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Young fans recall gentle host, memorable episodes

Friday, February 28, 2003

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In elementary school classrooms, high school hallways and in other places around the region yesterday, children talked about the man on television who wore the comfortable sweater and spoke with the soft, sing-song voice, the man who was so easy to wake up to every morning, the man who, they said over and over again, was "nice."

Mariann Nasse of Perry Hilltop shares a Mister Rogers memory with her two-year-old daughter, Savannah Nasse, yesterday at the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood exhibit at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

At the Children's Museum on the North Side, Kelsey Mahoney "age 8 and three quarters" and her best friend Karlie Festa, also 8 ("but I'll be 9 on Saturday"), took time out from pasting jewelry together to reminisce about Fred Rogers.

"I watched him every day when I was little," said Kelsey of Brentwood. "I felt really sad because he was really nice."

Did they learn anything from him?

"Oh yes," said Kelsey. "He talked about loving yourself and loving others. Of course, he said you didn't want to have too much self-esteem, or too little. Just in the middle was good."

Karlie remembered one episode where King Friday was torn between going to visit a friend or attending a fancy party. "And he decided to go see the friend because friends are better than cocktail parties and things like that."

While Kelsey said she was too busy to watch the show anymore, Karlie says she still does, regularly.

Her favorite character? "The trolley," she said. "I liked it a lot because I knew Mister Rogers liked it a lot.

"And I liked him."

On the museum's second floor, the little Fred Rogers exhibit was bristling with cameras, lights and reporters yesterday, but that didn't deter Isaac Miles, 3, from maneuvering his way through to get a close-up look at his favorite television characters.

Still, the tiny, tow-haired boy did his best to answer reporters' questions while keeping an eye on the King, his favorite character on the show.

"I like his crown," he said, noting that he had watched the program "a whole bunch of times."

But when yet another reporter tried to ask another question, a stentorian voice boomed out, "This is your king speaking."

Isaac looked slightly impatient.

"I have to watch Mister Rogers," he said, turning toward the exhibit.

His mother, Michelle Miles, 27, of the North Hills, said she told her son about Rogers' death earlier that day "and all he asked was, 'Are we going to be able to watch it anymore?' "

The answer, of course, is yes. Reruns are all over television, and the program's colorful set will be opened as a permanent exhibit in September 2004, said Jane Werner, the museum's executive director.

Not only that, but the museum will be open to the public for free on March 20, Fred Rogers' 75th birthday. "We just felt this was the best way to honor him," said Werner.

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.

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