By Jeff Switzer, Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — Kids who walk into Bill Kusler’s kindergarten classroom at Skyline Elementary School find a shrine to a famous Northwest television icon.
They ask, “Who is that clown?”
Kusler is happy to tell them.
“J.P. was a hero of mine when I was your age, and he still is,” Kusler said.
This month, the J.P. Patches Show celebrates 50 years since it first went on the air. It ran 23 years, until 1981, and delighted generations of children in the Puget Sound area.
Chris Wedes of Edmonds still plays the famous clown and is celebrating the anniversary with his fans, even as he battles blood cancer called acute myeloma. During his broadcast career, his daily ad lib performances in front of the camera marked only half of the relationship.
On the other side, glued to the television, were millions of Patches Pals soaking up the humor, the zaniness of J.P. and his sidekick Gertrude. Everywhere across the region, those memories are strong and persist.
Herald readers were recently asked to share those memories and photos of growing up with J.P.
Dozens responded. As adults, the show and their favorite clown evoke memories of a time of footy-pajamas and childhood innocence. J.P. is still with them as they assist mayors, manage aerospace divisions, travel the halls of Congress, or even follow in J.P.’s footsteps as a professional clown.
Kusler was one of the first to share his story. He remembers the show fondly, and J.P. remains a powerful role model.
“I’ve tried to stay a kid all my life, and as a kindergarten teacher I hope I can be an important part in the life of my students,” said Kusler, 51.
Kusler sent in a drawing of J.P. piloting the Miss Bardahl hydroplane, and it had its quick slice of fame featured on the show.
“That was an absolute thrill when I actually got to see the picture I colored on television,” Kusler said. “My sister’s Bluebird troop was on J.P.; I was very jealous I never got to get on the show myself.”
In his classroom, Kusler also posted the “J.P. Patches Checklist:” Mind mommy and daddy; Wash hands, face, neck and ears; Comb hair; Brush teeth; Drink milk; Eat all your food; Say your prayers; Share your toys; Put toys away; and Hang up clothes.
Nearby, he displays autographed pictures and posters, a bobblehead, and a J.P. action figure.
“He had a special place in my heart and heart of all kids that grew up with him,” he said.
He’s not alone by a long stretch.
Here’s what others had to say.
In 1966 our family left our home in Alaska to spend six months in the Seattle area. Our 4-year-old daughter did not have any young children to play with in our neighborhood, so TV children’s shows were very important to her and J.P. Patches was her favorite. J.P. was off the air for medical reasons. The morning he returned, our little girl lit up like a Christmas tree, ran to our small TV, threw her arms around it in a big hug, and exclaimed with such relief and delight in her voice, “Oh Japes (her nickname for J.P.) you’re back, you’re back! I love you Japes!”
— John Gilbert, Arlington
A brand new bike
On my 6th birthday (1976) I was watching Gertrude and J.P. on TV. During the show, J.P. told me, Jimmy O’Day, to go look in the dryer for my birthday present! To say I was floored is a huge understatement! After a brief moment staring at J.P. in disbelief, I ran to the laundry room, and there was a brand new bicycle! To this day, anytime I read of see or hear of J.P., it sends me right back to that day!
— Jim O’Day, Arlington
In his footsteps
My memory of J.P. is of me being small and being DEATHLY afraid of clowns. I used to run and hide from my parents if any clown came anywhere near me. J.P. Patches was the only clown that I was not afraid of. The ironic part of this is that I have now been a professional clown for the last 11 years, as T. Tator Tot. J.P. Patches is one of the role model clowns that I look up to!
J.P. was the one that told me where my presents were hiding in the house on my birthday (usually under the stairs or in the dryer). J.P. was the babysitter when our parents had to leave at 8 a.m. every day to go to work. He was the one that would be there for or 6 days a week of cartoons.
I was and still am proud to be a Patches Pal … even at almost 40 years old!
— Terri Foust Rogers, Snohomish
I see your PJs
My brother, sister, and I grew up watching J.P. Patches every morning. One of his daily features was the “ICU2TV — I See You Too TV” set, where he tuned in to see each of the Patches Pals to tell us about where a birthday gift was hidden, or to say hello to a Patches Pal. It was a close-up of J.P., looking directly into the camera, giving each of us the perception that he was looking right at us.
