Won’t You Be My Neighbor

by K-Dean

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began airing in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes. At it's peak in 1985, 8% of American households tuned in to watch.

Fred Rogers known to the world as Mister Rogers, was a soft spoken song writer and television host with a passion for teaching and entertaining children. He was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, March 20, 1928. As a child he took an interest in music and would often sing along as his mother played the piano. Rogers studied at Dartmouth College, then transferred to Rollins College in Florida where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition. While in College he met his future wife Sara Joanne Byrd. The couple had two sons and three grandsons.

In 1963, Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church. Rogers had a life-changing moment the first time he saw television in his parents’ home. Rogers decided he wanted to get into television because he hated it. He thought he could use the medium as a learning instrument to reach out to children and help them. In 1951 Rogers got a job at NBC in New York City because of his music degree. In 1954, he began working at WQED, a Pittsburgh public television station as a puppeteer on The Children’s Corner.

In 1963, Rogers moved to Toronto where he was contracted by the CBC to develop a 15-minute children’s television program. The show was a success with children but only lasted for three seasons. While in Canada, Rogers brought his friend Ernie Coombs who would go on to create Mr. Dressup which was a very successful and long-running children’s show in Canada. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began airing on February 19, 1968. CBC designers created many of the famous set pieces like the Trolley, Eiffel Tower, the tree, and castle.The following year, the show moved to PBS. In 1971, Rogers formed Family Communications Inc. and the company established offices in the WQED building in Pittsburgh. Initially, the company served solely as the production arm of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but now produces a variety of children’s programming and educational materials.

In December 2002, shortly after retiring Rogers was Diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent surgery on January 6, 2003, which was unsuccessful. He died on February 27, 2003 at his home with his wife by his side, at the age of 74. Over 2,700 people attended the memorial at Heinz Hall. Rogers was was interred at Unity Cemetery in Latrobe.

The television industry honored Rogers with a George Foster Peabody Award in recognition of 25 years of beautiful days in the neighborhood in 1987. Rogers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. One of his iconic cardigan sweaters was at showcased at the Smithsonian Institution under the Treasure of American History display. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, for his contributions to children’s education. There are several buildings, monuments, and works of art are dedicated to Rogers’ memory.

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