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Will You Still Be My Neighbor?

by Darlene A. Buechel

It's still a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but the sun shines a little less brightly and the birds' songs are a little less cheery with the passing of Mr. Rogers.

When Fred Rogers lost his battle with stomach cancer on February 27, 2003, the world lost not only an ordained minister and a television icon, but it also lost a kind and gentle teacher.

For thirty-four of his seventy-four years, Fred Rogers tied his sneakers, zipped his sweater and sang "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", before taking a make-believe trolley tour to visit friends -- both human and puppet.

Along the way to make-believe, Mr. Rogers taught many lessons kids could use in the real world.

Yes, he was a true teacher to the millions of children who tuned into "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" on public television. However, instead of the traditional math or science, Mr. Rogers taught kids how to share and deal with anger. While he stressed the importance of reading and writing, he taught children the most important lesson of all -- to love themselves and others.

He also taught kids that death is something to be talked about. He faced the subject on his show several times. One show dealt with the death of a bird, while another dealt with a goldfish.

Mr. Rogers gave the message that it's okay not to have all the answers about death. He encouraged parents to take the time to listen to their children and take them seriously, yet he never took his television star status the same way. In fact, Rogers was quoted as saying, "I have never really considered myself a TV star. I always thought I was a neighbor who just came in for a visit."

We should all be so lucky to have a kind, caring neighbor like Fred Rogers.

Mr. George Miles, the President of WQED Public Television, may have said it best with his comment, "How blessed, how fortunate, how grateful I am -- and that all of us should be -- to have lived in the moment that Fred Rogers really walked this earth."

-- Darlene Buechel

(As seen in