Every morning, we would hurry up and get dressed so we could watch J.P. Patches. After all, we wouldn’t want him to see us in our pajamas. Our parents never told us that he couldn’t really see us. Many years after we had grown up and the show was off the air, my parents laughed and told us that it was the only way to get us to get dressed without any arguments! And J.P. never saw us in our pajamas!
A couple of years ago I saw J.P. at an autograph session at Costco. I told him my story about not wanting him to see us in our pjs and how we would always get dressed first. He said, “I saw you watching in your pajamas.” Before I even thought, I quickly said, “No you didn’t. We were always dressed!” I guess I’m still not convinced that he couldn’t see each one of the Patches Pals through that special “I See You Too” TV set.
— Melody Tucker, Lynnwood
During the Big Quake
When I was little, my sisters and I were dropped off at the babysitter’s at around 7 a.m. on weekdays. I remember one morning for some reason J.P. was jumping up and down on his show and I was watching him. I remember jumping up and down with him. I thought that it was because I was jumping up and down that the TV was jumping up and down, and within a few seconds our babysitter came running through the house yelling for me to grab my baby sister and get out into the yard.
Just as I grabbed my baby sister and headed for the back door I passed the dining room and her large 4-foot-by-8-foot mirror came crashing down. Once everything got settled down it was explained to me that we had just had a major earthquake (1965) and that my jumping with J.P. did not do this. He also attended church years ago with my stepfather. He is an institution!!
— Cheri L. Montgomery, Bothell
Drafted by J.P.
I won the beer guzzling contest at the Rainier Beer company picnic in 1976, where J.P. was the emcee. I was 24 years old and had to drink two beers worth in a pitcher. I just looked up to the sky and let it go. Afterwards, I found out I won, and J.P. pulled me away from the crowd with a microphone, making me feel more embarrassed. I won a red Rainier Beer T-shirt. He supported me and was proud of me. He definitely was my hero and helped ease the embarrassment.
— Lynn Schroeder, Everett
Act of Congress
After a performance in Everett, J.P. Patches was signing autographs for his fans. A tall man in his 30s was in line. When he got to J.P., the man said he had been an ardent “Patches Pal” as a youngster. “What is your name?” asked J.P. About that time, someone shouted, “J.P., that’s Rick Larsen. He’s our new congressman.” J.P. congratulated the recently elected congressman and signed his autograph as Rick smiled.
— Larry O’Donnell, Everett
The state of Wenatchee
Ron Biegler, 64, Marysville, was a Captain 11 fan way back when, growing up in Aberdeen, South Dakota. His daughter, Bonnie Eckley, 40, of Marysville enjoyed many years as a Patches Pal.
Bonnie was lucky enough to win tickets to the Ice Capades when she was about 5 years old. J.P. Patches drew her name when he was placing phone calls to Patches Pals. His question was “What is the state next to Washington?” Quick as could be, Bonnie yelled, “Wenatchee!” “You win!” he said. We thank J.P. for every minute of pleasure that he has given to kids and parents alike.
— Carol Biegler, Marysville
I’m a nearly 50 year old Patches Pal. About a year ago I saw a 50th wedding anniversary picture of Chris Wedes and his wife. I had recently bought the biography on J.P. and read the story about Chris being in a car accident in the 1960s going to a function and a Seattle reporter took his picture without makeup. I e-mailed Chris/J.P. and said as a loyal Patches Pal, I recognized him without makeup, but would never tell a soul. The following day I got an e-mail back from J.P. saying, yes, that was him and thanked me for being a loyal Patches Pal. That was better than a letter from the President!!
— Kelly Nicholas, Stanwood
No more Fritos
I was on the J.P. Patches Show in fourth grade when I was a Bluebird. I remember being the first one in line and he asked me on the air if I would like to dance with him. I looked at his clown shoes and told him “no, his feet were too big.” After the show we were all give 10-pack snack packs of Fritos. I remember eating all 10 packages on the way home from Queen Anne Hill to Edmonds. I was so sick from those to this day I can’t eat or smell a Frito!
— Sandy Raymond, Mill Creek
Melting for J.P.
I have many memories that range from a trip to his “City Dump” at KIRO 7 as a Cub Scout to having to stop watching his morning program while getting ready for school and sprint outside during an earthquake, wearing only my underwear.
Seattle’s dump at the time was north of Husky Stadium, where there is now parking for the U.W. and restored wetlands. There were many kids who went there with their parents to drop off their garbage, with the hope of seeing where J.P. lived. We could never find the shack, though.
