UPDATE, March 9:
After something like five attempts to get the JP Patches and Gertrude license plate bill passed, the good news came Tuesday night in a phone message from Representative Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee.
“We just passed the JP Patches license plate bill off the floor of the House,” Rep. Fey said in his voicemail message. “There is a little bit of language correction that the Senate will need to agree to, but I think all systems are go for getting this great license plate out there for people to enjoy and raise money for Children’s Hospital.”
That group of volunteer Patches Pals who led the plate effort – Curt Hanks, Erik Madsen, and Chris Rimple – are excited to have finally crossed the finish line.
“This has been a long, arduous process and I’m not sure that it’s sunk in all the way yet [that] we actually made it this far,” Madsen told KIRO Newsradio late Tuesday. “After seven years of many, many ups and downs, I’m incredibly relieved and excited to see that the bill will finally pass the Legislature, and thousands of Washingtonians will be able to show their love for JP Patches and Gertrude.”
Best guesses are that the Senate will approve the “language correction” on Wednesday, or Thursday at the latest, and the bill would then head to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature. An Inslee spokesperson last year took the fairly unusual step of telling KIRO Newsradio that the governor is a Patches Pal himself and did support the plate, so Madsen and Rimple feel pretty good about the bill’s chances of getting the governor’s ultimate seal of approval.
If all does go according to plan, it’s believed the Patches Pal plates would be available to purchase in October 2022.
— Original story —
The members of a small but dedicated team of “Patches Pals” – what the fans of a legendary Seattle duo call themselves – are hoping that the fifth time is a charm, as the state Legislature may vote this week to create a commemorative license plate honoring KIRO TV’s beloved clowns JP Patches and Gertrude.
And that team says other Patches Pals may be just what’s required to get the effort over the finish line for once and for all. The bill – SB 5741 — to create the plate has overwhelming and bipartisan support, but as of Tuesday morning, it’s stuck in procedural limbo unless House Democrats take action to “pull” it for a vote by Thursday, March 10.
Unless you’ve only just arrived in the Pacific Northwest, or have been living under a rock, you already know that JP and Gertrude (the late Chris Wedes and the late Bob Newman) were the stars of a television program that aired on KIRO TV from 1958 to 1981. If anyone’s counting, this means the legendary show left the local airwaves more than 40 years ago. Still, ask any local of a certain age and background – from Baby Boomers to Gen X, roughly age 50 and up, probably schooled in Western Washington – and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
That demographic certainly describes the three volunteers – Curt Hanks, Erik Madsen, and Chris Rimple – who’ve been working the hardest behind-the-scenes to create a JP and Gertrude license plate for going on seven years, including coming achingly close in 2021.
Why, some may wonder, should the Washington Department of Licensing honor a couple of clowns with an officially sanctioned license plate?
For one thing, says Chris Rimple, plate fees will generate at least $50,000 a year for Seattle Children’s, so even if you never saw the show or appreciated its stars, the Patches Pal plate will do the community some good. Wedes and Newman often appeared at the hospital to entertain patients, and they personally helped raise countless dollars for the nonprofit organization over the decades.
Also, Rimple says, JP and Gertrude were more than just TV performers whose program ended in the early days of the Reagan administration.
“JP and Gertrude remained key components of our local culture for decades after the show went off the air,” Rimple told KIRO Newsradio. “They may no longer have been appearing on television, but they were showing up at all kinds of community events and county fairs, and they were even available for hire. I know people who had JP Patches at their 40th birthday party or 50th birthday party.”
“They were quite happy to continue putting on the makeup and showing up in those characters well into their, essentially, final years of life,” Rimple said, invoking the almost undefinable sense that many who loved JP and Gertrude still feel: While other communities had TV clowns in the 1950s and 1960s, only Seattle had JP and Gertrude. The mutual love and affection between the stars and fans, many Patches Pals will attest, was just different here than in other regions of the United States – more intense, more real, more than just the regular performer-audience connection. Again, check with anyone who fits the demographic mentioned above.
By Rimple’s count, his group has been trying for seven years to get the Patches Pal plate through the legislature – gathering signatures and raising money, following a procedure outlined by the Department of Licensing – in order to join a roster of other aluminum rectangles honoring such Evergreen State institutions such as colleges, professional sports teams, skiers, or birdwatchers, and raising funds for many worth charities.
Wedes’ widow Joanie, who herself passed away a few years ago, gave her blessing to the effort, as did Bob Newman, who passed away in late 2020.
Now, it’s the Patches Pal who can help finally make it happen in 2022, Rimple says.
“To help get this bill passed and the JP Patches and Gertrude license plate created, the number one thing that they can do is to call the office of your state House representative and express your support for ‘Substitute Senate Bill 5741, the JP Patches License Plate Bill,’” Rimple said.
“They can also call the leadership of the House Democrats, [because] ultimately, they have the decision about whether this will move forward or not,” Rimple said. “So that is Representative Laurie Jinkins’ office, or others in the Democratic leadership.”
The goal, Rimple says, is “to have their voices heard [so] that the legislature knows that this is important to people, that they support the bill and they’d like to see it moved through the full legislature this year.”
I’m looking at you, Baby Boomers to Gen X, roughly 50 and up, probably schooled in Western Washington.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.