Hello, Santa!

Odd words to have run through your head on a September evening. It's late on a Saturday night and in between our ten and eleven o'clock shows I'm able to reflect on a Seattle icon (though those words will hardly describe him completely) with a couple tears in my eyes.

We're running a story on our evening shows about the retirement of a Seattle icon. The 83-year-old is retiring due to health problems.

Chris Wedes is his name, a man who had and continues to have a major share of my happy childhood memories.

Chris and Wedes could possibly have you scratching your head wondering if you know this icon. You do. He's affectionately known as J.P. Patches to Seattle natives. He's a clown. Literally.

His long running children's show spread smiles, giggles and belly laughs all across the Emerald City as he entertained the Seattle airwaves from the City Dump, aka the KIRO 7 Studios. A patchwork of colored fabric and pins sat on his costume, his face painted white, his nose red....and his ears- HUGE.

Before I go further, let me tell you I wasn't around when he and Gertrude (and Ketchikan) were on TV. I wasn't even born yet. My parents, on the other hand, talked and still talk about J.P. often.

Dad (who later held the bulk of his broadcast career in the same KIRO studio) first visited the set, er..dump, as a youngster with his Boy Scout troop. My mom and her siblings would watch the show from their living room in Bellevue.

Fast forward to the early 1980s when Dad started working at KIRO radio (formerly in the same building as KIRO TV). That's about the time J.P. came into my life.

KIRO held fabulous Christmas parties for the kids of the employees. The entertainment: J.P. and Gertrude. Their show was off the air, but their legacy was nowhere close to the end. Their job was to emcee the party until Santa Claus arrived with a sleigh full of presents (it was a different time back then. local TV and radio were cash cows).

J.P. and his lovely (girlfriend? wife? friend?) Gertrude (played by a very manly Bob Newman, his hairy arms visible beneath the sleeves of his costume) would captivate us kids and our parents until the man in the big red suit arrived.

J.P. would dial the north pole on the pretend rotary phone as we all waited...hang up and tell us Santa was on the way, but we had to guide him to the station with our voices.
We had to yell HELLO, SANTA!
J.P. : I don't think you yelled loud enough, try again
Kids (and the parents): HELLO, SANTA!
This would repeat for several rounds until we heard Santa's bells and cheered with excitement.
From infancy to age 12 this played out each December.

I remember one year, I think I was 10 or 11. I had attended the KIRO Christmas party that morning, went to volunteer at a different event in Issaquah, and as we were driving along I-90... I SEE J.P. AND GERTRUDE on the freeway in full clown costume and makeup from that morning! My mom and I honk the horn like a bunch of crazies and hold up the invite from the morning's party. J.P. glances over.

Gertrude scribbles something on a piece of paper and J.P. holds it up to the driver's side window. It reads, Gertrude is prettier than you. Just a glimpse of his sense of humor. I smile everytime I think about that day.

Several years passed and I too became interested in the broadcast industry. I interned at a different station, where one afternoon Mr.Wedes came to appear on a talk show. No clown suit. Just a suit.
As I walked down the hall, before I could recognize the guy, he extends his hand, remembers my name, and my Dad and I talked with him for awhile, grinning ear to ear.

Several years later I saw him again. This was pretty recently, when dialysis was a part of his weekly schedule. Couldn't tell he was sick at all. He was still wearing a smile, drawing me in to hang on his every word.

So, tonight, it's very hard to wrap my brain around the fact this 83-year-old is retiring due to health problems. When I see video of his event earlier today, he looks like the same J.P. I've known for all of my 29 years. My mom and I talked this evening, and she equated him to Mr. Rogers.

More than just an entertainer, more than the bobblehead figurines they seel at Archie McPhee's, but a philosophy, an idea, someone we need more of these days. He spans the generations. Yet another cliche in this stream of conciousness, but it's true. Our story today showed images of young kids laughing along with their parents in the crowd.

So, J.P. if your eyes ever read these words, Thank you. Thank you for my childhood memories, your sense of humor, and your impact. I love you, Seattle loves you, and we need more people like you.

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