Fred Rogers Biography – A Life of Service

Fred Rogers was a legitimate American national
treasure. Over 31 seasons he proved to be the reliable,
compassionate and all-wise friendly neighbor who guided millions of youngsters through
their childhood. Fred single handedly introduced children’s
educational television, in the process elevating a medium that was heading downhill fast. His radical kindness, typified by a gentle
and personal manner, helped bring sanity to a world beset by problems. Having Mr. Rogers as our neighbor made the
world a safer place. Early Years
Frederick McFeely Rogers entered the world on march 28th, 1928 at his grandparents house
in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His parents, James and Nancy, were extremely
pious people, so young Fred grew up in a very religious household. James worked at the McFeely brick company,
which was owned by his father. He was a hard working, industrious man who
taught these traits to his son. Nancy volunteered at the local hospital as
a nurses’ aid. She had a deep love for helping others, which
also was also a huge influence on Fred. In later years, Fred would fondly remember
how his mother required everyone in the family to hand knit sweaters every Christmas for
the troops during the war years. This family ritual instilled in Fred a love
for sweaters, and they became his trademark during his TV show, Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood,
in years to come. Every one of the hundreds of sweaters he wore
on the show was hand knitted by Nancy. The extended Rogers family was very close,
with Fred developing a special bond with his grandfather. The two spent many hours together, where the
old man would encourage Fred to be himself, expressing all of his feeling and emotions
freely. This had a great impact upon Fred, who fondly
recalled how his grandpa had told him that he made his day special by simply being himself. Those words made Fred feel special, and he
made it his mission in life to help other people feel the same way. Tough Times
When he was eleven, Fred’s parents adopted a baby girl named Elaine. Fred loved being an older brother, even though
Elaine proved to be quite a handful. Away from the love and security of his family,
however, Fred struggled. He found it difficult to make friends, often
finding himself isolated and alone. The other children made fun of the fact that
he was overweight and that he didn’t join in with their rough and tumble play. As a result he became quiet and shy. His parents told him to ignore the negative
feelings that were welling up inside him and focus on positive things. This only made Fred feel more hurt and confused. In his later years one of his key messages
to parents was that children's feelings need to be acknowledged rather than ignored. The outlet that Fred finally stumbled upon
to release his pent up emotions was the piano. When he was just a few years old, Nancy would
play the piano to soothe Fred. By five, he was playing it himself. He was a natural and, within a few years was
so proficient that he would play for guests and family members. His act would also include a puppet show. Fred found that these outlets allowed him
to express his feelings in a way that wouldn’t upset other people. When he was ten, Fred’s grandmother bought
him a piano of his own – a twenty five dollar pump organ. He spent hours each day practicing, with his
time at the keys being the only periods that he felt like he was being his true self. In his early teens , Fred also became obsessed
with photography, developing his own prints in a basement darkroom. His favorite thing to capture on film were
the expressions on other people’s faces. The Rogers family attended the Presbyterian
Church in LaTrobe. From the very start, Fred was eager and engaged. He was entranced by every sermon, finding
a personal connection to the message of Christianity and the personality of Jesus Christ. It inspired in him the deep felt desire to
serve and help other people. An Unlikely Friendship
When Fred entered high school, he was just as shy and uncertain around his peers than
ever. He did, however,develop a very unlikely friendship. Fred could never have imagined that he would
become close friends with someone like Jim Stambaugh. Stambaugh was a popular and talented athlete
and football player. When Jim suffered a football injury, however,
he was confined to a hospital bed for a period of weeks. The school assigned Fred to deliver Jim’s
homework to him in hospital, as well as making notes for him in class. Jim and Fred spent time together and come
to appreciate each other. Fred could see through Jim’s exterior image
as the sports hunk and Jim could appreciate Fred’s quiet, thoughtful nature. When Jim was released from hospital, the friendship
continued. Through Jim’s influence, the other students
came to realize that Fred wasn’t so bad after all. Fred hadn’t changed but now the other students
let him be himself without harassing him. From this he learned a powerful lesson that
he strived to impart to millions of children through his TV show decades later – be yourself
without shame! As a result of his new found acceptance by
his peers, Fred’s confidence grew in leaps and bounds. He became involved in school activities, becoming
editor of the school yearbook and the school newspaper. By the end of his senior year, he was president
of the student council. He came to be respected, rather than mocked,
for his quiet, thoughtful nature. During his highschool years, Fred developed
another relationship that was pivotal in his life. George Allen was an African-American friend
of the family. As well as sharing Fred’s passion for music,
George was also a passionate pilot. He shared his enthusiasm with Fred, teaching
him to fly. While Fred never developed George’s passion
for flying, he was entranced by Fred’s love of imparting his aeronautical knowledge. It was then that he learned what it was to
be a true teacher. College
Upon graduation from high school, it was Fred’s intention to go to a seminary and become a
minister. This seemed to be his natural calling, allowing
him to serve others just as his parents had groomed him. Still, he felt a need to achieve a college
degree and his love of learning inspired him to enrol at Dartmouth College for his freshman
year. He decided to study the romance languages. After a year, however, he decided that what
