"The whole idea is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who might feel that he or she needs it."
-Fred McFeely Rogers
"If we can make every neighborhood like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, America would be a happier place."
- Former President Bill Clinton
A Music Composition major with honorary degrees from more than 35 colleges and universities, an ordained Presbyterian minister, an author of more than 30 books for children and parents, chairman of the nonprofit company Family Communications, Inc., host of the longest-running television show on PBS, winner of every television award for which he is eligible, inductee to the Television Hall of Fame class of 1999, Fred Rogers is remembered as one of the most remarkable US personalities of the 20th Century for providing countless children with a source of unconditional love, caring, and acceptance epitomized in the phrase with which he opened each episode of his show: "Won't you be my neighbor?"
"The only human being on TV to whom you would entrust the future of the world."
- Gloria Steinem
Fred McFeely Rogers (named after his maternal grandfather) was born March 20, 1928 to James and Nancy Rogers in the small western-Pennsylvania industrial town of Latrobe (also the home of Rolling Rock beer). He began learning the piano and organ at age 5, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida in 1951. That same year he was hired by NBC in New York City working on The Voice of Firestone, The Lucky Strike Hit Parade, The Kate Smith Hour, and the NBC Opera Theatre. In 1952 he married Joanne Byrd, a pianist and fellow Rollins graduate (They now have two married sons and two grandsons).
Rogers would later recall, "I had been accepted at the seminary, and normally one would study for three years and become a minister. But I saw a program on television with people throwing pies in each other's faces. I thought television has the possibility of being in lots of homes and could be used for much better service... I got into television because I hated it so, and I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."
"We've forgotten what it's like not to be able to reach the light switch. We've forgotten a lot of the monsters that seemed to live in our room at night. Nevertheless, those memories are still there, somewhere inside us, and can sometimes be brought to the surface by events, sights, sounds, or smells. Children, though, can never have grown-up feelings until they've been allowed to do the growing."
- Fred Rogers in his book Mister Rogers Talks with Parents
In 1953, WQED Pittsburgh, gearing up to become the nation's first community-funded television station, asked Rogers to come and develop the station's first program schedule. One of the shows he created and produced was The Children's Corner, a live, hour-long visit with host Josie Carey and Fred Rogers serving as puppeteer and musician. The precursor to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Children's Corner introduced many characters that would be regulars on Rogers' show: Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, X the Owl, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde. At this time Rogers also attended both the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963 with a charge to continue his work with children and families through the media.
Later in 1963 Fred left Pittsburgh for Toronto, where he wrote a 15-minute children's segment with a cool-before-its-time title: MisteRogers' Neighborhood. In 1966 he returned to WQED and converted the segments into the half-hour format we know today. PBS picked his show up in February 1968, the same year he was appointed as Chairman of the Forum on Mass Media and Child Development of the White House Conference on Youth. In 1969 he appeared before the Senate and pled for the creation of national Public Broadcasting.
In 1971 he founded Family Communications Incorporated for the purpose of creating his show as well as a wide range of materials for children, parents, and educators. For his work on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Fred Rogers was awarded two George Foster Peabody Awards, Emmys, "Lifetime Achievement" Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the TV Critics Association. In 1999 he was named "honorary captain" of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and received thunderous applause as he ice skated into the arena to accept his award. He also received a "Pennsylvania Founder's Award" in June 1999 for his "lifelong contribution to the Commonwealth in the spirit of Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn." More than 35 colleges and universities, including Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, University of Pittsburgh, North Carolina State University, University of Connecticut, and his alma mater, Rollins College have awarded Fred honorary degrees, and still takes speaking engagements across the country. Accepting his award at the 1998 Emmys, Rogers looked out over the star-studded audience and made the request he makes at each of his speeches,
"All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Ten seconds of silence. I'll watch the time."
On November 11, 2000 Family Communications issued a press release announcing that after 50 years in television and 33 years producing almost 1000 episodes of his show, Mister Rogers was hanging up his cardigan (it is interesting to note one of his orginal trademark zippered cardigans is preserved as a cultural artifact in the Smithsonian). The official reason was that he wanted to devote more time to his websites (pbs.org/rogers, fci.org), projects with the Pittsburgh Children's Museum and his ongoing relationship with PBS, although the graying hair and wrinkling smile made it obvious that time had taken its toll on the 71-year old Rogers. PBS continues to broadcast reruns of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from its library of about 300 episodes (the others being in black and white or otherwise no longer broadcast-quality) and his books remain as modern classics in the field of Parenting.
Fred McFeely Rogers passed away in his Pittsburgh home early in the morning on Thursday, February 27, 2003, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer some time after the Christmas holidays. He was 74 years old. His legacy remains as a beacon of kindness in a sometimes-cruel world and as an icon and a role-model for the ages.
"Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go." - Fred Rogers
/me misses Mister Rogers
courtesy of Barnes and Noble
Mister Rogers' Playtime
Lets Talk about It Extraordinary Friends
The Giving Box: Create a Tradition of Giving with Your Children
Going to the Hospital
When a Pet Dies
Let's Talk About It: Adoption
Dear Mister Rogers: Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?
You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor
Mister Rogers: You're Growing
Mister Rogers: Bedtime
Song Is a Rainbow: Music, Movement, and Rhythm Instruments in the Nursery School and Kindergarten
Going to the Dentist
Going on an Airplane: First Experiences
Mister Rogers: How Families Grow
No One Can Ever Take Your Place
You Can Never Go Down the Drain
Daniel Striped Tiger Gets Ready for Bed
When Monsters Seem Real
Wishes Don't Make Things Come True
If We Were All the Same
Mister Rogers Talks with Families about Divorce
A Trolley Visit to Make-Believe
Making Friends: First Experiences
Going to the Doctor
Going to the Potty
Mister Rogers' Playbook: Insights and Activities for Parents and Children
The New Baby
Going to Day Care
Mister Rogers Talks with Parents
Mister Rodgers' Planet Purple
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood: The Costume Party
Mister Rogers' Songbook