Won't You Be My Neighbor? The Legacy of Mr. Rogers

By Rosunnara R.
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Photo Courtesy: WQED/IMDb

It’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood thanks to Fred Rogers. For 33 years, he was the creator, showrunner and host of the American television series, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He transformed children’s television, promoting kindness and speaking openly about children’s emotional and physical concerns.

Rogers won the hearts of many people. He also earned honorary degrees and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. Was there anything this man couldn’t do? Read on to learn more about the legacy of everyone’s beloved "neighbor," Mr. Rogers.

He Hated TV, So He Changed It

When Rogers turned on the television, he often saw violence and people demeaning each other. The inhumanity made him furious, so he decided to inspire change in the medium, believing there was a way to "nurture" viewers with a charming and gentle program. As a result, he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to spread knowledge and kindness. The show's production and sets were basic, but that didn't stop it from becoming groundbreaking television.

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Celebrities and Even Animals Loved Him

Not only did Rogers make a significant impact on kids and their parents, but he also influenced celebrities. One of his fans is Michael Keaton, who ended up hosting a lovely Mr. Rogers documentary called It’s You I Like. Tom Hanks also adores Rogers and portrayed him in the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

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Photo Courtesy: Fred Rogers Production/IMDb

One of Rogers' biggest fans wasn't even human. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who knew 2,000 English words and 1,000 words in American Sign Language, loved him too. When Rogers met her, she instantly welcomed him with open arms and took off his shoes (the same way he does on the show).

He Personally Responded to Every Letter from Fans

Rogers' daily routine included waking up at five every morning, praying, writing, studying, exercising and replying to all his fan mail. The show’s program assistant, Heather Arnet, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "He respected the kids who wrote them. He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

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The letters were more than just drawings and ramblings. Many children opened up to him about their personal issues, such as a loss in the family or other serious problems. Each day, Rogers received 50 to 100 letters from fans, and he wrote back to each one. Today, the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, holds almost 1 million of those letters.

He Was a Gifted Musician

After attending Dartmouth College for one year, Rogers transferred to Rollins College. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in music. As a talented songwriter, he created all the tunes for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which is more than 200 songs. He also played the piano magnificently, and it shows in each episode.

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Rogers created music at a young age, even after getting bullied. When he was a child, life was tough. He was shy and overweight, and his classmates teased him. "I used to cry to myself when I was alone. And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano," recalled Rogers.

He Saved Public Television and the VCR

In 1969, Rogers went to Washington D.C. to help stop budget cuts for public television. He presented his case in front of the Senate, explaining how he could help children. "I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health," Rogers explained to the Senate. He did more than just stop the budget cuts by the end of the hearing. Within six minutes, he convinced the committee to provide $22 million in funding for public TV.

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In 1984, Rogers supported the "fair use" of media in a Supreme Court case. Some people considered recording TV shows to be copyright infringement. However, Rogers influenced the outcome, arguing that it was important for parents to be able to record children's programs and watch them at more fitting times as a family.

He Cared Deeply About Others

From 1968 to 2001, Rogers made sure to use his show for good. Focusing on children's emotional and physical struggles, he included many personal topics because he cared about his audience's needs, concerns and happiness. He answered questions about everything from scary haircuts to fights with siblings to divorce and war.

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Rogers was well-prepared for his young audience because he attended the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. He also worked with a child psychologist for 30 years.

Many people found Rogers caring, including reporters and limo drivers. During interviews, he asked reporters questions about their lives and got to know them. It wasn't uncommon for him to call them every once in a while to keep in touch. He did the same to one of his limo drivers. During one of the rides, the driver mentioned they were passing his house. Wanting to meet the driver's family, Rogers asked if they could stop by. The result was heartwarming. Rogers played the piano and talked to the family into the night.