Fred had a lonely childhood. He was shy and overweight. He also suffered from asthma. He was bullied in school and called Fat Freddie. He mostly made friends with himself. He became a ventriloquist with a virtual world of friends in his bedroom.
When he went to high school, he decided to change his status. He developed a few friends who helped him assimilate into the high school culture.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in music before going to seminary. While visiting his parents during his senior year in college, he saw a TV for the first time. He absolutely hated it. The programming was awful, but Fred saw opportunities to flip TV to something that could be nurturing. Fred had discovered the why of his life.
He became a program director for the Pittsburgh public television station, and he developed puppets and composed music for the Children’s Corner. This was while he was attending seminary.
He also was attending the Graduate School of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh. This was where he began to develop his nurturing ideas for TV.
Fred Rogers started his TV show (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) in 1968 and it continued on the air until 2000. Reruns continued, and in 2016 it became the third longest running program in public broadcasting history.
Fred Rogers used two experiences, his early childhood loneliness and the awful programming on early TV, to find his why and in the process help generations of children value themselves and others.
Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days of your life are the days you are born and the day you find out why.” Finding our why involves hope. What do we really hope for in life that makes a difference in the lives of others? Fred Rogers found his why. He could have followed the traditional route of ministry to a church. But his why was to instill in generations of young people essential values of living a good life.
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“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider these people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers