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Letters to the editor, 03/02/03

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Thank you, Fred Rogers; there was no one else like you

I am part of a special group of people. I was 3 years old and living in the Pittsburgh viewing area when "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" first aired nationally in 1968. Back then we had only one TV, which got four channels, and as the youngest of eight children, I rarely got to choose what to watch, except during the day when everyone else was at school.

I don't remember the first time I saw Fred Rogers put on that sweater and those sneakers. I don't remember the first time I heard the trolley's familiar sound.

I do remember how Mr. Rogers made me feel special, in an era when self-esteem was just a clinical term in psychology books and in a geographical area where many fathers were steel workers who didn't share their feelings as openly and as freely as Mr. Rogers did. He was the first person to ever say out loud to many of us, "There's no one else like you" and "I like you just the way you are."

The real magic of Mr. Rogers wasn't just that he told us we were special, but that we believed him. He wasn't selling anything. He wasn't putting on a costume. He wasn't claiming to have super powers. He wasn't talking down.

He was just spending quality time with us, one on one (we didn't know then that we were thousands and later millions), singing simple songs about the joy of living and the beauty of the day, and telling us we were OK -- that we didn't have to be anything but who we were.

It was Mr. Rogers' sincerity that made us able to believe in ourselves and in his teachings. He made us healthier, happier children and better parents. We will miss him and remember him always.

ROBIN M. RUMBARGER
Butler


Fred was the best

Words have never failed me. I've made my living as a writer, and I've always found a way to express my thoughts and feelings on paper. But for the first time, I find myself at a loss ... because of a loss ... the loss of Fred Rogers.

I had the special privilege of knowing Fred and spending time with him. I've never known anyone like him, and I don't ever expect to again. He was, quite simply, the finest person I have ever known. Fred truly lived a life of love. I can honestly say that I never came away from an encounter with Fred, however brief, without feeling enhanced in some way.

Fred showed me how to live, or rather how to try to live, because I am never able to act consistently the way I would like to, the way Fred did. I am too easily irritated by the failings of other people. Fred always -- always! -- looked for and found the better parts of other people.

As I write this, I find myself getting frustrated because the words are failing me. I can't begin to express who Fred was or what he meant. But maybe I don't have to, because really, we all knew Fred. He was the best that humankind can create.

So I will continue to do what I've done since I first came to know Fred. When I find myself drawn to my meaner or lower or angrier or darker instincts, I will try to remember to ask myself, "How would Fred deal with this situation or problem or person?" We all know the answer.

The world is a lesser place because of his passing, but it can be a better place if we all listen to and abide by that answer.

Farewell, Fred, my friend, and thank you ... for showing us all the way.

JIM ROGAL
President
Century Communications
South Side

Editor's note: The writer worked for WQED for 11 years. Century Communications has worked with Fred Rogers' Family Communications Inc. for the past year.


A gentle soul

In this time of stupidity and war, a gentle and giving soul completes his journey. He left the world a much better place than he found it. He taught us how to be humane.

"Mensch" is the word needed here. We are in his debt and shall remain so for quite some time.

STEPHEN ZIELINSKI
Hampton


Our mission embodied

Fred Rogers was not just Pittsburgh's finest citizen, he was also our favorite citizen. There was only one in this wonderful world, and he was special.

This soft-spoken, calming, pleasant man in a red sweater made it his life's work to teach others about inclusion and acceptance and to instill self-worth and dignity in all children. Since 1927, the National Conference for Community and Justice's mission has been to fight bias, bigotry and racism wherever it exists.

We are especially saddened by the loss of Fred Rogers because while he did not work directly with our organization, he was a wonderful and important embodiment of our mission who touched countless lives.

We recognize his superior achievements even as we offer our deepest condolences to his family and to everyone who loved him. Mr. Rogers, with his simple sincerity in spreading love and affirmation in the "Pittsburgh neighborhood," has made that neighborhood a better place for all of us.

HEIDI McDONALD
Special Events Coordinator
National Conference for Community and Justice
Uptown


I finally met my friend

Fred Rogers was my friend, even though he never knew it. Tragedy struck my family in 1977 when my 15-year-old sister was killed in a motorcycle accident. As a 6-year-old child, I found a calm refuge in watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" every day. He told me it was OK to be sad, or fearful, or angry, but that it's also OK to be strong, or happy.

