Saturday, November 8, 2014

Patch the Pony Born in Florence in 1963


It was 1963 when Margaret Liles of Florence heard FBI Agent Glenn Hearn address a PTA meeting. Hearn commented on the frequency of child abductions, and the idea was further brought home to Liles three days later when an attempted child abduction was reported at Gilbert Elementary School in North Florence. Liles wanted to make a difference, but how?

The mother of four soon came up with the character of Patch, a pony designed to convey safety messages to primary school children. As Patch said, “Nay, Nay, from strangers stay away.” Mrs. Liles then began a campaign to introduce Patch and his safety slogan into local and then state schools. Governor George Wallace was so impressed with Liles’ character of Patch that in 1966 he flew her to Washington to speak to the President’s Commission on Crime. 

Embarking from Florence in a designer ensemble donated by Abroms Department Store, Margaret Liles hoped to make her Patch character as well-known as Smokey the Bear; however, while support was there, the money never materialized. Despite the lack of government funding, Patch became well known in school systems in all 50 states where teachers presented his story in film strips and in books given to each student. 

After much thought, Liles decided to sell the rights to her creation to someone more financially able to produce the materials used in Patch’s program. Then with the advent of better technology, Patch gradually began to fade from school systems, and many relegated Patch to a bygone era. Some years ago the rights to Patch were purchased by Russ Fender, a man who had grown up hearing the story of the pony who wore an eye patch.

Fender stated he wanted to bring Patch up to date and make him known to a new generation of children, but found the cost of his project made it necessary to proceed in increments. A glance at the website for Patch shows that it’s reverted to GoDaddy.
What of Patch now? Until Fender gets the resurrection of Patch the Pony fully underway, those who fondly remember Patch and his creator Margaret Liles who passed away in 1990 may wish to to join the pony’s fans on Facebook: Patch the Pony.


Bette F. Terry holds a BA in history from UAH

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