he really wanted to study was music. Dartmouth had no program that was worthy of
Fred’s talents, so he transferred to Rollins College. It was during an initial tour of Rollins College
that Fred ran into his future wife, Sara Joanne Byrd. Sara became hugely impressed with Fred’s
piano playing ability and he quickly became a part of her circle of friends. Fred majored in music composition and minored
in French language. Prior to graduation in the summer of 1951,
Fred returned home on vacation. He still fully intended to attend a theological
seminary after graduation. But everything changed when Fred saw his first
television show. On the small screen Fred watched as two men
threw pies into each other’s faces. In an instant he saw the potential in this
new medium to educate millions of people at once. At the same time, he was appalled at the lowbrow
way that it was currently being used. Fred was so passionate about his desire to
change the way that television was being used that he decided on the spot to give up on
his ideas to join the seminary and pursue a career in television. Getting Into TV
Upon graduating from Rollins, and with his music degree in hand, Fred applied to NBC
Television in New York and asked if they had any positions available. He was hired by a producer named Charles Polacheck. Fred moved to New York, full of enthusiasm,
only to find that his days were spent running minor errands. He experienced the worst in his colleagues,
especially those in positions of power. In later years, Fred remembered how one of
his bosses severely chastised him in public for forgetting to put sweetener in his coffee. He tried, mostly in vain, to bring a positive
vibe to the office. Fred’s favorite NBC show was Opera Theater. The show collaborated with famous composers
to put on operas that were shown across the nation via the tube. Fred worked his way up to becoming a floor
manager on the show. He was in charge of timing the programs, making
sure the cameras were ready, and letting the actors know when to stop and start. His attentive personality allowed him to shine
in the role. Fred also became floor manager on a handful
of other shows. He came to appreciate the wide variety of
uses that television could be put to. One of the shows he worked on was The Gabby
Hayes show. He watched and absorbed the lesson as Hayes
spoke into the camera as if there was only one person on the other side of the screen. Ultimately though, Fred became frustrated. NBC wasn’t showing any interest in moving
into the use of television as a medium of education. He decided to leave and pursue his passion
to bring music and education to the masses, especially the children. In 1953, Fred and Sara, who he had married
the previous June, heard of a new television station that was opening up in Pennsylvania. It was to be called WQED. They decided that should apply and Fred was
offered a job as program manager. WQED was the first community television station
in the United States. Fred saw it as the ideal opportunity to shape
educational content. A month before WQED was scheduled to go live,
the owners decided that a children’s program would be a valuable addition to the line-up. Fred and a young woman named Josie Carey,
the station secretary, were tasked with coming up with something. The show they come up with was called The
Children’s Corner. The Children's Corner started out very simply. While Fred worked behind the scenes, Josie
introduced free children’s educational films. On the night before the show aired, station
director Dorothy Daniel gave Fred a small tiger puppet as a good luck charm. Fred quickly dubbed the puppet ‘Daniel’. Without telling anybody, Fred positioned himself
behind the set backdrop, which was simply a painted sheet. As Josie began introducing the first episode
live on air, he cut a slit in the sheet and ‘Daniel’ appeared on screen and began
conversing with Josie. The puppet proved to be a hit with audiences
and and puppets became a regular feature of the show. Fred was the puppeteer as well as organ player. In order to rush between the set and the organ
he took to wearing his trademark white tennis shoes. The Children’s Corner became so successful
that Fred and Josie became local personalities. The show even came to the attention of NBC,
Fred’s former employer. When their head of religious programming went
on a four week vacation, NBC invited Fred and Josie to fly to New York to appear live
every saturday morning. They returned to Pittsburgh for the Monday
morning show. The NBC Saturday show now exposed Fred to
a national audience. He began receiving hundreds of thousands of
fan letters. The NBC executives quickly secured Fred and
Josie as regulars. They also had larger more professional puppets
made. NBC put pressure on Fred and Josie to quit
WQED and go daily on their channel. But the pair would not relinquish their loyalty
to the original channel and they continued to travel back and forth. Despite his gruelling TV schedule, Fred continued
to pursue his dream of achieving a theological degree. He attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary,
and studied in the late hours, finally achieving his Masters in Divinity. The most influential course he took was a
masters counselling course, during which he worked with children to see how they reacted
to puppet interactions. He found that children reacted very differently
with puppets than they would with realm people and would more easily open up and communicate
to a puppet. Fred was ordained in 1962. His vocation was to work with children and
families through the mass media, specifically television. Plans were put in action for a Fred hosted
show for the Presbyterian church. But before it got off the ground, Fred received
the call that would change his life. Moving to Canada
The call came from Fred Rainsbury, who was in charge of children’s programming in Canada. He wanted Fred to come to Canada and put on
a 15 minute daily show specifically aimed at children and using puppets and his musical
talent. In was a huge risk for Fred and Sara, who
now had two young children. But it was everything that Fred had been working
towards and so they bit the bullet and moved to Toronto. But, when he arrived, Fred was shocked to
realize that Rainsbury wanted him to appear in front of the camera, rather than behind
the scenes. Rainsbury had seen Fred work one on one with
children and knew that he had a special gift to connect with them. Over the next 12 months, the two Freds developed
