Rogers' final original episode of his pioneering PBS children's program was traditionally low-key. There were no weepy goodbyes, no Bette Midler songs and no lingering shots of the closet that faithfully held his trademark cardigan all those years.
Instead, the show ran like any other. The pretaped episode was the conclusion to a week of programming celebrating the arts, and it gave the often contentious Lady Elaine a lesson in how to be kind. As judge of an art contest she awarded everyone first prize because she felt so good about herself. Then 73-year-old Rogers, as usual, simply took off his sneakers, hung up his sweater and suggested he'd always be there if needed.
"Fred is not retiring," reads a note on his www.misterrogers.org Website. "He is expanding his neighborhood with endeavors that will continue to build a brighter tomorrow for future generations of children."
Rogers' shows will continue to be recycled. PBS has a current video library of more than 300 dating back to 1979. And there are hundreds more available since the show launched in 1967.
"It was always Fred's intention to create a library," says Hedda Sharapan, associate producer of PBS's longest running show. "A child who saw a program at three sees something different in it when they turn four."
Sharapan says everyone at Family Communications Inc., which produces the show at WQED in Pittsburgh, has been overwhelmed by the media reaction and public outpouring of affection since Rogers' decided to end his on-air activity last November.
"We've had lots of young men writing to us to tell us how he helped them learn to be kind and thoughtful," she says, reflecting on the gentle legacy of the soft-spoken host, who slowly and carefully taught children some of life's moral lessons.
Sharapan stresses Rogers will continue to be involved in Family Communications and PBS programming.
"He's got a lot of energy. He's going strong. He's full of new ideas," she says of the ordained Presbyterian minister and grandfather, who in his Make-Believe Neighborhood has tackled kid-important truths ranging from the death of a pet goldfish to divorce.
Sure, adults joked about his odd mannerisms and deliberate messages, but kids responded well to Rogers' simple, un-hip style and his reliance on traditional props like sand and paste and paper. He may have written and performed such awkward songs a "You Can Never Go Down the Drain," but that didn't mean he couldn't attract musicians such as classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis as guests in his Neighborhood.
In 1953 Roger, a Pittsburgh native, helped found WQED, the first community-owned television station in the U.S. He started on air with The Children's Corner, which introduced Lady Elaine and some of the puppets that have populated the Neighborhood ever since. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1998.
Now, besides tending to his own Website, Rogers will be involved with special projects with Pittsburgh Children's Museum, the Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Planetarium and numerous family and child projects and publications.
Rogers' famous sayings like "You Make Each Day a Special Day" and "You Are Special and So Is Everybody Else in the World" will be appearing on a new series of magnetic postcards.
No, Mr. Rogers' message isn't going away--you can catch it in reruns, punch it up on the Web or simply stick it on the fridge door.