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Letters to the editor: 3/4/03

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Fred Rogers was a strong man who taught good lessons

Fred Rogers was the strongest man in America. He was the strongest because of his message of love and kindness. His mission in life was to communicate this message to children. He wrote, "Somewhere early on, I got the idea inside me that childhood was valuable, that children were worthy of being seen and heard, and who they were had a lot to do with how our world would become."

This strong concept of the future was communicated every day through the medium of television. Every morning we are saved from cynicism by Fred Rogers as he quietly talks to and listens to children on his taped program. His focus on their needs is translated to a quiet understanding of all of our needs.

Fred Rogers was fearless. He was fearless because he remained his honest self in every situation. Whether he was receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom or talking to a child, Fred gave himself wholly to that person.

Living fully in the moment is a fearless act. Children are especially good at it and they expect it from us, the adults in their lives. Our children deserve our strong support, love and kindness. They deserve to be respected for who they are, not who we want them to be. They need time to grow and to learn through play. They need to have a long childhood to learn who they are and to learn those basic human qualities of love and kindness.

Many of us are wondering what to do now that this strong and fearless man is gone. But we cannot forget that Mr. Rogers was a great teacher and role model. Through his company, Family Communications, Inc., his legacy will live on. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" will continue to run on PBS and preschool teachers and parents will have access to educational materials to help children through situations they encounter everyday.

Through FCI's effort, and the efforts of the many people with whom they collaborate, children's lives will continue to be enriched and nurtured. Just as important, his legacy will also live on through the lessons he taught us.

He taught us to be strong in our love and kindness for one another. He taught us to be brave and to fight the world of cynicism that our children and we are exposed to everyday. Fred Rogers, you taught us well. We will miss you.

Executive Director
Pittsburgh Children's Museum
North Side

A force of calmness

Few parents who raised their children in the '70s are not saddened by Fred Rogers' passing. For many of us, it was the only TV show that we permitted our children to watch.

The Dr. Benjamin Spock generation of parents were proud to say we watched Mr. Rogers daily and were amazed to see our children sit quietly and be totally mesmerized by a man who wasn't funny. He emitted a force of calmness, kindness and empathy that could never be duplicated by the likes of Sesame Street. He was our and our children's role model.

His voice was gentle, which encouraged us to listen a bit more closely to his words of hope, wisdom and love. He repeated the same activities every day -- the sweater, the shoes. Young children crave and need stability in their lives and he gave them that for 30 minutes every day.

I know I speak for the whole city of Pittsburgh when I say that we will miss this very special man.


We had him first

Reading the Post-Gazette's tribute to Fred Rogers, "Farewell, Neighbor" (Feb. 27), brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. Like most baby boomers in Pittsburgh, watching Josie Carey's Children's Corner was a part of my routine.

I loved the puppets. King Friday XIII scared me. He was an authoritarian and was a little stern. Daniel, on the other hand, was pure comfort. His voice was as warm and soothing as my mother's embrace. I loved him.

Gradually, I outgrew the Children's Corner and the puppets faded in my memory until years later while I was in college. I was walking through the student union on my way to class when a familiar voice stopped me in my tracks. It was Daniel. He was on a television at an out-of-state campus in 1970. What was going on?

Curious and confused, I sat down to watch my first episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and saw for the first time the man behind the voices of my favorite childhood characters. I cut class and met Mr. Rogers and was better off for it.

Visitors to Pittsburgh often comment on how friendly we natives are. Today I realized why we have that reputation: We had a 15-year jump on the rest of the world. We had Mr. Rogers first.


A special pride

Many things will be said and written lauding Fred Rogers after his passing.

I would like to share that most larger cities can boast the likes of a Terry Bradshaw, a Roberto Clemente or a Mario Lemieux. But we Pittsburghers should feel especially proud that we can claim Mr. Rogers, who has influenced not just an era, but also generations, as our own.


Two greats linked

At Sister Francis Assisi Gorham's funeral last month, a photo of her with Mr. Rogers and some of her violin students was among the memorabilia and awards displayed on a table. Some of those lucky children appeared on a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episode back in the '70s.

As part of my library and information science studies at the University of Pittsburgh, I am often in the Information Sciences Library, and on a recent Monday, I was in the library's Elizabeth Nesbitt Room in order to view a videotape from the "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" archives that featured these kids playing their violins.

In so many ways, Sister Francis was the "female" Mr. Rogers, both of them having spent decades in the Pittsburgh area, influencing the lives of countless children with their kind words and their genuine ability to express themselves through the love of music. My 15-year-old daughter, who plays violin for the Seton Center Suzuki School of Music Orchestra that was directed by Sister Francis, commented on the irony that these two greats would die the same month.

At sister's service, a remark was made that every day you could send sister flowers, call her up to tell her thank you and that you loved her, but this would still not be thank you enough. I feel the same way today, about the pride of Pittsburgh, Mr. Rogers.

My brother met Mr. Rogers over a decade ago at a lecture on early childhood at Carlow College. Mr. Rogers listened as my brother talked about working with kids and, of special interest to Mr. Rogers, how he sometimes used puppets. My brother cherishes the handwritten note that Mr. Rogers later sent to him in which Mr. Rogers, in his characteristic humble manner, expressed his gratefulness for people like my brother who worked with children.

Mr. Rogers would want us to express our feelings and my family and I join the many people -- neighbors -- who will be sharing their sadness at his loss and their gratitude for his life.


Name airport for him

Back before naming rights, large public structures were named in honor of exemplary community members. Why not rename Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in honor of Fred Rogers? That way, when planes land, people will be thinking, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

Mt. Lebanon

One of the rare people

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I knew it was famous for several things: for the Steelers, for transplanting hearts and for Mr. Rogers. But I had not grown up with "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and knew of Mr. Rogers only through adult parodies. Over time, however, it has been my great privilege to work with Rogers and his wonderful staff and to grow in respect for the integrity of his work.

At a time when we warn our children of strangers, millions of us weekly invite him into our homes and our lives. Children and adults are reassured by his simple, honest, straightforward talk, whether about crayons or cancer, about poverty or play, about war or peace.

A poet was speaking recently about a horrendous storm with winds so ferocious they tore up a 100-year-old tree. But in the midst of the chaos, there came a moment of tranquillity, a moment when the sky was blue and one could hear the birds.

There are a rare few people amongst us who can push back that chaos and provide a moment of tranquillity for all of us. They must be treasured and remembered for they preserve our humanity and bring us peace. This was our colleague, an adjunct professor in the school, our friend, our treasure, Fred Rogers.

Regent Square

Editor's note: The writer is a professor in the department of library and information science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Build a memorial

Most likely, Fred Rogers would be the last person to want to have a statue or memorial dedicated to him, but being a truly Pittsburgh icon, I think it would be most appropriate. Like Gene Kelly, Stephen Collins Foster, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and others, he brought joy to and touched so many lives not only here in Pittsburgh but possibly throughout the world.

I don't think it would be difficult to raise funds for such a memorial if that be necessary. Where can I send my check?

Bethel Park

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