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Rudkin: Welcome to the neighborhood

Rudkin: Welcome to the neighborhood

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I didn’t watch TV much when I was a kid. If I wasn’t helping my mom, then I was outside playing. My parents didn’t think television was awful; they just thought kids should be active.

However, the first time Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) saw a TV, while home from college on break, he was smitten. He immediately saw how it could be used for good and that he wanted to be a part of this fascinating new industry.

After graduating magna cum laude from Rollins College, Fred Rogers jumped into television as an assistant manager for NBC in New York. In 1953, he was hired to do programming in Pittsburgh for a recently launched community TV station. Within a few years, in 1962, Rogers would begin writing, producing and hosting “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Mr. Rogers was so passionate about this safe “neighborhood” for young children that he continued this work until 2001.

I’ve been reading his biography, “The Good Neighbor,” since seeing the movie before Christmas. Tom Hanks so brilliantly captures the essence of this immensely gifted and humble man. He, like each of us, was complex.

He grew up in an extremely wealthy family but never embraced that life for himself.

He went to work every day and lived in a modest home with his one and only wife. He graduated with honors with a music degree.

He could perform Bach and Beethoven on the piano, yet chose to write and sing simple teaching tunes that a child could remember.

Fred Rogers could have had access to the greatest stars and the latest technology, but brilliantly, the “Neighborhood” rarely changed. Rituals and the same people kept showing up every week: Mr. McFeely, X the Owl, King Friday, Queen Sara Saturday.

Fred Rogers, also an ordained minister, didn’t preach sermons from a pulpit, separated from the congregation. Instead, he walked into his “home,” hung up his coat, slipped on a comfy sweater and slippers and talked with tiny humans about kindness, being a friend, forgiveness and finding peace even when bad things were happening in the world.

As I watched the movie and even as I read his biography, I found myself intrigued but at times wishing the writers would speed it up a bit.

Which, of course, I immediately understood that they were intentionally and accurately depicting his life.

He worked hard but would not be pressed into hurry and worry. He was purposefully present to whomever was in front of him. He hugged people, remembered their names and he asked about their lives.

Near the end of the movie it was noted that Fred Rogers did four things that made him the man who impacted generations of children.

1. He read scripture every day.

2. He prayed for people whom he met or had written to him, by name, every day.

3. He swam laps every day.

4. He hand-wrote a letter to all those who wrote him (until the fan base grew so big that he literally could not).

These “habits” spoke of his discipline and how he was keenly attuned to God, his need for a strong body in order to have a healthy mind and his profound love of others.

I was not a Mr. Rogers fan as a child but now I am. Who doesn’t want to be with someone who is kind, who intentionally looks you in the eyes and welcomes you to the neighborhood?

Larry and Linda Kloster sponsor this column.

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Community News Editor

Sally Ann Shurmur arrived at the Star-Tribune to cover sports two weeks after graduating from the University of Wyoming and now serves as community news editor. She was raised in Laramie and is a passionate fan of Cowboys football, food and family.

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