This week, Fred Rogers – Pittsburgher extraordinaire, educator, minister, songwriter, author and creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – would have celebrated 84 years.  His birthday was yesterday, March 20.

From Pittsburgh, for more than 30 years, the nationally-aired show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, allowed children everywhere to accept – through the magic of television – Mr. Rogers’ signature invitation of “won’t you be my neighbor” – sung by Fred himself at every program’s opening.

In honor of this exceptional Pittsburgher’s birthday, I caught up with Jim Futrell, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s VP of Market Research to pick his brain about a personality who’s a softer – yet significant – part of Pittsburgh history. It’s Jim’s job to know a lot about Pittsburgh – including the people, places, events that move the region forward.  However, when asked to wax about Fred Rogers, Jim put aside data details and his tough market research exterior and got personal about his remembrances, which go back to his days growing up as kid in Albuquerque, New Mexico – about as far from Pittsburgh as a boy could get.  Despite the distance, Jim was a devoted fan.  He shared …

“Mr. Rogers was one of my favorite shows.  My Mom used to joke that I would never miss the two Freds: Rogers and Flintstone.

Why did I like the show so much?  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that Fred Rogers was an adult talking to me at my level.  He always came across to me as a man who respected his audience and who wanted to share cool things about the world.  He also had a lot of pretty amazing things in his ‘house’ – Trolley, the stop light, Picture-Picture and the miniatures of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I loved the model of the neighborhood at the beginning and end of the show and could not wait until Mr. Rogers changed his jacket and shoes so we could get on with the show.

There are snippets about the Neighborhood of Make-Believe that I’ll never forget:  King Friday XIII’s marriage (he loved Queen Sara Saturday’s cupped custard), the birth of Prince Tuesday, X the Owl changing the supports on his door so they made an ‘X’ rather than a ‘Z,’ the Platypus family moving into the neighborhood, Daniel the Stripèd Tiger getting a wristwatch because ‘when you live in a clock you really should know what time it is,’ and Donkey Hodie who lived in the windmill in Someplace Else.  Of course, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, the cranky, outspoken curator of Museum-Go-Round, was certainly unforgettable.”

Thanks, Jim, for a trip back in time to a Neighborhood that many of us won’t forget either.  Your memory is eternal, Fred Rogers.

Author’s Note:  when he’s not crunching data about the Pittsburgh region, Jim Futrell indulges his fascination with amusement parks all over the U.S.  In fact’s he’s written several books on the subject.  Read Jim’s article on Mister Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe ride at Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa.