Who Was Mister Rogers?
One day when Fred Rogers was in high school, his teacher asked him for a favor. Another boy, Jim Stumbaugh, had gotten seriously hurt during football practice. He’d be in the hospital for a while. He was well enough to keep up with his homework, though—if Fred would take his books to him.
Fred hesitated. He and Jim didn’t know each other well. Jim was a popular athlete. He was a star on the football team, the basketball team, and the track team. He got straight As. He succeeded at everything, and everyone liked him. Fred was not at all like Jim. He wasn’t athletic or outgoing.
Fred wanted to help out, though. So he agreed to visit Jim in the hospital. Fred was surprised at how well they got along. Jim was more than a good athlete—he was a good person. Jim and Fred became friends.
When Jim came back to school, he spread the word: “That Rogers kid’s okay.” Fred’s friendship with Jim helped him become more confident and outgoing, and Fred was always grateful to him. Jim had shown Fred how one person can change someone’s life.
Years later, Fred did the same thing. He created and starred in his own children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
. Fred used the program to help kids understand they were special just by being themselves. They were always welcome in Fred’s world, just like Jim Stumbaugh had made Fred welcome in his. Chapter 1: A Shy Boy
Fred Rogers was born on March 20, 1928, into a wealthy family in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, not far from the city of Pittsburgh. His father, James, owned a factory that made bricks for furnaces. His mother, Nancy, took care of the family.
They were loving and attentive parents, and they taught Fred to be kind to other people. Nancy volunteered at the local hospital and knitted sweaters for soldiers. James would leave pennies on people’s windowsills. He liked to imagine their faces when they found them.
Near the end of the Depression, when Fred was eleven, his parents adopted a baby girl, Nancy Elaine. (They called her “Laney.”) Until Laney came along, though, Fred was an only child. Without a brother or sister, he was always looking for ways to have fun by himself.
To make up for not having many real-life friends, he created pretend ones. He used paper bags or old socks to make puppets. He gave them different names and voices, and they all had their own personalities. As long as Fred had his puppets, he didn’t get too lonely. He always had someone to talk to!
He also “talked” through his music. He loved to play songs on the piano to express himself. “I was always able to cry or laugh or say I was angry through the tips of my fingers on the piano,” he said.
He had begun playing the piano when he was five. A few years later, his grandmother offered to buy him a piano. She said he could pick out whichever one he wanted. Fred chose a grand piano. It was one of the fanciest, most expensive pianos in the store. His grandmother had not expected to spend that much money! But she’d made Fred a promise, and she kept it.
Fred sometimes had trouble fitting in with other kids. He was shy and chubby, and he got sick a lot. He had terrible allergies, and if there was a cold going around, Fred always seemed to catch it! Sometimes his mother wouldn’t even let him leave the house. Fred was stuck indoors while everyone else was outside playing.
His family was wealthier than most people in Latrobe, and some kids were annoyed by that. The Rogerses even hired a driver to take Fred to school each day. Sometimes Fred asked the driver to drop him off a block away so he could walk up to the building with everyone else. But he still knew he was different.
Fred did have a good friend in George Allen. George was an African American boy whose mother had worked as a housekeeper for the Rogers family. After she died, Fred’s mother invited George to live with their family. George was quite a bit older than Fred, and Fred looked up to him like a big brother. In those days it wasn’t common for white people to be friends with black people, but Fred didn’t care. He saw George as his friend, no matter what other people thought.
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