My strongest memory was at an appearance he made one summer day at the Warren G. Harding Memorial at Woodland Park Zoo. Prizes were handed out to many of the hundreds of kids who crowded around the memorial. I won a giant Sugar Daddy. At home, I licked away at it for a long time, until my jaws became tired. My mother let me stand it in the open mouth of a milk bottle so I could enjoy it the next day. The weather was hot that week, and in the morning I found the Sugar Daddy melted all around the outside of the milk bottle and onto the table below. My great prize from J.P. was now just a blob of goo, which was sad enough for a 6-year-old boy that I remember it to this day!
— Scott Chase, Camano Island
My grandmother took my sister and me to a downtown movie theater to see Doris Day in “Calamity Jane”. During intermission, J.P. came out and asked for volunteers from the audience. We were to play musical chairs, and it came down to me and a boy. As the music played, we were running around the chair when the music stopped. We both tried to sit on the chair and J.P. pulled the chair and we both hit the floor. I do not remember what we won but we both received the prize. All of us boomers want to thank J.P. for the joy and laughter he gave us and we love him very, very much.
— Deb (Newitt) Nokes, Stanwood
I absolutely adored J.P. Patches growing up, and still do! My mother said I used to call him “P.P. Patches” because I couldn’t say the “J.” I was probably younger than two years old at the time. He represents one of the happiest memories of my childhood and I still go to see him every chance I get. I’m a Patches Pal through and through.
— Laura Steinbaugh, Edmonds
My memories of J.P. Patches still give me a chuckle. It was in the early 1960s when I appeared on his show with my Bluebird group. It was a big deal to be on television in those days. Every girl made sure her little Bluebird vest was neat and straight.
My best friend and I devised a plan that we thought would get us some attention from our favorite clown. We shared the same first name, so we decided that when it was time to introduce ourselves, we would be sure we were standing in line next to each other and we would just quickly say “Teresa, Teresa!” In our little girl minds we were sure this would make a big impression and we giggled about our plan for days ahead.
When the moment arrived there was a glitch. Because of the ever powerful clock, my friend was denied a visit to the ladies room. She was so uncomfortable that when J.P. came to us in the line, she just spouted off her full name. I was shocked that she had forgotten our incredible plan and in my disappointment I just said my full name too. That made us just like all the other kids on the show. I remember those TV lights were hot!
Some years later there was an article in our local newspaper detailing how J.P. Patches, Chris Wedes was in a car accident and broke his arm. I cut this article out and put it on my bedroom wall and read it over and over again trying to get it into my head that J.P. Patches was a regular man with a regular name who could get hurt like anyone else in an accident and, most incredibly, he lived in Edmonds, a very nearby town that I had been to many times. Of course reality is part of emerging from childhood, but I always feel a little of that magic return when J.P. Patches is mentioned. I think that’s why, I, like a million other grown up little boys and girls feel a personal connection with him.
— Teresa Oppie, Everett
A special surprise
It was my birthday, April 11, 1964 and I was turning 6 years old. Each school day I watched the J.P. Patches show. That morning while I was watching the show, J.P. said “If Patty Garrett is watching right now, go look in your mother’s clothes dryer because there is a special surprise for you!” So I ran and looked in the clothes dryer and sure enough, there was a present for me! At the time, I couldn’t figure out how J.P. knew there was a present in the dryer. I was so excited. I can’t remember what the present was — it was a box with a bow on it — but I remember he said my name on TV!
— Patty Garrett, Arlington
Gertrude in jail
Halloween of 1972, I was 10 years old and our family lived in Ellensburg. However, I was at Children’s Hospital for a surgery on my leg. Usually, there were four occupants to each room. The nurses let us know we would be getting some special visitors including The Great Pumpkin and J.P. Patches and Gertrude! The excitement was unbearable! The Great Pumpkin showed in a timely manner, but J.P. and Gertrude continued to keep us in anticipation of a visit.
J.P. finally showed alone and the welcome was tremendous! Of course, we all wondered where his side-kick was, J.P. Patches in true-form, told us she had gone to jail!
I was so proud to tell my siblings when we chatted on the phone later about meeting J.P. and also getting his autograph!
