Remembering how to be a good neighbor: Mr. Rogers week

The St. Andrew Presbyterian Church will celebrate the legacy of Fred Rogers by inviting guest artists.


Sarah Stortz, Arts Reporter

Sixteen years after his death, Fred Rogers’ phrase “Hello, neighbor” still strikes a chord in the hearts of those who watched him. This weekend, Iowa City residents can be reminded how to be a good neighbor.

The St. Andrew Presbyterian Church will host “Mister Rogers Week,” inviting guest artists who have celebrated Rogers’ work and his notable achievements in television. On April 26, the Keri Johnsrud & Kevin Bales Quartet will perform from its jazz album Beyond the Neighborhood: The Music of Fred Rogers.

A University of Iowa alum, Johnsrud said she was drawn to jazz because of its freedom of expression and the ability to improvise. Admiring the music from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Johnsrud said she wanted to give a jazz-based approach to his compositions.

“It was a more mature-sounding arrangement than what you’d find in other children’s programming,” Johnsrud said.

The duo started the musical project around three years ago, which included researching the songs and figuring out how to arrange them.

Pointing out how Rogers had a master’s degree in music composition, Bales said he has large reverence to Rogers as using music as a means to help others, along with his musicianship and craftsmanship in his writing.

“We’re not trying to do a children’s album, we’re trying to highlight the universality of his music,” Bales said.

On April 27, Max King, the author of the biography The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, will host a conversation related to his book. Before pursuing a book, he had an extensive career in newspapers, working both as a reporter and editor.

After meeting with Joanne Rogers, Roger’s widow, he discovered Rogers never wanted a biography about himself while living. Feeling that he finally deserved one after his death, King took up the challenge of writing one himself.

During his research, he conducted 60 interviews with individuals in Rogers’ life. Joanne Rogers allowed him to have seven interviews with her, along with providing older photographs, letting King wander their apartment and examine Rogers’ old books.

King said he mainly wanted capture Roger’s early years of life, feeling that many people didn’t know about his history before reaching television. The whole process of creating the book, including researching and writing, took him around seven years.

One story that he felt was particularly surprising was how Rogers grew up as a shy, introverted child. In one instance, Rogers was followed by a group of bullies and was physically harassed.

When he told his parents about it, they told him to not worry about it. Instead, Rogers confronted his feelings head-on.

“I think that was a really pivotal moment for him,” King said. “He didn’t try to hide the fact he was shy and lonely. He just embraced who he was and later emerged in high school, where he was a very successful student. It was interesting to trace those moments where you could see his character emerge.”

He said he thinks the reason community members come together to celebrating the event is because of their strong attachment to Rogers’ values.

“Fred’s programming was for parents and children, particularly for people who are worried on where the world is going,” King said. “Everything is so fast and interconnect that it can be complicating. Fred Rogers and his perspective on life is a stark contrast. He was very deliberate in the pacing of his own life. I think those are things that have great potential value to everyone today.”

Johnsrud had a similar belief.

“As we become adults, it’s easy to forget those messages have a profound effect,” she said. “[Rogers] has a unique presence, and his legacy continues to live on.”