Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, proved as popular with graduating college seniors as he was with children. In all, he received more than 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities.
Rogers had agreed to speak at Union's Commencement before he died on Feb. 27. But instead of choosing another Commencement speaker, the College had Dean of Students Fred Alford read a tribute to Rogers, and graduating seniors Katrina Tentor and Pooja Kothari took turns reading excerpts from his writings.
After Rogers died, instead of choosing another Commencement speaker, the College will have Dean of Students Fred Alford read a tribute to Rogers, and graduating seniors Katrina Tentor and Pooja Kothari will take turns reading excerpts from his writings.
Accepting the honorary degree for her husband will be Sara Joanne Rogers, who celebrated a golden wedding anniversary with her husband last July 9.
Though she was looking forward to her husband speaking at Union and accepting his honorary degree, she said earlier this week, “He'll be looking down on this from heaven and he'll be happy about it.”
Although Mrs. Rogers shared her husband's background in music, she never got involved in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, aside from lending her name to Queen Sara of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
But she has had a considerable career of her own as a concert pianist, initially playing solo and since 1976 teaming up with fellow pianist Jeannine Morrison, a friend since college days. The duo plays widely around the country — Mozart to contemporary, often combining their concerts with workshops and master classes at colleges.
Mrs. Rogers interrupted her career to raise the couple's two sons. Two years ago she described in an interview how her husband would react to the boys' shenanigans with stoic patience. “I didn't have his patience,” she recalled laughing. “Sometimes I would wait for him to say something, and it didn't happen. And so I always ended up being the one to discipline, the ogre.”
The couple met when they were music majors at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. “We were 11 days apart in age,” she says. “I was older, and, boy, I used to hear it about that.”
After graduation, Fred Rogers went to New York to work for NBC but returned for visits to Florida, where Joanne was a graduate student studying piano performance. During one visit, in a gesture worthy of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, he led Joanne into a church on the spur of the moment — and proposed.
Joanne Rogers rarely accompanied her husband to college commencements where he was honored. But she is no stranger to contemporary college life: she serves on the board of Rollins, her alma mater.