4. His sweater and sneakers are housed at Rollins. Rogers famously wore zip-front cardigans that were knitted by his mother. A blue cardigan and a pair of sneakers are among Rollins’ most treasured archives. Another cardigan—a red one—is kept at the Smithsonian.
5. He spent his winters in Winter Park, Florida, in a house near Rollins College. Rogers and his wife, Joanne Byrd Rogers ’50, enjoyed an escape from the cold winters of their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to spend January in the sunny city of their alma mater—the place where they first met. Executive Assistant for Alumni Engagement Sara Patrick ’08 remembers when she met Mister Rogers in her neighborhood. “Some of my favorite childhood memories are from the time my family and I spent with Fred and Joanne Rogers having afternoon teas and piano concerts,” Patrick says. “I was 8 years old and it was just like having him step out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and into my home.” To honor the Rogers family, the City of Winter Park erected a sign on the street that reads, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood.”
New York-based composer Conrad Winslow ’07 was a recipient of the McFeely-Rogers Foundation Music Scholarship. Photo: Yvette Kojic ’07
6. His family foundation established the McFeely-Rogers Foundation Music Scholarship at Rollins. During Rita Bornstein’s ’04H presidency at Rollins in 1996, Rogers’ family foundation generously established an endowed scholarship that has already provided funding for more than 45 students.
7. Rogers first came to the Rollins College campus to visit in 1948. He sat down at a piano in the practice rooms and started playing. His wife said, “He liked Rollins immediately.”
8. He wrote all the songs for his show, as well as more than 200 other songs, and several kids' operas including one called “All in the Laundry.”
9. He replied to every piece of fan mail. Responding to fan mail was part of Mr. Rogers’ regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.
10. He could make a subway car full of strangers sing. Once while rushing to a New York meeting, he couldn’t find a cab, so he and one of his colleagues hopped on the subway. Esquire reported that the car was filled with people, and they assumed they wouldn’t be noticed. But when the crowd spotted Rogers, they all simultaneously burst into song, chanting “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
11. Animals loved him as much as people did. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2,000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.
12. He wrote all 895 episodes of his show, each one teaching us with gentle words and kindness how to be better human beings.
13. One of his most important messages was that he loved us all as we were: “I love you for what you are, not what you can become. You are special to me.”
14. Rogers transferred to Rollins College, where he graduated in 1951 with distinction with a BA in music composition, from Dartmouth, which he attended for one year.
15. He weighed exactly 143 pounds for the last 30 years of his life. According to Esquire, Rogers lived a healthy life and was disciplined in his daily routine. Writer Tom Junod explained that Rogers found beauty in his weight of 143 pounds because “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three.”
16. Rogers met his wife at Rollins. Joanne Byrd Rogers ’50, a fellow music student, went on to become an accomplished concert pianist. They married in 1952 and had two children, James (born in 1959) and John (born in 1961), and they remained devoted to each other their entire lives. Joanne has been memorialized forever as Queen Sara in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
17. A young blind girl once wrote to Rogers to make sure he was feeding his fish. He verbalized every time he fed his fish on the show from then on.
18. Rogers pursued television because he despised what he saw: “I got into television because I saw people throwing pies in each other’s faces,” he said. “And that’s such demeaning behavior. And if there’s anything that bothers me, it’s one person demeaning another.”
19. His efforts for children were informed for decades by working with Dr. Margaret McFarland, director of the Arsenal Family and Children’s Center in Pittsburgh, who helped provide depth and rigor to his thinking about children and education.
20. He gave the same acceptance speech for every award he won. During each speech, he took a moment of silence for the audience to remember the people who helped make his show successful.
21. He saved public television. On May 1, 1969, Rogers sat before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication and explained what exactly his job entailed, defending public television from proposed budget cuts. Sitting in front of Sen. John O. Pastore, Rogers spoke simply about what he hoped to accomplish with his show: to help children deal with their problems in a positive, healthy way and to instill confidence in them.
22. His office had no desk. Rogers thought that having a desk separating him from the people who came through his office would create too much of a barrier. He liked comfy couches that invited cozy conversation.
23. He never endorsed one product or appeared in any advertisements during his career. Rogers thought that commercializing his show would unjustly exploit his special relationship with his young viewers.