the program’s concept, with Rogers finally agreeing to appear on screen. The show was to be called Misterrogers as
one word. Rainsbury felt that this would make it less
formal to children. The show was set up in a neighborhood with
whimsical sets and puppets for Fred to interact with. A man named Ernie was brought in as the puppeteer. The show was a huge success in Canada. However, after the initial twelve month contract
was up, Fred decided to move his family back to the United States to be closer to family. Mr Roger’s Neighborhood Moving back to Pittsburgh, Fred waited patiently
until WQED had room in their schedule for another children’s educational program. After two years, during which he held an education
job with the church, the funding came through for Fred to host his own show on WQED, Mister
Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show premiered in October, 1966. For the first year it was essentially a rehashing
of the Canadian version of Misterrogers. Within twelve months, however, the format
had expanded and the show had been picked up by the Sears Company as a major sponsor,
enabling it to go to a national audience. Fred wrote the theme song that was to become
famous – Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The revamped show also added more characters,
puppets and places to visit. Each episode Fred would go out of the studio
and visit a new place. The second national series, in 1969, rolled
out in full color. In the third season, the show, which had become
hugely popular, was taken over by the Public Broadcasting Service or PBS. The first run of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood
continued production for a total of eight seasons and four hundred and fifty five episodes. By then Fred was ready to take a break, and
so the show transitioned to re-runs. But Fred was still busy. Ever the perfectionist he took the opportunity
to fix up things that he didn’t like from older episodes. New original seasons of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
began in 1979. Between then and 1993, fifteen new episodes
were produced per season, with shows linking together and carrying through one overall
theme for the season. The huge popularity of the show was due to
Fred's casual, inviting, empathetic nature. He never acted, always striving to be genuine
and honest. His main method of teaching was through his
own example, as many of his audience members grew up with him. The show would start with Fred talking directly
to his child audience about a subject. Then it would transition to a field trip,
which had been filmed earlier. Then it would be back live where Fred would
move into the Neighborhood of Make Believe. This was a whimsical place where the characters
could learn, explore and act out specific scenarios. Then Fred would move out of the Neighborhood
of Make Believe and discuss what had happened in the neighborhood that day. From start to finish the emphasis of the show
was on communication, opening up to others and exploring feelings. Fred was not afraid to discuss any topic that
was relevant to children, including divorce and death. In addition to these ‘heavy topics’, Fred
also encouraged children to have fun, exploring the world around them and keeping their curiosity
alive. In 2001, Fred retired at the age of 71, after
thirty one seasons eight hundred and sixty five episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The show was officially over, but Mr Rogers
was still a familiar TV personality through reruns. A Life Beyond TV Although best known for his landmark TV show,
Fred Rogers he invested his time and energy into other work as well. He was involved in the children’s book business,
held seminars for parents and produced many documentary style features. The most well known of these was series called
Mr Rogers Heroes and Old Friends, New Friends. For the show, Fred travelled all over the
United States talking to admirable people. Fred authored a total of thirty six children’s
books dealing with issues ranging from fear of going to the hospital to potty training. Fred’s passion for children’s education
led to his involvement in advocacy work. In 1971 he founded a non-profit organization
called Family Communications, Inc. He also made his voice heard on a national
level when he became involved in government issues. In 1969 he appealed to a group of senators
in an effort to stop the Federal government cutting funding to PBS. Largely as a result of his efforts, the funding
was actually increased by ten million dollars. In 1984, he was called as an expert witness
in a case between Sony and the Universal City Studio. The case was about the new Sony technology
called Betamax, which was the forerunner of the video recorder. This new technology threatened Hollywood and
Universal brought the case to stop Sony on the grounds of copyright. Fred testified on behalf of Sony, stating
the importance of parents and children being able to tape his show for later watching together. Sony won the case. Death and Legacy A year after his official retirement from
television, Fred was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His last public appearance was when he tossed
the coin at the 2003 Rose Bowl. A few weeks later he underwent surgery to
get rid of the cancer. It was unsuccessful and Fred went home to
spend his last weeks with his family. He died on February 27th, 2003, surrounded
by his family and his devoted wife, Sara. Fred’s passing was mourned around the world. But it was felt the hardest in his native
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His memorial was held there and was attended
by thousands of people,including many celebrities. PBS took steps to help children to come to
terms with the loss of Mister Rogers. They continued to air reruns and a special
entitled Fred Rogers: America’s favorite Neighbor was hosted by Michael Keaton. During his lifetime, Fred had received many
awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1999, he was inaugurated into the Television
Hall of Fame and one of his sweaters was featured in the Smithsonian Institute as a ‘treasure
of American history.’ The greatest legacy of Fred Rogers is the
show that made him a national treasure. The lessons he imparted – of tolerance, compassion,
love and empathy – are just as relevant today as they were when Mister Rogers Neighborhood
first went to air in the 1960’s.

