Joanne Rogers. Photo courtesy of PBS.

While she was certainly part of Fred Rogers’ television neighborhood behind the scenes, Joanne Rogers has an impressive record of  her own helping children and families. For that she will receive the Great Friend of Children Award from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh later this year, joining  past recipients such as Jim Henson, Eric Carle and her late husband, Fred Rogers, who received the award in 1994.

Mrs. Rogers still lives in Pittsburgh and carries on Fred Rogers’ work educating young children.

She serves as Chair Emeritus of the Board of Directors of The Fred Rogers Company and is Honorary Chair of the Advisory Council for The Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

An accomplished pianist, she received a Bachelor of Music degree from Rollins College which is where she met Fred Rogers. They married in 1952 and had two sons, and throughout their life together she was a partner in his work nurturing young children and families.

We asked Mrs. Rogers her thoughts about Mr. Rogers’ legacy, and why 13 years after his death, he’s still the person people think of most often whenever children are in need of comfort.

Rogers, Joanne

What does it mean to you to win the Great Friend of Children Award? 

I’m just thrilled about it. It’s so nice to be included among so many others who have done so much to help children. I don’t have the background in early childhood education that Fred had, but I’ve always tried to support the Fred Rogers Company and give guidance where I can. I’m surprised by the strength of his legacy and its length, how people still take comfort in his words.

Whenever there is a tragic event involving children, such as a school shooting, there seem to be a lot of people wishing that Mr. Rogers were still here to help us cope with these crises. 

You know, I think one of the greatest aims that he had was to make children feel safe. He wanted to provide a safe lap for families and children, especially little children. I think that’s why he’s remembered at times like that; it’s the safe haven he always wanted his work to be. Hopefully, the strength of Fred’s words in our world today will continue because they’re still so apt and right with what’s going on.

What is an area where you think more could be done to help families? 

I think there must be help for parents; there needs to be education available to them and help when they have questions. That’s ongoing at the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe. His special interest was early childhood education, but I believe that has to start with a parent. I remember when I became a mother, I didn’t know that much about young children. You feel pretty clueless. I think we can tell new parents that this feeling is normal, and give them a little guidance if they need it.

What shows on television now do you think are continuing the work that “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was doing? 

My pride and joy is the Daniel Tiger program. I do think it’s rightly being praised for being a wonderful program. I think the Sesame Workshop always does good work, and all the PBS programming is really good. I remember Fred bringing home a video of Peg + Cat before it was on the air; he used to bring home programs to watch all the time to get my feedback. I was delighted when the Fred Rogers company picked that up. I think all the wonderful people working for the Fred Rogers Company are going to be the ones to lead us in the right direction. I have great trust in those people, I think they are all really excellent. They understand that those first four years are one of the most important periods of a child’s life.

What do you think about the changes Pittsburgh has gone through over the past few years?

It’s really amazing! I’ve been more and more happy to be a Pittsburgher as it goes along. It’s become a very fascinating city.

In addition to receiving the Great Friend of Children Award at the Grr… ific Great Night Gala on June 10th, Mrs. Rogers will help the Children’s Museum unveil a new interactive exhibit featuring Daniel Tiger, based on the television program Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The museum calls the exhibit an “immersive experience,” that will allow children to use their imaginations (of course) and play along with Daniel Tiger to solve problems.  For more information on the Grr-ific Great Night Gala information visit the website. 

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.