I would venture to say that every person in America over the age of 15, maybe even younger, knows who Mr. Rogers is. Not only do we all know him, much of us spent our mornings with him, his sweaters, sneakers and puppets, all while in the comfort of his home. With that much time spent watching Fred McFeely Rogers, it may come as a surprise to realize how much any of us really know about the man.
Born outside of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1928, Fred grew up surrounded by those who loved music, so much so that he was able to play the piano starting at the age of 5. With so much emphasis on music as a child, it is no wonder that Fred would end up attending Rollins College in Florida where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition. It was at Rollins where Fred met his wife; the two were married in 1952 and stayed thus for the next 47 years when Fred passed away. Prior to his stint at Rollins, he did attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire but transferred after 2 years for reasons unknown to us.
After receiving his degree in 1951, Fred was hired on at NBC in New York City to work on music programs as production staff. It was not the type of work that he was interested in doing, so in 1954 he moved back to Pennsylvania to work on Public Television, specifically for educational programming. It was not Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that he worked on but a local program that he helped created called The Children’s Corner.
Outside of work he was continuing his education where he studied at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, as well as University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development. In 1963 Fred became an ordained Presbyterian Minister. After completing both educational endeavors, Fred was invited to Canada to work for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) to create a children’s program, which was called Misterogers where he created what was to become Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in America. The stay in Canada was only for 3 years and in 1966 Fred, his wife, and now 2 sons returned once again to Pittsburgh. Two years later Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was being broadcast on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).
Most children loved Mr. Rogers, probably in no small part due to Fred’s view on honesty. When once asked why he played himself as opposed to creating a character, he stated “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.” In fact, his honesty was not the only upstanding thing about Mr. Rogers (other than him becoming an minister in his free time), he also was never known to drink or smoke or gamble or do anything remotely bad or sinful; Fred really was the perfect man for the job.
Fred was also close with his family, particularly his mother; it was she who knitted all those wonderful sweaters that he donned on every episode of the show, for all 895 of them (the longest running show on PBS to date).
So why did this man decide to enter our homes every morning through an education television show? It is simple: disgust. He claimed that the reason as follows: “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen”. And he did it very well.
Fred not only worked on the show, he composed and sang over 200 songs, published many children’s books, as well as books for adults. Along with his bachelors, masters, and seminary training, he was also awarded over 40 honorary degrees from esteemed colleges and universities in his lifetime.
This is a man of saintly stature but he has been put through the ringer with rumor after rumor trying to discredit his pure nature. One of the most famous rumors is that Fred wore long sleeve shirts and his sweaters because his arms were covered in tattoos representing all the people he killed as a sniper in the U.S. Military. The poor man couldn’t kill anyone, he was even a vegetarian due to his belief system.
Fred is the perfect example of not believing everything you hear and trusting that there are people in this world who are good because it’s the right way to live. Sadly, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s last episode was aired in August of 2001, although reruns continued to stream the television. Not even two years later Fred had passed away on February 27, 2003 after a short battle of stomach cancer.
Today, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood can no longer be seen on PBS, but the station has since created The Fred Rogers Corporation. The corporation has founded a show in memory of Fred called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with none other than Daniel Striped Tiger as the main character, along with many other original characters from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Interesting fact: asteroid 26858 misterrogers is named after Fred and was discovered in 1993.