Children's television friend leaves profound mark

    The late Fred Rogers may have left his neighborhood, but he lives on in the hearts of those who grew up wanting to be his neighbor.

    Jim Judkis
    Courtesy of Mister Rogers.org

    Mr. Rogers, as he is known to his television audience, was the host of the longest running children’s show on PBS, “”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood;”” and he died of stomach cancer at the age of 74 on Feb. 28. His death left many saddened by the loss of a man who, for some, was a daily part of their childhood.

    “”I remember watching Mr. Rogers almost everyday. It is sad to lose him because it’s like losing someone who was a part of my life as a child. You almost think of him like someone who would always be around,”” said Revelle College freshman Sonny Huynh.

    Few who watched his program were unaffected by his death, for Rogers’ name was synonymous with all the good characteristics a person could possess.

    “”It was very sad when I heard that he had passed away. He was someone that all the kids knew and loved. He was around before any of those shows like ‘Barney’ came on the air. I think he was a great asset to children’s television programs, and he will truly be missed by all the generations that were able to enjoy his ‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’ smile,”” said John Muir College freshman Kimberly Midori Shintaku.

    “”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”” not only provided entertainment to children, but also affected the way they lived their lives. “”I think as a child, Mr. Rogers taught me to treat others kindly. You just wanted to be a better person after watching his show. Even though we did not know it at the time, I think his show was a primary source of good morals,”” said Muir college junior Marsha Wong.

    Along with teaching young children good manners and enthusiastically promoting positive values, Rogers also helped children confront important and sometimes scary subjects, such as divorce, death and violence.

    “”The general message of the neighborhood is that the truth is best,”” said Rogers in an interview with the global information company Reuters around the time of the last airing of his show in 2001.

    Rogers carried a strong belief that television should be an aid to the well-being of the human spirit. “”If we can share ourselves with our kids in ways that aren’t frightening to them, that’s the greatest gift we can give anyone: the gift of an honest self,”” said Rogers in his interview.

    Born in Latrobe, Penn., Rogers studied early child development at the University of Pittsburgh and received a charge to continue his work with families and children through television when he was ordained as a minister.

    When viewers reminisce upon “”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,”” they maintain that certain aspects of it will never be forgotten.

    “”In his show, I’ll always remember the puppets and the train that always rode in with a certain character. And I liked Mr. Rogers because he always seemed so nice and caring,”” said Earl Warren College sophomore Ryan Lustig.

    Among images of “”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,”” one of the most notable is the performance of his trademark routine at the beginning of each show while singing his theme song, “”It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.””

    “”I will probably remember him for tossing his shoe, catching it, then putting it on his left foot. Oh, and who can forget the thing he did with the zipper on his jacket?”” said Lustig.

    Some can also recall favorite episodes of the show years after seeing them.

    “”My favorite Mr. Rogers episode was definitely the one where he visited the Crayola crayon factory. I remember being amazed by all the colors!”” said Muir senior Adam Klekowski.

    While most other shows of that generation were filled with cartoons and other unreal characters, Rogers’ show proved unique due to his attempt to teach and interact with children.

    “”‘Mister. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was different for me because it wasn’t a cartoon — he actually talked to you. He wanted us to be his neighbor. You also learned cool stuff, like about the jelly bean factory,”” said Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Bryan Wilson.

    Rogers’ work as a host and what he called a “”television friend”” did not go unnoticed. He received two Peabody Awards, four Emmys, a “”Lifetime Achievement”” award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the nation’s highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Along with providing life lessons, Rogers also touched some viewers in a spiritual way.

    “”One thing that I noticed about Mr. Rogers was that he was extremely welcoming, caring and friendly. I knew that there had to be something that caused him to love everyone and everything relentlessly, but I didn’t know what it was. Later in life, I found out his awesome loving attitude was a direct result of his belief in Jesus Christ and His commandment to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'”” said Roosevelt sophomore Manish Amin.

    Unlike many children’s television shows today, which provide temporary amusement, students claim that “”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”” left children with so much more.

    “”I think his show taught kids values which could actually help their character development while entertaining them; many other shows solely exist for entertainment and may inadvertently actually hurt kids’ character development,”” said Revelle College junior Michelle Scarberry.

    Though many mourn his death, some are consoled by the hope that he is now in a place void of pain and suffering.

    “”I’m sad about his passing away, but I know he is having a grand time — this time in God’s neighborhood,”” said Amin.

    Rogers is survived by his wife, Joanne, their two sons and two grandsons. Though his show stopped airing in 2001, repeat episodes have been playing on PBS.

    Though he has passed, Rogers will forever be immortalized in the hearts of children and those who grew up watching the man dressed in a cardigan and sneakers. Posted by the announcement of his death on his production Web site remains the message, “”Children have always known Mr. Rogers as their ‘television friend,’ and that relationship doesn’t change with his death.””

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