Friday, September 6, 2013

Remembering Mr. Fred Rogers March 20, 1928 - February 27, 2003

"Fred Rogers, who gently invited millions of children to be his neighbor as host of the public television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" for more than 30 years died of cancer at the age of 74."

This was the announcement shared by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hometown newspaper of Fred Rogers to the thousands of "his hometown neighbors" the day following his passing on February 27, 2003.

Fred Rogers lived the majority of his life in the Pittsburgh area in the small town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania where he was born and raised.  In Rogers childhood years, he had a love of music and enjoyed singing while his mother accompanied him on the piano.  He followed in his mom's footsteps by learning to play the piano at the age of 9.  He also enjoyed playing with puppets and would spend hours entertaining himself.

He grew up in a Christian home and attended the Presbyterian Church in Latrobe and had great admiration for the clergy.  He attended Latrobe High School and took an active role as student council president and was involved with the school newspaper.  After completing high school, Rogers studied at Dartmouth College for a couple of years and finished his undergraduate degree at Rollins College in Florida with a
degree in music.  While at Rollins, he fell in love with his future wife, Sara  and they soon married.  He continued his education at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was eventually  ordained a Presbyterian minister.

During his senior year of college, Rogers came home one day and his parents had purchased a television.  He was fascinated with it and decided he wanted to explore television programming.

In 1953, Rogers took his first job in television at WQED in Pittsburgh and was responsible for local programming.   During that first year, Rogers co-produced a new program called 'The Children's Corner" that allowed his love of puppetry to be part of his young audience.  Following his ordination into the ministry, he was asked to use television as a medium to bring God and issues dealing with children to television.  The following year, Rogers launched a local television program called Misterogers' Neighborhood in 1966 followed by Mister Roger's Neighborhood two years later on PBS.

Mr. Roger's used the medium of television to teach youngsters respect for one another, and focused on everyday issues that children need to deal with and Rogers used his puppets to teach them.  Many of the characters that Rogers originally introduced in the early years stayed a part of his programs throughout his life.  The characters of Mr. McFeely, X the Owl, and Queen Sara helped keep his television programs fresh.  Rogers, through his music training, also wrote the scripts for his songs.  His cardigan
sweaters also remained with the show and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood would be guests to many famous people over the years.  Mr. Rogers Neighborhood earned about every honor and award given to the media.  He won Emmy Awards, a 1997 Lifetime Achievement Award, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Television Hall of Fame induction and many more.  He also served as chairman of the White House forum on childhood development and the mass media and he was often consulted as an expert witness on a variety of issues.  Fred Rogers once said "Those of us in broadcasting have a special calling to give whatever we feel is the most nourishing that we can for our audience.  We are servants of those who watch and listen."  Rogers famous cardigan sweater is one of the most popular displays at the Smithsonian Institute and is considered a "Treasure of American History."

On March 5, 2004, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 16, commemorating the life of Fred Rogers.  Senator Rick Santorum read "Through his spirituality and placid nature, Mister Rogers was able to reach out to our nation's children and encourage each of them to understand the important role they play in their communities and as part of their families,"

Funeral at Unity Cemetery
Fred Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer at the end of 2002 soon after his retirement.  In January, 2003, he underwent surgery that proved to be unsuccessful.  A week earlier, Rogers was the grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

He died on February 27, 2003 in his home a month before he turned 75 years of age.  The City of Pittsburgh mourned his passing as well as citizens throughout the United States.
Program from public memorial

The Hartman-Graziano Funeral Home in Latrobe handled the many details of his passing.

On March 1, 2003 beginning at 10am, a private viewing was held at the funeral home and then was taken in a procession to the Unity Cemetery in Latrobe and a funeral (program pictured) was held at the cemetery that consisted of 80 relatives, coworkers and close friends.  The service was held in the little chapel in the historic cemetery that Roger's father helped restore.  Following the service, Rogers was taken to the small mausoleum.  Remarks were made by the a retired pastor of the Presbyterian church and close friend of Rogers. Included in the message was the voice character of Mr. Platypus.

A public "Gathering in Memory of Fred M. Rogers (program pictured) was held on Saturday, May 3, 2003 at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh.  The service included a medley of Fred Rogers songs played by the Pittsburgh Symphony.  Among those who paid tribute to Rogers was Pat Mitchell, President of PBS and friend, William Isler, President of Family Communications, Inc.  The service also included a video tribute to Fred Rogers, Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

The program included a quote by Rogers himself  "The greatest gift you can give anyone is your honest self."

Our world could use a few more Mr. Rogers.
Mausoleum at Unity Cemetery

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