An Ode to Mr. Rogers
March 20 is Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day, in honor of the one, the only Mr. Rogers’s birthday! Generations of children grew up listening to the soothing voice of Fred Rogers on his public broadcasting television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001. For millions of children like me, Fred Rogers was much like Mom and Dad; he had no first name. To suggest he was more than Mr. Rogers, the cardigan-wearing, goldfish-feeding friend I visited almost every day, would be blasphemous. But as I have learned since moving to Pittsburgh, Mr. Rogers’ actual neighborhood, he was much more than the man I knew.
Born Fred McFeely Rogers (yes, as in Mr. McFeely, from the Speedy Delivery Service!), Mr. Rogers had a bachelor’s degree in music composition, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and attended University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development. He also held 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the country. Not one. Not two. FORTY. In 2002, President George W. Bush presented Mr. Rogers with the highest civilian honor in the country, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for a career encouraging the well-being of children through lessons of kindness, compassion, and learning. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 74, leaving behind his wife, Joanne, of more than 50 years, two sons, and millions of children whose childhoods wouldn’t have been as magical without him.
If for any reason you might want to visit Mr. Rogers’ “imaginary” friends, including Daniel Striped Tiger and King Friday the Thirteenth (and ‘by any reason’ I mean ‘why wouldn’t you?’), they are housed in Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum alongside one of his iconic sweaters (which his mother knitted), and his sneakers.
Mr. Rogers, thank you for being our neighbor, our mentor, our friend. Happy birthday, with love.
At Home With Mr. Rogers
Pittsburghers, nostalgia should be hitting you right in the feels, now, and you’re probably thinking ‘Man, I miss Mr. Rogers.’ He may not be around town anymore in person, but his spirit is still alive. It’s always a little thrilling when a customer catches sight of one of Kards Unlimited’s Mr. Rogers products and begins to regale me with a tale of meeting, dining, or actually being a neighbor of the Rogers family.
For the rest of us, we can keep Mr. Rogers alive in our own households with officially licensed Mr. Rogers gear. My favorite? Mister Rogers Sweater Changing Mug. Featuring all of his most heartwarming quotes, add a warm beverage of choice, and his sweater changes between an iconic blue cardigan and yellow cardigan. Some days, it’s the little things that make a person feel good, and this touch of magic is a great way to start off the day on the right foot.
Sometimes the world can seem like a scary place. Mr. Rogers always had a way of making his viewers feel a little more courageous. He taught us how to be gracious for what we have. He knew exactly what to say to make life a little easier. Day to day, I wish there were more people like him, ready to give me a one-liner to help me through a challenge, but he’s still there for me. When I need a boost of confidence before a meeting, I can pull out my Encouragemints. The unbeatable combo of fresh breath and an encouraging “Why? Because I like you!” calms the nerves. When I’m facing a deadline at school, nothing helps me take notes better than Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood sticky notes.
But the greatest gift we have from Mister Fred Rogers will always be the words he left for us. When life gets a little complicated, turn to any one of three volumes of Mister Rogers wisdom: Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers, and Many Ways to Say I Love You. These books prove that, though Mister Rogers may be gone, he will always be our friend.