Iconic clown J.P. Patches, Salmon Days Festival star, dies

July 24, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

By Greg FarrarAlec Sharon, then 5, with mom Jill and dad Tod, don clown noses to pose with J.P. Patches for a family photo Nov. 7, 2008, during a celebration at Front Street Market. Tod lived in Mirrormont and watched the legendary Northwest clown on TV when he was his son’s age. By Greg Farrar

Before the Salmon Days Festival turned into a Pacific Northwest icon, organizers turned to a bona fide Pacific Northwest icon in 1970 to lead a parade at the celebration.

The clown J.P. Patches, a mainstay of after-school TV for generations of Seattle-area children, and sidekick Gertrude marched in the initial Salmon Days parade before a 15,000-member crowd.

Chris Wedes, a.k.a. Julius Pierpont Patches, died July 22 after a long battle against multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.

Dressed in a tattered hat and patchwork coat, J.P. Patches resided in a landfill, cavorted alongside the mop-headed Gertrude — played by ex-Marine Bob Newman in lipstick and a Raggedy Ann wig — and introduced TV audiences to a colorful cast of characters as a host on KIRO.

“Most people knew him as J.P. Patches but for those of us here at KIRO 7 we knew him as Chris Wedes,” KIRO anchor Steve Raible said in a statement. “He was funnier, more personable, more human than anybody knew. He was a great friend. Chris was a member of our KIRO 7 family and he will be greatly missed.”

Wedes’ introduction to Salmon Days came as Issaquah leaders changed the traditional Labor Day celebration into a festival dedicated to the autumn salmon run. In J.P. Patches’ signature costume, Wedes returned to later Salmon Days events, sometimes as a contest judge or the Grande Parade grand marshal.

“The J.P. Patches Show” aired on KIRO from 1958-81 as regional broadcasts still dominated the airwaves. The unrehearsed program boasted more than 100,000 viewers at its zenith and garnered AN Emmy, television’s most prestigious award.

Salmon Days organizers turned to Wedes to add a glint of celebrity to the homespun festival.

“He was such a celebrity and it was such a part of our lives,” Robin Kelley, lead Salmon Days organizer, said in a July 24 interview. “It was really, really neat to see people from this different era have memories and almost convert back to their youth because the connection they had to him was so strong.”

Beyond Salmon Days, Wedes donned the J.P. Patches costume and makeup for other community events in Issaquah.

In November 2008, Wedes attended a celebration at Front Street Market and in June 2009 for Kids’ Day at the Issaquah Farmers Market.

“He had a real special relationship and connection to the youth,” Kelley said.

Fans — called Patches Pals — included Kelley and countless other Washingtonians, including notables such as Gov. Chris Gregoire and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“Several generations of Seattle kids owe a bit of their personality and sense of humor to J.P. Patches,” Constantine said in a statement. “Chris Wedes, sidekick Bob Newman and director Joe Towey created a remarkable world of improvised comedy that enthralled children and, with an occasional wink or double entendre, let parents in on the backstage hilarity.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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