A unique self-guided tour of memorabilia has returned to Rollins College — celebrating the school’s connection to one of its most famous and beloved graduates.
The legacy of Fred Rogers from the famous television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” continues on with a special collection of items at five locations throughout the campus.
The Rollins College Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Tour will run through the end of March, in recognition of Rogers’ birthday on March 20.
Visitors that walk the tour will have a chance to stroll the campus that Rogers walked as a student before he graduated from Rollins College in 1951 with a degree in music composition.
The tour was offered in February of last year on campus for the first time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” an educational program for children recognized for its music, gentle nature and thoughtful topics. The show — created and run by Rogers — was watched and enjoyed by children over several generations.
A WALK THROUGH TIME
The first items visitors will see on the tour is one of Rogers’ sweaters and a pair of his shoes on display at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum — gifts donated by Rogers when he visited his old campus in March 1991.
“At that time he gave the sweater to Rita Bornstein, who was the president then,” Rollins College Communications Manager Jo Marie Hebeler said.
“I hope that (visitors) see that Rollins inspired Mister Rogers, and that Mister Rogers continues to inspire Rollins. He’s part of us and we’re part of him.”
Other stops on the tour include a portrait of Fred Rogers painted by local artist Don Sondag at Tiedtke Concert Hall, an engraved stone placed in his honor during that March 1991 visit amidst other honorees in front of Lyman Hall — his old dormitory, and a rare collection of books, handwritten letters, his yearbook from 1951 and various photographs inside the Olin Library.
Items like Roger’s sweater, his shoes, and various old photographs and newspaper clippings would normally be sealed away in the Rollins College archives, only available to see by appointment, Hebeler said. But through the rest of the month, the items will be on display for all to see as part of the tour.
The self-guided walking tour ends with a final stop at a marble plaque by Strong Hall that reads “Life is for Service.” The words had a profound impact on Rogers as a college student, and he would go on to carry the words in his wallet for the rest of his life.
“There was a story going around that Mister Rogers inspired this plaque, and that we put it up because he said ‘Life is for Service,’ but it was the other way around — this plaque inspired him,” Hebeler said.
A LASTING LEGACY
Rogers first started attending Rollins to study music after he transferred from Dartmouth College, which didn’t have a music program at the time, Hebeler said. At Rollins he met his wife, fellow music student Sara Joanne Byrd, and served on the chapel staff and as a member of the community service club, the student music guild, the French club, the welcoming Committee, the after chapel club, and the Alpha Phi Lambda fraternity.
Rogers sang in the chapel and Bach choirs as well, and frequently visited Rollins College over the years after graduating and spent winter vacations in Winter Park.
A deep connection between Rogers and Rollins College still exists today. In 1996, the McFeely-Rogers Foundation established a music scholarship at Rollins College for aspiring musicians.
His nephew, Daniel Crozier, also currently teaches at Rollins as a music professor.
The college and Rogers also both share a strong emphasis on community engagement, Office of the President Executive Director Lorrie Kyle said.
“I look at our alumni … I’ve talked with some of them and asked them what they’ve done since graduation, they start to talk about it and they don’t even realize until they start talking about it all of the really wonderful things that they have done in supporting their communities and their neighbors,” Kyle said.
“I think that sense of neighborhood and a connected community was something (Rogers) put into words for us.”
Rollins College President Grant Cornwell said that Fred Rogers will always have a special place in the history of the college.
“What is so impressive about the campus legacy and the campus memory of Mister Rogers is that all of the kindness and generosity that he conveys in his persona is just absolutely genuine,” Cornwell said.
“I never got to know him because I wasn’t here then, but everybody says that he just was that kind, he was that generous. Whenever you left him, you just felt lighter — you felt better about the day.”