It’s still a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Yesterday would have been Fred Rogers (a.k.a. “Mr. Rogers”) 84th birthday.

The Christian Post notes that one significant aspect of the celebrated TV star (who died in 2003) was his early life as a minister:

He left behind a lasting imprint on children’s televisionwith his series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” but many may not know that he was also an ordained minister who used the show as a form of ministry.

Rogers built an empire around his TV show, which sought to teach kids the basics of life while sending them a strong message of encouragement and friendship. The opening song invited viewers into his home and community with the chorus “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Before appearing on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he began studying for ministry and graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963. Though he was never assigned to a church, Rogers received a call to appear on NBC. He specifically studied child communication and used the series to talk to children about serious subjects.

“The world is not always a kind place,” the Times quoted him as saying. “That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand. I think people who produce and perform on programs for children should have as a prerequisite some sort of course to understand their audience.”

Rogers won the trust of children and their parents through his puppetry, simple messages, and music. “You are special, you’re the only one, you’re the only one like you,” he often sang.

Rogers expanded his ministry into the world of publishing with books tackling parenthood: “Helping to Understand Your Young Child.”

During his acceptance into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999, Rogers challenged the audience to remember their roots and remember those who helped them along the way. He gave them 10 seconds to pause and reflect before saying, “We have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life, or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.”

Below, a look at the familiar opening of his show throughout the years.  Happy (belated) birthday, Mr. Rogers.

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  1. Sorry to sound a discordant note, but I really couldn’t stand this show :-) I was more of a “Captain Kangaroo” and “Romper Room” kind of kid. The “Boomtown” show hosted by Rex Trailer was another favorite.

    At that young age, I didn’t know the meaning of the word “unctous,” but I knew it when I saw it. Fred Rogers was a bit too earnest for my pre-school tastes.

    That notwithstanding, I’m sure he meant well during his life and in his work … and, yes, we should all wish him a Happy Birthday.

    PS: I’m sure there will be a lot of negative responses to what I just posted … but I had to be honest :-) Sorry!

  2. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I didn’t come to appreciate him, really, until I was grown.

  3. Ditto. But I could say the same thing about asparagus.

  4. Kathy Schiffer says:

    I loved Mr. Rogers! A bunch of years ago, I worked for an evangelical radio station and we invited him to be our guest, after the Readers Digest carried an article about his vision as a Presbyterian minister. Unfortunately, he got sick (gall bladder or something) and Mr. McFeely filled in. MR. McFEELY! They both offered many lessons for children: gospel lessons on kindness, fidelity, the value of hard work, and so much more.

  5. Sometimes, Mark, it is better to forego honesty and just let other people enjoy a quiet and pleasant remembrance of times past.

  6. I moved across the country about ten years ago with three kids in diapers. I watched MR every day — ahem, for the kids. But I surely needed to hear, every day, that I was special.

    I then made some friends and got settled in, and then I stopped watching MR because I didn’t need to anymore.

    I’ll always be grateful to MR because of that.

    You are special!

  7. Gosh, Kate, I was afraid someone would be offended, and I’m truly sorry I hurt your feelings. Be well.

  8. He was one of the only celebrities I ever would have gone out of my way to meet, and I regret not having done so. He was, as far as I’ve ever heard, as decent a man in real life as on camera, and it’s a very very rare “star” you can ever say that about. Was the show a little hokey and predictable? It was, but it was also one of the only shows on television for any age that really spoke to the better part of people’s nature.
    He talked to kids as if they were reasonably intelligent people. He didn’t try to sell them anything or pander to the lowest common denominator of zero-attention-span 50 explosions an hour action sequences or to make them feel like they had to be grown up and streetwise immediately.
    My dad, who is a little more cynical than “The Comedian” in Watchmen, always says that humans reach their peak of decency around age 5. I think Fred understood that too, and worked hard to build up that instinct of decency at that young age in hopes that some portion of it would survive the ravages of growing up. To the extent any of that decent 5-year-old survives in me, I have to give Fred Rogers his due.

  9. I still remember the feeling that he was actually speaking to me through the TV.

  10. My daughter and I loved watching the show together. She stuck with it even as she grew older. Mr. Rogers got through to her, and to me as well!

  11. Sweet nostalgia! Oh, how I loved Mr. Rogers. I’m so glad you shared this.

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