KIRO’s first shows. In the local television land, he and co-star Bob Newman, better known as Gertrude, lived in the city dump, yukking it up for viewers.

Newman has multiple sclerosis now and has hung up his Gertrude personna. “He’s slowed down,” Wedes said.

J.P.’s been featured at Federal Way’s last three Christmas tree lightings, arriving on a fire truck to “do a little show,” so Festival Days was just his latest gig here. And, his fans hope, not the last.

The rest of the 16th annual Festival Days last Friday through Sunday featured a carnival, live music, a parade and other entertainment and activities at The Commons at Federal Way (formerly SeaTac Mall), SeaTac Plaza and Gateway Center, in addition to SeaTac Village. Large throngs of people –– estimated by festival officials at 20,000 to 25,000 for the three days –– roamed the venues, frequently bathed in warm sunshine.

Bob Hitchcock, president of Festival Days, said people seemed to like having the festival centralized, as opposed to past years when activities were at Steel Lake Park and downtown.

“People I talked to were impressed by the size of the festival this year, and there was a lot for them to do,” he said. Businesses and prospective volunteers liked it, too, indicating they want to be involved next year, he added.

The festival will be downtown again, Hitchcock said. The only question is where. The mall plans to add new buildings in the parking lot where festival attractions were staged, so an additional site may be necessary next year.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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