When you’re mentioning the TV characters Mr. McFeely and Neighbor Aber, it’s tough to avoid “beautiful day in the neighborhood” references.
On that note, it was a beautiful day in the Bethel Park neighborhood as the applicable actors on PBS’ long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” visited Memorial Elementary School.
David Newell, the show’s affable “speedy delivery” man starting in 1967, and Chuck Aber, who joined the cast in the 1980s, were guests on April 6 in conjunction with lessons about Pittsburgh being taught by third-grade teachers Jesse August, Mary Bentel and Jennifer Saussol.
“One of the things we focus on is famous Pittsburghers, and I always like to include Fred Rogers in that,” Bentel explained.
Although his series ended production in 2001 and Rogers died two years later, meaning the third-graders hadn’t yet been born, they were eminently familiar with Mr. McFeely, Neighbor Aber and the “Mister Rogers” puppets they brought with: King Friday XIII, Daniel Striped Tiger and Donkey Hody.
“Before they come in, we always watch a few episodes,” Bentel said about the series, which is available for streaming through PBS.
“It’s funny for them to see the difference with a television show that’s not so fast-paced. But they really enjoy it.”
In honor of Fred Rogers, the students also conduct a sweater drive, collecting about 250 this year to donate to nonprofit organizations.
“It’s a nice community service project, so the kids understand about what Fred Rogers did for Pittsburgh,” Bentel said. “He was all about helping community members, being neighborly and friendly.”
Newell and Aber certainly were friendly, having the puppets interact with the students – everyone got a close-up “ugga mugga!” greeting from Daniel – along with singing “Neighborhood” songs and autographing photos for each student.
All the while, they reiterated the positive messages that Fred Rogers imparted throughout his half-century career, which corresponded with what the Memorial teachers intend with their lessons about him.
“Our goal is for our students to understand the importance of what he did and what he wanted to do, and we try to carry that on,” Bentel said.