Not long ago, I had the privilege of introducing Fred Rogers at a luncheon at the Conference of Southwest Foundations in Corpus Christi. Before the conference, I told my twenty-four-year-old daughter that I was going to Corpus to introduce Fred Rogers. Her reply: “I love Mr. Rogers. Tell him he’s my friend -he told me I would not go down the drain in the bathtub.”
I recalled that prior to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, we had to put a plastic tub inside the bathtub because my daughter was afraid she would be swept down into the drain. Mr. Rogers even wrote a song titled “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”
In his book, Mister Rogers Talks With Parents, Fred Rogers wrote something that I believe is at the very heart of his TV series: “We have all been children and have had children’s feelings, but many of us have forgotten. It’s not our fault, but we have forgotten. We’ve forgotten what it’s like not to be able to reach the light switch. We’ve forgotten a lot of the monsters that seemed to live in our room at night.”
His basic message, in other words, is “empathize and help your kids grow.” And in his speech to the foundation representatives in Corpus Christi, he imparted to them a very similar philosophy, geared to the role that foundations play in nurturing our society’s nonprofit institutions- including public broadcasters.
He asked the representatives to continue in their role, complimenting them for all they do in grant making to support their grantees’ healthy growth and development. “You’re like mothers and fathers,” he said, “and like the television neighbor. You want the best for your world, and you’re doing what you can with what you have to make it the healthiest possible place for generations to come.”
Rogers acknowledged the challenges faced by the foundation donor. Just as a parent cannot satisfy every desire of a child, so are there limits to what the steward of a foundation can do for grant applicants.
The important thing, he stressed, was to make the effort. And as is his fashion, he left the assembled guests with a word of encouragement and a thank you. “I wish you well,” he concluded, “as you continue to turn caring into action. And on behalf of the children of our world who really are the ultimate beneficiaries of your vision, I give you thanks.”
I want to add at this time some thank yous of my own -to the many generous and concerned foundations and corporations in North Texas whose underwriting has supported programming on Channel 13 since our inception.
I invite you to refer to the list of underwriters on page 128 of this month’s Dial. