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Mister Rogers wrote a letter to his wife proposing marriage. Inside Their 50-Year Relationship



Joanne Rogers and Fred Rogers had a long and passionate relationship, which she honored by continuing his legacy following his death in 2003.

Though Fred Rogers was actually as sweet and compassionate as he appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he had a life outside of the show. His connection with his wife, Joanne, was a focal point of his world away from the cameras. Despite their difficulties, the pair maintained a lengthy friendship and were married for more than five decades. In the years since Fred’s death in 2003, Joanne has worked to promote her husband’s work and legacy.

When Fred changed colleges, he met Joanne.

Fred was considering transferring from Dartmouth College to Rollins College in 1948 to pursue a music degree. He decided to visit this potential new school in Florida before applying for admission. Joanne was a Rollins student when she learned of this possible transfer’s visit. She and a group of classmates headed out to the airport to greet Fred.

Fred was so taken with Joanne that he decided to transfer. They started dating in the midst of their studies. “We didn’t go on many dates. We were all rushing around at the same time.” She told the story in a 2001 interview. “However, I believe we both loved each other’s company, and he was an incredible dancer! As a result, I would invite him to sorority dances and he would invite me to fraternity dances.” As they became closer, Joanne was introduced to Fred’s family, who vacationed near the school on occasion. Their relationship was filled with laughing because they shared a similar sense of humor. “This makes my lovely ass grin,” a cab driver exclaimed, delighted by a newly upholstered seat, Fred and Joanne once watched. For them, the words became a running gag. Furthermore, they shared a deeper bond. During her appearance on The Tonight Show in 2018, Joanne stated about Fred, “He was unusual.” “He was energetic and full of fun when he was younger… But he talked about his emotions, and I could talk to him about mine.”

Before marrying Joanne, Fred dated other women.

However, it wasn’t always clear that Fred and Joanne would stay together in the long run. Fred had spent two years at Dartmouth but only obtained a year’s worth of credits when he transferred. As a result, he was a year behind Joanne in school. She began a master’s program in music at Florida State University, more than 200 miles distant from Rollins, after graduating in 1950. She and Fred corresponded via letters, but she was aware that he was dating other women.

Fred received his diploma in 1951, and Joanne was present. He then went to work for NBC in New York City while she pursued her graduate studies. While they were in town, Joanne made time to visit Fred’s parents. She was joined by the son of her graduate instructor throughout her visit. Rogers may have told his parents about the experience because he wrote Joanne a letter in April 1952 asking her to marry him.

Joanne Rogers on the set of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Photo: Lacey Terrell

To respond to the idea, Joanne dashed to a payphone. She was nervous, so when Fred answered the phone, she fixed her gaze on some phone booth graffiti and said, “S**t.” Fred, thankfully, laughed. She consented to marry him after that. In July of 1952, they married.

The Rogers were never enraged with one another.

Joanne moved to New York City with her new husband, who continued to work for NBC. However, they soon moved to Pittsburgh, where he switched to public television. Joanne taught piano and performed there. She did a few voices for Fred’s show, The Children’s Corner, as well.

Fred and Joanne had two boys together (Jim, born in 1959, and John, born in 1961). According to her, “We didn’t have children until we had been married for almost seven years. And I’ve always been grateful for that since it meant we knew the marriage will work out.” Joanne’s singing career was put on pause for several years in order for her to focus on their children.

Rogers was patient with their sons, so Joanne took over as the family’s disciplinarian.

Despite the strains and tensions in their lives, they never displayed hostility toward each other. “He and I both had childhoods where you weren’t permitted to be upset,” Joanne said in the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. You were not permitted to express your rage. And we’ve never been able to pull it off. It frightened us.” “We just got quiet,” she said to the Los Angeles Times. That’s how we both handled things, and it wasn’t the ideal approach. It’s okay to yell now and again.” “Fred was a highly sensitive person, and tears were available to him,” she told the tabloid. I used to say to them, You’re my liberated man, and I think it’s just wonderful.’

It wasn’t easy being married to ‘Mister Rogers.’

Fred first appeared on camera in the early 1960s for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s show Misterogers. In 1966, he returned to Pittsburgh and WQED to create Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which was broadcast nationally two years later. Joanne was a part of his work (her full name was Sara Joanne, and the show’s Queen Sara puppet was based on her). Rogers’ sudden notoriety, on the other hand, had to have an impact on their relationship.

In a 1978 interview, Joanne stated, “It’s difficult to live with a visual representation. I get the need to do something rash, dumb, and adolescent every now and then. But then I say, ‘Don’t do that!’ for Fred’s sake.”

Joanne, on the other hand, was content to remain in the background when people arrived to greet Fred. Many of the people Fred helped and encouraged became her friends over the years. She also appreciated Fred’s decision not to commercialize his show or sell goods to children. Fred never desired a large paycheck because they lived frugally (with the help of Rogers’ family money).

Joanne has carried on her husband’s legacy

Joanne has carried on her husband’s legacy

In 2002, Fred, who had retired from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 2001, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The sickness was rapidly progressing. When he died in February 2003, Joanne was by his side. She reassured her husband before he died: “We’re going to be fine, you know. Everything will be OK. The guys will be OK, and I’ll do my best to be fine as well.” Fred’s happiness at hearing these words reassured her “When he died, I could tell he died peacefully and even joyfully. I believe he left joyfully.”

Fred and Joanne had been married for more than fifty years when he died, so it was understandable that losing him was painful. “A part of me just followed him,” she explained.

But I find that he spends so much time with me. I can get to him right away.” She also put herself into supporting Fred’s legacy in every way she could.

Joanne has been a leader at Fred Rogers Productions and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College since Fred’s death. She was interviewed for the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and wrote the foreword for the book The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember (2003).

She’s also spoken at a number of Fred-related events, including the unveiling of a postage stamp containing his portrait. She also like the show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which stars the offspring of Fred’s puppets, and she praised Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Fred in the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, describing it as “a very needed film right now.”

Her efforts have ensured that her husband’s work reaches a wider audience. In 2016, Joanne commented, “I’m shocked by the strength of his legacy and its duration, how people still find solace in his words.” Taking up his legacy has also aided her in maintaining their relationship. In 2017, she said, “His legacy has provided me many, many lovely things.” “He’s here, even though he’s gone.”

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