I spent many hours enjoying his company as my understanding neighbor. I remember eating alphabet soup during the show, before walking up the street to afternoon kindergarten and humming "You are special" the whole way.

I met Fred Rogers on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill a few years ago. We almost bumped into each other, and I was star-struck! He calmly smiled that wonderful smile and I caught my breath. Feeling like a bumbling idiot, I blurted, "Can I just shake your hand?" I removed my glove, and we exchanged a warm handshake. I said, "You do such wonderful things for children." In his famously slow diction, he said, "Do you work with children?" I said, "Sometimes, I take pictures of them -- I'm a photographer." He replied, "It takes a special eye to be a photographer!"

It felt like he would have talked to me right there all day. I thanked him and said goodbye, because I didn't want him to see that I was crying. I cried all the way to my car, feeling so happy and lucky to have finally met my friend in person, and he was exactly as kind and gentle as I knew he would be.

Watching TV one night, I caught Mr. Rogers winning a well-deserved award. He stood at the podium to give his speech, and everything slowed down. He said something like, "Creating takes inspiration. I'd like you all to take a moment to remember someone who inspired you in some way." The room was completely silent. Cameras scanned celebrities' expressions, many with tears rolling down their cheeks. The look in everyone's eyes was the same: They were looking at an old friend who made them feel so happy as a child.

Today I am mourning the loss of the wonderful friend and neighbor he was to all of us, the children who loved him.

ANITA PRENTISS
Swisshelm Park


He was the real thing

I grew up in Pittsburgh, where Fred Rogers was everywhere. There were always behind-the-scenes film clips on the news and local shows; I didn't have to tour the studio to know how it was set up and all the tricks they used. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was such a simple show based on sweet thoughts from a kind man.

I saw him many times in person but never actually met him. Unlike most characters portrayed on television, you knew he was real.

As I grew up and moved away, I lost track of him. Every now and then I would see him on a show being interviewed; sometimes he was being made fun of in a not-so-nice or respectful manner. Yet he took it all in fun and laughed with them, and my esteem for the man grew even more.

Eventually time provided me with children of my own and the luxury of staying home with them. Imagine my surprise to turn on a newer version of children's television and finding shows completely inappropriate for my little darlings to watch. I found the PBS station and was surprised to see my beloved Mr. Rogers still there -- older, more gray but still the same calm presence amongst the chaos.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was not an exciting show, and that is why I liked it. Fred Rogers had such a wonderfully kind manner about him that I will personally miss. I know he taped his last show a couple of years ago, and I am sure the show will continue being shown on PBS for many years to come.

What makes me sad is knowing that the world has lost such a kind soul as Fred Rogers. And for the millions of children he has touched throughout their lives, remember one thing: "I like you just the way you are."

NANCY MACIEJCZYK
Chester, Va.


Valuable television

I work as a free-lance video cameraman in Pittsburgh and was privileged to work with Fred Rogers many times over the past 25 years.

A few years ago, I was hired to shoot a segment for one of Fred's "visits," a part of the program that was taped outside the studio. We were visiting an emergency medical center, so Fred could show his neighbors what it was like to be in an ambulance.

My father in Indiana had suffered a heart attack a few days before the scheduled shoot. He turned out to be all right, but I called the producer to let her know that I was flying in the morning of the shoot date, and that I might be a little late. When I came in, Fred said hello, hugged me, and then asked, "Chris, would you like to talk about your dad?"

The setup for the first shot ground to a halt, as Fred and I talked for 15 minutes, so I could tell him all about my father. There I was, a 45-year-old man, being consoled by Mister Rogers, and he cared.

Ludicrous, some may say, but I felt better about my life, and about my neighborhood. Fred never failed to ask me about my three daughters, all of them loyal viewers, and all of them tender and thoughtful grown-ups. When my grandson Ben was born, Fred Rogers sent him an autographed picture and advised me to hug him a lot.

Those of us in town who were lucky enough to work with him knew we were shooting worthwhile and valuable television. He was a sweet, gentle and generous man, and I will miss him.

CHRISTIAN K. DAHL
Ross


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