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Photograph by Lynn Johnson

Measuring Fred Rogers' Impact

10 1/2: The size of Mister Rogers' famous sneakers.

More than 24: Number of cardigans worn by Rogers over his career.

4: Number of Emmy awards won by Rogers.

8: The percentage of U. S. households that tuned in to "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" at its peak in 1985-1986.

1: Number of times Rogers appeared on TV as someone other than himself. (He guest- starred as a preacher on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.")

33: Number of seasons that "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was produced.

25: Number of pages it would take to list all of the awards received by Rogers- including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

More than 40: Number of honorary degrees awared to Rogers.

1,000: Number of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episodes.

5: Age at which Rogers started playing piano.

200: Number of songs writen by Rogers in his career.

4: Number of times Rogers was on the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine.

60: Number of seconds of silence that Rogers asked for at speaking engagements inorder for audience members to remember those who have helped them become who they are.

April 2003

A Life Well-Lived
A look back at Fred Rogers' life.

by Joyce DeFranceso

The quiet, peaceful man that the world knew as Mister Rogers was born Fred McFeely Rogers on March 20, 1928, in Latrobe, Westmoreland County. The only child of loving parents, James and Nancy, Rogers spent much of his childhood alone until his parents adopted a daughter, Elaine, when he was 11 years old. He spent much of those years playing with puppets and making music—and spending time with his grandfather and namesake, Fred McFeely.


Rogers attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., after a year at Dartmouth College. He graduated in 1951 with a degree in music composition from Rollins, where he met his sweetheart, Sara Joanne Byrd, who a year later would become his wife. Rogers was preparing to enter seminary school after graduation when he saw television for the first time in his parents’ home. He decided to pursue a career in the medium in order to improve it. He was soon working in New York in a variety of TV jobs, from
fetching coffee to working as a floor manager and orchestrating action behind the cameras on a number of programs.


In 1953, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh to help develop “The Children’s Corner” for fledgling public television station WQED-TV. A year later, WQED went on the air with Rogers serving as co-producer, musician and off-screen puppeteer for “The Children’s Corner,” which was hosted by Josie Carey. Characters included Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchilde and X the Owl. In 1955, “The Children’s Corner” won the Sylvania Award for the nation’s best locally produced children’s show and had a brief national Saturday-morning run on NBC. Four years later, Rogers had his first child, James, and two years later, his second, John.


During his stint with “The Children’s Corner,” Rogers attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963. That same year, he left Pittsburgh to make his on-camera debut as host of a 15-minute program, “Misterogers,” on a Toronto television station. Rogers came back to Pittsburgh in 1964 and WQED and, in 1966, turned “Misterogers” into a half-hour program dubbed “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” It debuted nationally on PBS in 1968, and the following year he won the first of his two George Foster Peabody Awards for television excellence.


Rogers formed Family Communications Inc. (FCI) in 1971, originally the production company behind the “Neighborhood” and now a not-for-profit that produces a wide array of material for parents, families and caregivers. During the 1970s, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” secured its place in American culture. In the late ’70s, the program was spoofed on the “Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.” Eddie Murphy’s parody, “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” premiered on the TV show “Saturday Night Live” in the early ’80s. In 1984, The Smithsonian Institution made Rogers’ trademark sweater part of its permanent collection. Six years later, in 1990, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe,” an attraction that takes riders on a trolley ride through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, opened at Idlewild Park in Ligonier.


Rogers accumulated more accolades as time went on. This magazine named him Pittsburgher of the Year for 1997. TV Guide cited him as one of the 50 greatest TV stars of all time in 1996. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put him at No. 1 in its list of “The Top 50 Cultural Forces in Pittsburgh” in 2001. He won two Peabody awards, four Emmy Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and by the Television Critic Association. In 1998 he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, a year later, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. On July 9, 2002 (which was also his 50th wedding anniversary), Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.


Rogers hung up his sweater and ceased production of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in December 2000, and the last original episodes aired in August 2001. (“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” continues to air on PBS stations across the country. Through the approximately 900 episodes, Mister Rogers will continue to make his TV visits far into the future.) Following his “retirement,” Rogers kept active with his work at FCI, speaking engagements, writing and more. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in December 2002 and passed away at the age of 74 in his Squirrel Hill home on Feb. 27, 2003. He is survived by his wife, two sons and three grandsons.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Fred Rogers Fund of Family Communications Inc., 4802 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213. Expressions of sympathy for the family may also be directed there.
—Joyce DeFrancesco

A Hero’s Heroes

As a tribute to the heroes of 9/11, Pittsburgh magazine asked local notables and celebrities who their heroes were and printed their responses in the September 2002 issue. Fred Rogers was one of those people. In the wake of his death, Pittsburgh magazine is reprinting his response to show that even this hero had heroes.

“A hero? Well, I’ve had lots of heroes—lots of people I’ve wanted to be like. To this day, I can still feel the excitement in 1944 as I opened the first installment of my Charles Atlas exercise course. I had saved my money ($19) and had sent away for those lessons that I thought would help me look like Atlas himself holding up the world. In 1944, I was fat and weak, and Charles Atlas was trim and strong. I did the exercises every morning—some of them even had me hanging on a bar at a door jamb! Many months and many lessons later, I still didn’t look like Charles Atlas. Now, happily, I don’t need to.


Maybe it’s natural, especially when we’re little and feel weak, to choose ‘outside’ kinds of heroes—superheroes—those who can keep us safe in a scary world.


My next hero was a B.M.O.C in our high school: Jim Stumbaugh. He could do anything. A letterman in basketball, football and track, he made all A’s. Both of his parents were teachers, but his dad died during our freshman year. Who knows—maybe that made Jim sensitive to the needs of a shy kid like me. At any rate, we beat the odds and became lifelong friends. Many years after high school, when Jim’s teenage son was killed in an automobile accident, I was there for him. The way he lived through that terrible time and the way he lived through his own years of cancer confirmed my pick of hero. Jim started out looking like Charles Atlas, ended up looking like Mahatma Gandhi. What’s amazing to me is that he always acted like that peace-filled Gandhi.


Yes, Gandhi’s one of my heroes—Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer and Jane Addams (that tireless advocate of internationalism and world peace) and Bo Lozoff (who helps inmates use their time well in prison). Other heroes are Yo-Yo Ma and everyone else in the public eye who cares about beauty and refuses to bow to fast and loud sensationalism and greed. Recently I’ve added an ‘unknown hero’ to my list: the person who drives the car I saw the other day, the parked car with the flashing lights and the sign that read: Vintage Volunteer... Home Delivered Meals.


So those are some of my heroes now: the Charles Atlases of my elder years. They’re the kind of people who help all of us come to realize that ‘biggest’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘best,’ that the most important things of life are inside things like feelings and wonder and love—and that the ultimate happiness is being able sometimes, somehow to help our neighbor become a hero, too.”
—Fred Rogers

 

 

 

 


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