ORLANDO, Fla. – An icon beyond his time, Fred Rogers is a celebrated television personality recognized for his children TV series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
People remember the beloved celebrity for tying his sneakers and wearing his iconic sweaters. Most of all, he was known for his kindness. These attributes are expected to be reenacted by Tom Hanks in the upcoming film “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” a biopic about Rogers and his TV show.
Though his familiar heartwarming characteristics may be what people remember him by, here are a few lesser-known facts that may not make it in the film and help paint the picture of who Rogers was.
Mr. Rogers the cook
Rogers was known as a creative man. He may have not had his own kitchen dedicated to kindness, but family members say Rogers was also quite the cook. His nephew, Daniel Crozier, says Rogers’ culinary skills were a family favorite and even a large part of their family gatherings. In the video above, Crozier recalls a family tradition in which Rogers would make his famous vegetable lasagna for his brother on his birthday. Crozier said it was by far one of his favorite dishes growing up.
He was a great gift-giver
It’s perhaps one of the more expected facts, but the depth to which Rogers could know exactly what to say was emulated in how he knew what and how to give.
His longtime friend, John Sinclair, said Rogers’ kindness was noticed even in the little things. He recalled a time when Rogers had admired a pair of his cuff links on one of his visits to Florida. For Rogers’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, Sinclair decided to gift him cuff links as well.
“Fred had been at our house a year or two before and admired a pair of cuff links I had. So I thought, ‘I’ll give him that pair of cuff links.’ And indeed, he enjoyed them, I think."
Before Rogers passed away in February 2003, he sent gifts and letters to those he loved, including Sinclair.
“I received several envelopes from him with various things,” Sinclair said. “But the one most touching was one that wrote back that said, 'To John Sinclair, friend and cuff link collector, thank you for sharing these with me.’ He returned my cuff links to me.”
Sinclair said it was typical to receive letters from Rogers, but to receive items from a dear friend in his final days was an emotional way for Rogers to display his kindness.
“Just imagine knowing that your passing is near, he was giving back all the way to the end. It’s very touching.”
Mr. Rogers the musician
It’s no secret Rogers was a brilliant musician. He wrote and composed all of his songs for his show and was disciplined about his craft.
In fact, he transferred from Dartmouth College to Rollins College in Winter Park to study music. There, he majored in music composition and theory and got his early start as a composer.
“He wrote over 200 songs," Crozier said.
He expressed that writing one piece could be a months-long endeavor. Crozier credits Rogers’ training and regiment to his musical accomplishments.
“He woke up at 5 a.m. every day," Crozier said. "He worked very hard and he accomplished a lot, but he was also one of the most relaxed people I have ever met. He was not stressed. Maybe inside, but he was good at handling that.”
Winter Park was his neighborhood
Rogers loved his alma mater and would frequently visit Rollins College. He previously stated how Rollins helped shaped him into the man and musician he became. He met his wife, Joanne, there and made life-long friends even after he graduated in 1951.
“Fred and Joanne would spend winters here even after I began teaching here,” Crozier said. “They loved Rollins. They would tend to be here over the holidays. I would go home for Christmas and he would use my apartment as a study while I was away."
Crozier said the Rogers would rent an orange house by Osceola Avenue in Winter Park, only minutes from campus when they would visit. The city of Winter Park has since posted a sign that says “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood" to indicate how the city was part of his neighborhood too.
He loved children more than adults
Being a personality for a children’s television show, it’s no surprise Rogers loved children. Sinclair said what people may not have realized is that he loved children more than adults.
Rogers didn’t like violent television shows for kids, opting for a wholesome show built on acceptance and building a child’s self-esteem.
“Fred never passed an opportunity to play with children," Sinclair said.
Sinclair explained that no matter the event, Rogers would always gravitate toward kids.
“I was having a party and Joanne and Fred arrive and I noticed Fred wasn’t around," Sinclair said. “I said, ‘Joanne, where’s Fred? I want to introduce him to someone.’ She said, ‘Find your children, he’s probably there.’”
Sinclair eventually found Fred playing with his kids, making funny faces and laughing.
“When I said, ‘Fred you’re off-duty,’ he responded, ‘I’ve always loved children more than adults.'"
If you have any favorite memories of Mister Rogers, we want to hear from you. Feel free to write them in the comments or email your memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.