23 thoughts on “Fred Rogers Biography – A Life of Service

  1. I didn't know Mr. Rogers' name was Fred. His show was one of 3 children's shows I would watch, because the rest were dumb. Sesame Street drove me batty. He was why I learned to tie my shoes early. He didn't deserve to go out that way.

  2. Mr. Rogers had taught me to be kind to others and to be myself no matter what. These lessons are incredibly valuable I think. I grew up in a household of abuse and unhappiness, but Mr. Rogers I like to think saved me in being my friend and teaching me to be the best version of myself I could possibly be and not to resolve in being bitter and violent. He was the greatest childhood friend I've ever had.

  3. Also, never forget the time he sued the KKK for using someone to impersonate his voice over the phone and spread hate speech to kids under the guise that it was him. He took them to court and won. Legends only.

  4. I grew up watching Mr. Rodgers. It was always so nice. I always wondered which colour sweater he would wear for the episode (my fave. was the red one). I was in awe of how he could toss his shoe and never drop it as he changed into his sneakers. I also loved when we went to makebelieve land, and how he always said we needed to feed the fish. He was such a wonderful man. I'm glad of his impact on the world.

  5. my parents divorced when I was three and Fred Rogers was the first adult to talk to me about it in a meaningful way without personal bias. Thank You sir, for everything!

  6. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Fred Rogers for all his tireless work to touch the lives of children in a meaningful way. His work had an impact on my youth. No one else in any capacity talked about grief to children before. Thank you Mr. Rogers!!!

  7. You should do one on Raffi. An immigrant who wrote some of the best loved children's music of all time. He was rather brilliant.

  8. The world is a better place because Mister Rogers was in it. Thanks for this one. I watch all of your videos on all of your channels. But me being a native of Pittsburgh, this episode really meant a lot. I grew up in the 1970s watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood. What an amazing person.

  9. Looking back at some of my best times in life was watching Fred Rogers on TV with my brother and sisters. Thank you for this episode it brought tears to my eyes and a warm feeling to my heart.

  10. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Rogers in the late 1990’s having worked for my local PBS station for a number of years. He was very odd yet interesting to meet. I discovered that he never ever would sign a picture of himself without having addressing his autograph to an actual recipient. It was a true honor and pleasure to have met him. A definite memory that I’ll never forget. Thank you for this biography. 😁😊😀

  11. Consider this: Mr Rogers was a minister, his ministry was explicitly his work in TV to reach children. It sort of makes him the one and only actually honest and good televangelist.

  12. I feel like now more than ever people can appreciate this man and what he represented. True greatness isn't in accolades or fame and riches, but in ones ability to serve. He left a lot of people with full hearts.

  13. Micheal Keaton was a stagehand for Mister Rogers among other things. You can see him taking calls in a telethon on a YouTube video.

  14. Humanity was so fortunate to have a selfless man like Fred. We are so lacking Men of his caliber today. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the chance to grow up and learn so much from this man. He taught me trust, honesty and how to except everyone despite our differences. RIP Mr. Rogers.

  15. I'm not going to lie. I cried like a baby on the day Fred Rogers passed away. He was one of my first heroes.

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