It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Happy Birthday Mister Rogers.

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Today’s MazeToons celebrates the birthday of one of my heroes, the late Fred Rogers.

Living in Pittsburgh, Mister Roger’s real neighborhood, I had met him several times. But there where two times when I really got to talk with him and they were both memorable experiences.

The first time I got to speak to Mister Rogers was when I was a teenager in high school. My best friends father was a camera man on his television show! I was invited to tag along to the show’s family picnic it Idlewild Park.

At the time (the 1980’s) I was a little bit of a punk rock kid. I had spiked orange hair and an old army jacket covered in pins etc.. So I was a little nervous about what Mister Rogers would think of me.  I shouldn’t have worried at all.

When it came time to be introduced to Mister Rogers, I said “Hello, my name is Joe, nice to meet you.” He looked at me, smiled and said “Nice to meet you Joe… you’re an artist aren’t you?” lol there was something about me that he picked up on. That one thing that made me special. He had a way of doing that in real life, you felt special just being near him.

Fast forward a few decades…..

I was at an event hosted by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. I was performing at the event and Mister Rogers was attending. He snuck in to my performance without disrupting or drawing attention to himself in any way. He just quietly stood toward the back and watched. Afterwards at the party he sought me out.

He told me how much he enjoyed the show and how talented I was. He told me how wonderful it was that I was sharing my gift with children.

I thanked him and said “You know…. this isn’t the first time we met. When I was a teenager I met you. at the time I was all punked out, orange hair, jean jacket covered in pins and so on… I’ll never forget because you took one look at me and said, “You’re an artist, aren’t you?”  Fred listened to my story… and then looked at me and replied- “well, I was right, wasn’t I?”

It’s a moment I will always cherish.

A few days later the children’s museum passed on a letter that had been written to the museum’s director from Fred Rogers saying how happy he was to meet me. I still have that letter.

Fred Rogers was exactly the person he was on television, warm, kind, gentle, caring and charming. Happy Birthday Mister Rogers, we sure miss you.

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