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We Liked Him Just The Way He Was: Iowans Remember Mr. Rogers

Associated Press
Gene J. Puskar
This Jan. 4, 1984 file photo shows Fred Rogers, star of Public Television's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," as he rehearses with some of his puppet friends in Pittsburgh, Pa.

After starting out on WQED in Pittsburgh in 1966, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its national public television debut on February 19, 1968.  The final new episode was taped December 1st 2000, but the show lived on through re-runs even after Fred Rogers passed away in 2003.

Three generations have now grown up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or watching children’s programming heavily influenced by his philosophy.

In recent years documentaries, books, and now a feature film have given us new ways to understand the breadth and depth of the powerful work of Fred Rogers. Recently, we talked about that on an episode of Talk of Iowa which you can listen to here. 

Charity Nebbe asked you to share how Mr. Rogers has touched your lives. Here are some of our favorite memories and stories.

Daniel Finney, Des Moines Register Storyteller:

"So much of our dialogue as a culture is angry. And anger is born of fear. And that anger produces nothing but more anger and cruelty. And so the rejection of the idea that an individual is special simply because they are, is a rejection of our very basic human dignity. And Mr. Rogers hated that.

Mr. Rogers believed that no matter who you were, what you had done, what you didn't do, whatever you were, or wherever you were, you were special because you were in this world and there was no one else like you. And we don't hear messages like that anymore.

We are so aggressive toward one another that we are constantly ranking everything - ranking our entertainment choices, ranking our places to eat, ranking each other, ranking people who play sports, whatever it might be. What if we were just to say, 'everyone is worthy of love, dignity and respect?'"

From Deb on Facebook


“When my daughter was little, she’d sit in front of the TV and listen to every word he said. She’d nod and respond as if he were talking just to her. I didn’t really appreciate how his slow, careful speech was so effective at the time. Such a gentle kind spirit. We need someone like him in our world today.”

From Jerry via email

“As an exceptionally sick child I spent most of my early years in the University of Iowa Hospital Center, and while the doctor's certainly tried, Mr. Rogers was an amazing force, as he became the only adult other than my parents who I felt was never going to show up to deliver bad news (of another test, or their results). Which is something I am to this day, eternally grateful for.”

From Shana via email

“I grew up in a chaotic home and the men in my life were largely loud and brash, so I looked forward to Mr. Rogers every day on PBS because Mr. Rogers presented a different vision of manhood for me.  I loved the way I felt like he was talking to me. I remember hearing of his death on the NPR headlines. My boyfriend and I were together and wept as we processed the news.

As an adult, I had the great honor of living in Pittsburgh and graduating from the same seminary where he earned his degree. I loved how Pittsburgh really celebrated Fred Rogers. Every year on his birthday, the city celebrated Sweater Day and local agencies would hold sweater and coat drives in his honor. It has been gratifying to see the world really dig into his life and legacy as of late. He was so much more than a quality children's show. He changed lives. He changed mine.”

From Genevieve on Facebook

“I grew up watching Mr. Rogers with my brother when I was little, trying his DIY tricks and often falling asleep to his gentle speech. Now as an adult, I've sought his philosophy on and practice of kindness and have felt more moved than ever. I recently shared a segment on loving yourself with my 6th grade class. You could have heard a pin drop; my normally chatty class was absorbed in his every word and message. In a world often lost in the noise of the day-to-day, I'd say we all need a little more Mr. Rogers.”


From Julie on Instagram


“One of my favorite memories of Mr. Rogers is watching him on TV in high school. Our school had TVs in every room so we could all watch “Channel 1.” We would take our lunch into the journalism workroom and eat lunch in the adjacent classroom, which somehow had access to watch Mr. Rogers.


It was a welcome, wholesome break from the routine negativity teenagers are usually faced with during high school. Now, 20 years later, I love watching Daniel Tiger with my own children and know that they are getting the same quality and caring messages. Thank you PBS and IPTV for putting Mr. Rogers and his worlds in my life.”   


From Ulpi on Facebook


“I came to Iowa City in '91 from Spain with a 2-year-old and 5-year-old. Mr. Rogers was the program I watched with my children. The three of us learned English with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. A very, very good feeling.”



Dan Wardell, Co-Host Kid's Clubhouse Adventures on IPTV:

"Part of his legacy is that he believed in people. He believed in imagination. And if you really truly believe in what you're living and where you're working in your families and your relationships, everybody else is all in too. And they also believe, and that's how you have hopefully successful relationships. So the guy believed, and I've hopefully today we all in this room and everybody out there listening and believes in something to make their lives greater."

Andi on Facebook


“Mr. Rogers was my doorway into so many things. I truly believed that his neighborhood was how neighborhoods were supposed to be. Growing up in rural, white, working class environment, I wondered where the people of color were, what it was like to have people live so close, and be so friendly and concerned about each other. He showed me how so much of the outside world worked, whether making crayons, or how to approach my (many) fears of things I didn’t understand. He demystified so many things, while never breaking the magic.


The show not only bridged the adult world to children, helping to demystify it a bit for us, he also normalized differences. Going to a school that fully integrated students who were differently abled, it wasn’t new to me to have students different than me in class or on the playground. However, he helped me see how many differences there can be, that they were all people, but most of all, focused on what they COULD do, not what they couldn’t. That made a big impact on me."


From Alexandria via email

“I grew up watching Mr. Rogers, and he always inspired me to be kind to all kinds of people. He always taught me to use my imagination. I think also he taught me different ways things were made - crayons and all kinds of other stuff. But as I got older I realized he taught me the importance of racial relations. He enriched my childhood and [helped me] know it was ok to feel sad even when my mom passed away when I was eight.”

Mary on Facebook


“My youngest brother and I would watch together. He was a preschooler, and I was a tween. We were both mesmerized by the kind man who talked only to each of us! I learned a lot about how to talk with children from him, and I think it helped me as a speech/language pathologist and early childhood consultant.”

Deb on Facebook

“With his quiet tone and parables of sort, the ordained Mr. Rogers essentially ministered to children. I think this is why many were drawn to him; he was intriguing and a nice, calming figure in their lives in contrast to others.”

Sherene, who called into the live broadcast

"When I was a senior in high school, I took AP Humanities. Whenever my teacher would show our class slides of different pieces of paintings of fine art, she would ask us, 'okay, has anyone seen this painting before?' Invariably, one of us would say, oh, Mr. Rogers had that on picture-picture. And she would just get so frustrated. Like, have none of you ever been to an art museum or seen any fine art outside of Mr. Rogers?" 

Abby Brown, Co-Host Kid's Clubhouse Adventures on IPTV

"When I'm not making TV with Dan, I'm out in the state of Iowa. I'm telling you there is an army of people out there working towards the mission that a healthy family grows a healthy child. And in order to be successful, and in order to learn that, that has to come first, and they're using Mr. Rogers materials. They're using everything that PBS has to offer. They're using it all, and they're working very, very hard and very diligently at it."

Nick From Twitter

“I remember Mr. Rogers wrapping a slice of cheese around a banana thanks to a viewer suggestion. I ate many, many bananas with cheese as a kid after that. I'm still a fan of Fred!”


From Marjorie on Facebook


“I was raising my preschooler alone in the late 70’s and found comfort in sharing time with Mr. Rogers and my little daughter. I often thought of him as my partner in parenting!”


Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa