A man has to be pretty special for his home town to not only proudly claim him but also dress up babies in his honor. Fred Rogers, known simply as Mr. Rogers to most of us, was that kind of special. From his children’s TV show to his everyday life, he was said to be the same warm figure you saw onscreen. So, of course, his wife Joanne Rogers has the sweetest story about how the late PBS legend proposed to her.
An Innocent Meeting
Fred Rogers and Sara Joanne Byrd met at Florida’s Rollins College in 1948, when Rogers transferred from Dartmouth College into the same music composition course. Since the age of 5, Joanne was drawn to the piano and was studying on a scholarship at Rollins. Sara was in the group asked to welcome Rogers to the campus. They orbited each other in a large group of friends, eventually bonded over their mutual love of music, and accompanied each other to sorority and fraternity dances. They parted ways after graduation, keeping in touch via mail while Rogers went to New York City to work for NBC and she pursued her master’s degree at Florida State University.
Things picked up a few years later. Two years into a more casual, long-distance relationship, Fred’s mother found out that Joanne was potentially seeing someone else, a new suitor introduced to her via one of her professors. This was her last year at Florida State. He sent a letter proposing marriage. Did it seem sudden? Sara Joanne Rogers has said, “Yes, it surprised me, in some ways. I was surprised at the timing…But I don’t think I was very surprised otherwise…I think in some ways, we were both not surprised.” They both felt it was right. The second she got the letter, she ran to a payphone and accepted his proposal.
The two married in 1952 and celebrated 50 years of marriage! They celebrated this milestone at the White House as on that day Fred Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He almost didn’t accept the award, because the ceremony took place on the couple’s actual anniversary. He told the White House correspondent, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to make it. That’s our 50th wedding anniversary.” Thankfully his family, Mrs. Rogers and their two sons, John and James were invited as well.
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood
After they married Fred started working in children’s television, first on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. show “Misterogers” and later in Pittsburgh in Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, one of the most beloved children’s shows ever. It ran for 31 seasons with almost a thousand episodes, teaching children how to deal with real-life issues through a lens of kindness and creativity. During this time, Joanne Rogers put her piano playing aside to support her husband’s endeavors and the family. In the late 70s, she was able to return to her love as a concert pianist for her friend, Jeannine Morrison. She followed this dream of hers until 2008.
Joanne Rogers and Fred Rogers’ Legacy
Fred Rogers passed of stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 74. Since then many accolades have continued to follow him. Pittsburgh declared World Kindness Day as “Cardigan Day” in November. The film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hank was released at the end of last year. Joanne Rogers was a part of the film, promotion, and continues to make sure that Mister Roger’s legacy of promoting kindness and making the world a safe and inspiring place for children will never be forgotten.