A Northwest Icon: Chris “JP Patches” Wedes

In Kidney Support Stories by The Road Back to Life

Webmaster’s note: Chris (JP Patches) Wedes passed away on Sunday, July 22, 2012, after a lengthy battle with cancer. We wish to express our condolences to his wife, Joanie, as well as his daughter and grand-daughter, and thank them for sharing this wonderful person with the rest of the Pacific Northwest.

chris-jp-patches-wedes-story-kidney-support-group-2“Late For The Interurban” statue celebrates the 50th anniversary of the JP Patches show which aired on KIRO TV7. The statue of JP (Chris Wedes) and long time girlfriend, Gertrude, played by Bob Newman (who played 16 other characters as well), is in Solstice Square, in the Fremont district of Seattle, WA.

Chris was an honorary member of the Board of Directors of The Road Back To Life. It was my honor to interview Chris Wedes, aka JP Patches about his kidney failure and dialysis treatments. However, it didn’t take long to realize that to him, it was just a part of living, and no big deal. While claiming that he is just a man, to many in the Pacific Northwest, he is so much more, as evidenced by the turnout at his final official appearance as J.P. Patches. Even through his medical problems, JP maintains a positive, upbeat outlook on life, and for that reason, The Road Back To Life mentoring organization considers him to be the epitome of what a person can do, even with kidney failure.

He sat in the reclining chair and appeared to be sleeping as I approached. Not wishing to disturb him, I was about to leave when he raised his head, and I looked into a face that I remembered from my younger days; a face that, back then was covered in make-up and face paint, to provide immeasurable enjoyment to not only me, but my siblings and countless tens of thousands of other children, who, upon arriving home from school, would put homework on a back burner and turn on the television to fledgling station KIRO TV, channel 7 and immerse themselves in the antics of the Mayor of the City Dump, Julius Pierpont (J.P.) Patches.Every week day morning and afternoon, and then, for a time on Saturdays, kids and parents alike would watch JP and his host of friends and special guests as well as the cartoons included in his show.Chris Wedes, who brought JP to Seattle in 1958 and had been a staple of childhood entertainment and learning for the next 23 years, was receiving one of his three-times-a-week dialysis treatments for kidney failure, but to talk with him, you felt as though you were sitting in a comfortable lounge having a chat with a life-long friend. The conversation was easy, and Chris made the time pass much too quickly.He has been on dialysis for 4 years, his kidneys falling victim to a rare, incurable, but treatable form of blood cancer. Up at 3:00 in the morning, he was already 4 hours into his day when I arrived for the interview. He started his day with the dialysis treatment, which would take about 5 hours, then it was off to get his cancer treatment.”I don’t care for the afternoon treatments, as it wastes your whole day”, he mused. “I would rather get here early, get done with it, and then I have the whole rest of the day for myself.”

Even though he is, to anyone who grew up in the Puget Sound area, an icon, as much so as the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier or Pike Place Market, Wedes still wasn’t sure why I would want to interview him. After explaining the purpose of THE ROAD BACK TO LIFE mentoring organization, and this website, and how we felt that he was a perfect example of how one makes the most of life, even with kidney failure, he shrugged his shoulders and stated, “It’s nothing to dread”. He looks upon his treatments as just another process of living, just like breathing or eating.

Chris made his last official appearance as JP Patches, in September, 2011, after more than a half-century of television and public appearances. His step may be slower, but his mind is as sharp as ever as he spoke of his years as Mayor of the City Dump, reminding me of some of the many guests that visited his shack. What Patches Pal could forget seeing Tiny Tim? or Merrilee Rush? or the Harlem Globetrotters, to name a few. “The show was all ad-lib, and sometimes things didn’t go right, or something was said that didn’t come out quite right”, he quipped, with the slightest twinkle in his eye, as he recalled some of the gaffes.

While, officially, JP may be retired, the wit and sense of humor are as active as they ever were; and JP, if you are reading this, I am taking your advice, and being extra cautious when I drive around Ballard, just in case Bob is out on the road.

He remains upbeat through all the dialysis sessions and cancer treatments, and is most certainly a testament to how a positive attitude and love of life can be a powerful force in coping with kidney failure.