Fred Rogers leaves lasting impact on fans of TV series

Written By Jake Dabkowski, For The Globe

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
Fred Rogers rehearses the opening of his PBS show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” during a taping in this June 28, 1989 file photo, in Pittsburgh.

“Fame is a four-letter word; and like tape, zoom, face, pain, life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it.” 

Mister Rogers said this during his acceptance speech to the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. Rogers knew that his platform could be used to do good, a decision which would go on to impact people of all different backgrounds, generations, religious beliefs and careers. I realized this when I started asking around for people who had been impacted by Rogers for this article.

Noah Neal is a cinema major at Point Park, who feels that as a child he was “subjected to a lot of television that, looking back, feels like a disingenuous product.” 

Unlike most shows, however, Mister Rogers “had nothing but respect and admiration for his audience. He fully understood the wonder of childhood and presented his show in such a respectful, educational, and genuine way… that’s what impacted me the most when I was a kid while watching the show.”

Adam Chaplin is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, studying chemical engineering. When Chaplin was assigned a speech for a public speaking class on who his hero was and why, he chose Mister Rogers. 

“Instead of using his gift of being on television for popularity and stardom, Mister Rogers used his gift for the greater good, teaching kids’ lessons in life that will impact them forever,” Chaplin wrote in his speech. “He taught us how to embrace love. He taught us that there are many ways to tell someone that you love them from just hanging up a coat before being asked to do so, to reminding someone to take an umbrella because it’s raining outside.”

Maggie English is a hairstylist at Philip Pelusi in the South Hills. She felt that “Mister Rogers softened the hearts of countless children, especially the ones who didn’t have a strong moral influence in their childhood.” 

She also was the first person I talked to who acknowledged his influence on their faith.

“It isn’t shocking to know that he prayed before every broadcast, ‘let some word that is heard be thine.’ Although he did not explicitly teach his faith on the show, his actions did,” English said.

Joseph McNamara is the drummer for the metal band “The Shape of Black Phillip.” 

“He instilled in my brain from a very young age that treating your ‘neighbor’ with respect is the only option if you wanted to be successful in life.” McNamara, who grew up in Pittsburgh, acknowledged how Rogers was “able to become one of the most well known faces of Pittsburgh and the wholesome icon he is today, even years after his passing.”

Dave Barr is a pastor at Peters Creek Baptist Church in South Park, Pa. Barr started watching the show when it first began airing in the late sixties and early seventies. Barr feels that Mister Rogers’ “commitment to love people exactly the way they are spoke to my generation and continues to echo long after his death,” and that “he truly lived an example of Christ’s love.”

Dr. Francois Clemmons is an American actor, singer, university lecturer and playwright. Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood know him as Officer Clemmons, a role he played on the show from 1968 to 1993. Clemmons first met Rogers in 1968 on Good Friday after Clemmons sang during the Stations of the Cross. Rogers invited Clemmons to lunch. 

“I was suspicious of him because he seemed to be so kind and he seemed to instinctively know what I needed,” Clemmons recalled to me over email. He considered Mister Rogers a “surrogate father.” What made Clemmons realized how generous and genuine Mister Rogers was people who would “confide to Fred about things… he always seemed to have time to hear what they had to say!”

Across five decades and four generations, Mister Rogers taught important lessons, provided hundreds of hours of entertainment and impacted countless lives. Nothing sums Mister Rogers’ influence better than something that Dr. Clemmons told me: “Fred’s love healed me, I would not be the person I am today had it not been for his unconditional love and kindness.”