When I was little, a close family friend of ours would watch me while my parents were at work. My mom would say, “We’re going to Lois’s!” and I, being all of three or four, misunderstood the grammatical functions of that sentence, the result being that I addressed Lois as “Loises” for quite some time. If it annoyed her, she never said a word to me, and I was free to play around the house and the yard all day. Until Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came on, that is.
When Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came on, we would all come inside and watch the program. We’d sit there and learn all about being good neighbors ourselves and how to accept other people’s attempts at being good neighbors, and then – as I recall – it was usually nap time. But, to this day, the phrase “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” is set to music in my head, and, more often than not, comes out of my mouth in musical form as well.
So imagine how excited we were to find a larger-than-life version of Mister Rogers himself in Pittsburgh.
After stumbling upon this, I wondered why Pittsburgh had a monument to Mister Rogers. I mean, aside from the obvious fact that every city should have a giant statue of Mister Rogers, complete with overhead speakers playing his songs. I did a little digging, and found that Fred Rogers had been born not far from Pittsburgh, and after earning a degree in musical composition and spending some time working on other productions, he returned to Pittsburgh to help launch an educational television program for children. Being a fairly low-budget start-up, Fred Rogers drew upon his musical training when programming the show, and he wrote all the music for the show himself. That program would later become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I’m sure some people, probably my older readers, are rolling their eyes at me right now. Of course Fred Rogers was from Pittsburgh, everyone knows that. No. Not everyone knew that. In all the years I watched that man on television, it never occurred to me that he wasn’t actually my neighbor. After all, he’d said he’d always wanted a neighbor like me.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was originally developed for Pittsburgh-area children. Rogers, who had been ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1963, felt called to work to create a better world for children and young people, and he specifically wanted to help the children in his own town. Understandable enough – we all feel like our impact, if it exists at all, will be in our own communities. However, the show proved incredibly popular, and his message of kindness, compassion, and neighborliness ended up being broadcast nationwide on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
A bit more digging led me to find that Fred Rogers was my kind of guy. In addition to writing, producing, starring in, and composing music for his own show, he was a tireless advocate for public educational television programs. After all, what good is airing a show about being a good neighbor if children aren’t going to be able to watch it? When budgetary cuts were proposed for PBS and other public broadcasting services, Fred Rogers went to Congress and recited the lyrics to one of his songs from the show. It resulted in a huge budgetary increase for public broadcasting.
One of my brother’s favorite quotes came from Mister Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
It’s a quote that helps him get through the nightly news. Personally, I like the quote Fred Rogers gave while explaining the need for children to be taught social and emotional awareness:
“Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”
Whichever Mister Rogers quote – or song lyric – is your favorite, I think we can all agree that we need a bit more of his optimism and neighborliness in today’s world. And I suppose that’s why Pittsburgh decided to build him a monument.