The hearts of Patches Pals young and old are heavy this week over the death of our area’s most beloved citizen – the venerable J.P. Patches. With his family at this beside, the Mayor of City Dump passed away on July 22 at the age of 84, ending a stellar career that spanned more than 50 years.
Tacoma Weekly interviewed Patches in 2010 as he prepared to make a rare live appearance in Tacoma at the Fern Hill Classic Car Show and Street Fair. Even though he was dealing with the health effects of blood cancer, he kept up his schedule of appearances visiting sick children in the hospital and delighting lucky audiences at fairs and events.
In that interview, Patches (a.k.a. Chris Wedes) spoke of how blessed he felt by the love of his fans. In fact, there are fans that have gone completely bananas over him. “At one birthday party I was at, a woman saw me and screamed and fainted,” he recalled. “Some cry when they see me. And I still get mail from Patches Pals all over the country.”
For 23 years (1958-1981) J.P. Patches, his sidekick Gertrude (the most beautiful woman in City Dump) and a slew of crazy characters entertained children and adults every day on KIRO television, making the Emmy Award-winning show the longest running locally produced children’s program in the country. The program’s live, unrehearsed improv appealed to kids and adults alike. “The adults saw the humor in what we were doing, and I never played down to the kids,” Wedes said about the show’s appeal.
“I had no idea when I started that it would go on this long. When it went off the air, I thought that would be the end of it, but when a friend of mine came up with selling T-shirts and DVDs things really took off.”
His favorite, he said, was going to birthday parties when no one knew he was coming. “Especially the birthday person.” Some events he attended for years, like at the Longshoreman’s Union hall in Tacoma. “I think I’ve done 30 years of Christmas parties for them.”
Wedes is survived by his wife of 56 years, a daughter and a granddaughter.