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10 ways to celebrate Mister Rogers’ 50th anniversary

Candy Williams
February15/ 2018

Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Latrobe and lived in Pittsburgh. Yet, as host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” his kindness, creativity and gentle passion for communicating with children impacted families all over the country. From Feb. 19, 1968, to Aug. 31, 2001, the show featured 895 episodes, each of which Rogers wrote and executive produced.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first episode and pay tribute to the late Fred Rogers, all manner of events – from the community level to the heights of Hollywood celebrity – are on the calendar.

“ ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was a show that touched people on a very personal level, granting children permission to feel feelings,” says Paul Siefken, president and CEO of The Fred Rogers Company. “That was so empowering for children who might not have heard that otherwise. People remember the show as adults and how much it meant to them.”

Here’s an overview of Fred Rogers celebrations ahead:

Mister Rogers
Michael Keaton, who worked as a stagehand and made appearances on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the 1970s, will host the PBS documentary “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like.” Photo courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company

“Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like”

WQED will air a special PBS 50th anniversary retrospective, “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like,” at 8 p.m. March 6, hosted by Michael Keaton, a Pittsburgh native who worked as a stagehand and made appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in the 1970s.

“He let all his young neighbors know that they were all special and that he liked you just the way you are. But the more you learn about Fred, the clearer it becomes he was truly the special one, a really wonderful neighbor,” Keaton says.

Featured on the special will be cast members David Newell (Speedy Delivery Mr. McFeely) and Joe Negri (Handyman Negri), who will share personal stories about Rogers, as will musicians Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, who appeared on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Celebrities including John Lithgow, Whoopi Goldberg, Esperanza Spalding and Sarah Silverman discuss how the show inspired them.

“It’s fascinating to hear from people who teared up when they told about how comforting and encouraging his messages were,” Siefken says.

Mister Rogers
Latrobe native Fred Rogers speaks to children on the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Feb. 19, 1968. Photo copyright The Fred Rogers Company

Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College

The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College, Latrobe, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first national broadcast of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” by hosting a screening of the first episode and a panel discussion at 7 p.m. Feb. 19.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Paul Guggenheimer of Primal Interviews. Participants include David Bianculli, creator of “TV Worth Watching” and TV critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air”; Dr. Junlei Li, chair of early learning and children’s media at Saint Vincent; and Marge Petruska, retired program officer for children, youth and families at the Heinz Endowments.

The event is free, but seating is limited. To request a seat reservation, call 724-805-2750.

PBS Kids Special TV Programming

During the week of Feb. 26, PBS Kids will feature a week-long programming event featuring back-to-back theme-related episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and its award-winning animated spinoff series, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Check the PBS Kids website, too, for fun games, activities, songs and cool videos.

Mister Rogers
Fred Rogers on the set of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” Photo by Rachellynn Schoen, courtesy of Heinz History Center

Heinz History Center

Heinz History Center in the Strip District will celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” beginning in March with special exhibitions and programs.

In 2015, the History Center became home to the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” display. Visitors will find the show’s original living room, King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree home of Henrietta Pussycat and X The Owl, Mr. McFeely’s Speedy Delivery tricycle and puppets from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Fred Rogers’ iconic sweater and shoes will be displayed beginning  March 20, which would have been Fred Rogers’ 90th birthday.

Also in March, Heinz History Center will install new “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” artifacts and interactive features in Discovery Place, a fun learning space for kids to explore Pittsburgh innovations.

Video portions of episodes from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” that highlight the themes of courage and bravery will screen, along with Fred Rogers’ 1968 testimony to Congress, exemplifying his courage in standing up for his ideas.

Educational programs to commemorate the milestone include:

Feb. 24: “Games for Change Game Jam: Kindness, Empathy and the work of Fred Rogers,” will feature games, play and workshops for teens that explore the themes of kindness and empathy.

Aug. 22 and Oct 24: Hop Into History programs designed for ages 2-5 will explore the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” through music, dance and games.

Mister Rogers
The original Daniel Striped Tiger puppet is on display at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

“Happy Birthday Mister Rogers Days: A 50th Anniversary Celebration” will take place March 17-20 at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side. Special events include:

March 17:  Meet Mister McFeely.

March 18: Daniel Tiger walkabouts and neighborly themed creative activities.

March 19: Meet Daniel Tiger.

March 20: Free admission for the 16th celebration of the anniversary of Fred Rogers’ birthday.

For further details and information about the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh events, please click here.

Fred Rogers with the Neighborhood of Make Believe puppets. Photo courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company

‘Be My Neighbor’ Day of Volunteering

WQED’s annual Family Volunteer Day is expanded this year to include a live pledge show on WQED-TV on March 20, a community-wide Family Volunteer Day on April 21, and a thank-you party on April 22.

“We want the community to see WQED as Fred imagined it, with neighbors helping communities to grow and come together,” says Gina Masciola of WQED multimedia and education department.

To get everyone in a neighborly mood, a family viewing event on March 20 will feature the original “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” episodes, alongside Daniel Tiger’s shows that highlight the common theme of kindness to others. Families can participate by pledging to volunteer in the community on April 21, selecting from a variety of community partners.

April 21 is “Be My Neighbor: Day Community-wide Family Volunteer Day,” when an estimated 2,000 or more volunteers will be in communities, performing a variety of service projects.

On April 22 families that pledge at least two hours of service will be invited to a thank-you event at Highmark Stadium that will include family activities and opportunities to be neighborly throughout the year.

Mister Rogers
The Mister Rogers forever stamp

Dedication of Mister Rogers postage stamp

A “Forever” postage stamp honoring Fred Rogers will be dedicated at WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio in Oakland on March 23. Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan will attend the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony at the studio where the first “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” episode was made.

The event is free or you can view the ceremony live on the U.S. Postal Service’s Facebook page.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” documentary

Another Rogers’ tribute, a new Focus Films documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” by Academy Award-winning producer/director Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom”), will open in theaters on June 8, following its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

“The Fred Rogers I discovered making this film is at once comfortably familiar and completely surprising. I believe Mister Rogers is the kind of voice we need to hear right now,” Neville says.

Mister Rogers
Little kids love the trolley ride through Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood at Idlewild Park.

Idlewild Park, Ligonier

Idlewild Park, which opens May 20, features a trolley ride through “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and a “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Day” stage show four times daily. Daniel Tiger’s Neighbor Days takes place July 9-13 with visits from Daniel, Katerina, Miss Elaina, O the Owl and Prince Wednesday.

“You Are My Friend” biopic  

Production is set to begin in September on “You are My Friend,” a biographical movie for television with actor Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers. The TriStar Pictures film is inspired by a real-life friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. A 2019 release date is expected.

Candy Williams

Candy Williams is a freelance writer and journalist whose articles have appeared in national and local publications. She lives in the South Hills.

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