100 Match Factory Place Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Long before I ever knew the names or faces of the American legends, I knew about Mr. Rogers. In suburban Philly in the 1970's we all knew him. He was part of our lives; his face and his voice hover right along the edges of my very first human memories kicking in. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood ran uninterrupted for 33 years on TV. That's a very long time. And like so many kids, the show was a massive part of my early youth. I remember watching that toy trolley running along its tracks, the sound of its bell. I even remember Mr Rogers hanging his sweater as he sang the opening theme song. I remember so much about the show and the man.
Parents and kids both loved Fred Rogers and with pretty good reason. He was a gentle soul who talked to us kids in hushed, civilized tones. He never freaked out; he was always calm, cool, and collected. And he never had a nasty thing to say about anyone.
We could probably use a person like him today.
In that very spirit, the United States Postal Service has decided to honor Mr. Rogers the best way they know: with a stamp of his own. The commemorative stamp will be available to the public this Friday, March 23rd. And to put a truly local twist on all of this, the American Philatelic Society (the largest non-profit stamp-collecting organization in the entire world... and based right here in Bellefonte) is throwing a very cool party to honor Mr. Rogers, who was a proud Pennsylvanian himself. The event is on Saturday March 24, 2-4pm at the American Philatelic Center, 100 Match Factory Place. It's being co-hosted with WPSU.
There will be a stamp dedication with the famous mailman from the show, Mr. McFeely, at 2:15. Plus a variety of kids activities, including a meet and greet with Mr. McFeely where fans young and old can get their photo taken with him. Kids can decorate a Mister Rogers envelope, write a letter, receive a free stamp (one per child) and even mail their letter right there!
As someone who grew up with Mr. Rogers, I decided that I needed to get the scoop on the stamp and the big event from two people at the American Philatelic Society who would really know. So I reached out to Cathy Brachbill, who is the Director of Education, and Kathleen Edwards, the Youth Education Assistant and Shows & Exhibitions Assistant. I love what they had to say about Mr. Fred Rogers and his enduring legacy.
Why do you think Mr. Rogers belongs among the multitude of American legends depicted on their very own postage stamp?
Cathy Brachbill: Mister Fred Rogers was a cultural icon that portrayed what is good about people. He was warm, sensitive, and honest and modeled these qualities for over 30 years on his television program. He taught millions of children that is was okay to ask questions, make mistakes, and be different. But to always be kind and compassionate.
Kathleen Edwards: Mister Rogers influenced so many children in such an unassuming way. He didn’t use flashy lights, animation or action sequences. His show was quite different from the other children’s programming of the day. He was quiet, kind and taught children to use their imagination. As an introvert myself, I find that when people are honored- whether it be on a postage stamp or other award or commemoration- it is usually the bold, emphatic leaders. While they are inspiration to me and many others, it is especially exciting to me to see someone like Mister Rogers being honored in this way.
What's the process to actually being honored with your own stamp? Who decides? And does it take a long time to make it happen?
Cathy: Each year the United States Postal Service receives over 40,000 suggestions for people or topics to feature on its stamps. The list is whittled down to 20 – 25 choices and a citizens’ committee studies each one and sends their recommendations to the Postmaster General. The Postmaster General approves all stamp subjects and designs. The entire process can take two to three years or longer.
Lots of folks get honored on stamps, but not all of them get their own stamp release celebration day at the American Philatelic Society. Why did you guys decide to throw Mr Rogers such a big party?
Kathleen: We are excited to share this event with the community and also be able to educate children and adults on what we do here at the American Philatelic Society. I think celebrating Mister Rogers and this postage stamp will also show attendees that stamp collecting is an interesting hobby. Some people might be intimidated about getting started and I think this kind of event shows that it is really quite simple- just start collecting stamps that you like!
Fred Rogers was a Pennsylvania guy through and through. And even though he was from the western part of the state, do you still feel a little extra proud when a native Pennsylvanian is given their own postage stamp?
Kathleen: It is exciting when someone closer to home is honored nationally! His children’s show featured some great places in Pennsylvania, like the Crayola Factory in Easton and the Sturgis Pretzel Factory in Lititz. I think for children from Pennsylvania, this made the show even more special and memorable.
Mr. McFeely, the mailman from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a legend! And he will be there live and in person at the event! Do you think that a lot of adults (like me) who grew up on Mr. Rogers might be even more excited about meeting Mr. McFeely than the kids?!
Cathy: Just like with welcoming Mister Rogers into our homes, Mr. McFeely was also a welcomed neighbor. Yes, many adults will be more excited than their children to actually meet in person someone who they respected growing up.
Kathleen: Absolutely! Everyone loves re-visiting something they loved from childhood, especially someone they consider an old friend. The Daniel Tiger TV show has reintroduced the Land of Make Believe to the young children of today, but I think the parents and even grandparents of these kids are just as excited to see Mr. McFeely!
What do you think being depicted on a postage stamp means in the end? What does it truly say about the life of the person honored?
Cathy: It means that this person made a positive impact in the world and we value that person’s service to humanity.
Kathleen: With all the important people and events that have happened in our country’s history, it is a huge honor for Mister Rogers to be on postage stamp. He was a champion of early childhood learning. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
This is the question that we all need to think about. For you, for your kids, and for your neighbors and their kids, too.
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