— Bea Swafford, Everett
Santa breaks the door
I grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s watching J.P. and Gertrude in the mornings and afternoons. I loved his show because it introduced me to such cartoon classics as “George of the Jungle,” “Tom Slick,” and of course “Super Chicken.” I also liked it when J.P. would let Gorst the friendly Frpl out of the secret door which he lived behind!
One memory of J.P. and Gertrude were in the back parking lot of the Lynnwood Fred Meyer store. I guess that it was 1970 in early December. A couple hundred kids and parents stood outside waiting for Santa Claus to arrive by helicopter. There was a coned off area in the parking lot for the helicopter to land. J.P. and Gertrude entertained the audience while we waited. The helicopter with Santa inside landed in the coned off area, and as he opened the door, Santa somehow broke the door! Santa made it onto the stage and J.P. reassured the crowd that Santa would be getting the helicopter pilot and new door for Christmas!
The appeal of J.P. to me is that he spoke to us kids in his own voice, not some put on high pitched clown voice, or horn, or gimmick. J.P. spoke to you in that smooth reassuring voice — like he was part of the family. He is timeless.
— Todd Cocking, Everett
A new dolly
As soon as my parents got a TV, I was a J.P. junkie. I must have been about 2 so this would be in 1959 or so. I always thought J.P. and Gertrude were behind the TV, but whenever I looked, they hid from me. If mom made us shut off the show before it was over, we were sure it would take up right where it left off the next time we turned it on.
I was a Bluebird in the mid 1960s in Seattle, and our little troupe was on J.P. twice. The second time we were on I was seven and J.P. asked us if anybody knew what time the J.P. Patches’ Magic Carpet Ride show was on Saturday mornings. I was the only girl who knew the answer. For that, I won a doll! I named her Madeleine, after my much-loved and missing-in-action first baby-doll. I can still remember how excited I was.
— Judy K. Faaberg, Everett
J.P. Patches is one-of-a-kind. His accessibility, his magical presence and friendliness with kids, his well-thought-out costume and outfit, right down to the last button that’s endearing and very recognizable to thousands make him a beloved northwest treasure that’s right up there with the Space Needle, Mount Rainier and Dick’s Drive-In.
— Steve Goodman, Mountlake Terrace
You could always depend on J.P. for announcing on a child’s birthday where their gift was hiding. Of course, my son and daughter thought J.P. was magic! Living in Edmonds, I see J.P. driving around town waving. J.P. always brings a smile to us. WE LOVE YOU, J.P. Patches!!
— Jean Pennington, Edmonds
Loved by moms
J.P. Patches has lived on in many children’s hearts, and we Moms consider J.P. to be a great role model. Long live J.P. and Gertrude. My son, John Hause met J.P. Patches at a local grocery store on June 2, 1973, and I made a scrapbook page with the photos.
— Jackie Hause, Everett
It was 1962 and I was in the fourth grade at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville. The PTA invited J.P. Patches to an evening assembly. The gym was packed and what a great time we have with J.P. and Gertrude. Like a lot of other kids of that era, I watched J.P. in the morning and afternoon.
— Tom King, Marysville
Dryer lint art
Every morning we had to get ready to catch the school bus before we could turn on our old console TV that got maybe at the best 4 channels if you turned the rabbit ears a certain way.
We were poor so there usually wasn’t much for breakfast and we didn’t know what a toothbrush was but we didn’t go naked. Three times hand me down saddle shoes were common foot wear. So J.P. was the greatest thing in our poor childhoods that I can ever remember. I make dryer lint art, including one recently of J.P. Patches.
— Karen Leslie, Everett
I’m turning the big 5-0 this year, along with J.P.’s television anniversary. I watched J.P. Patches for as long as I can remember. I watched the show every day, before school, after school until graduation. And I continued to watch the show in the morning, while getting ready for work. I watched until the very last episode (sniff).
My grandpa was the superintendent for the construction of the KIRO TV station and as his granddaughter, I was able to appear on the show with J.P. I was totally mesmerized!
On a field trip in high school with my business class, we visited KIRO. My teacher introduced me to a man in a business suit. I shook his hand, told him I was glad to meet him, but didn’t know who he was until my teacher informed me that it was J.P.! The absolutely very first time I ever saw color TV was the J.P. Patches Show. His nose was so red and so beautiful. I’ll never forget that moment.
— Julie Welke, Everett
I was about 5 years old when I was racing quarter midget race cars and went on the J.P. Patches Show. I gave J.P. a sweatshirt promoting the sport.
— Greg Warren, Everett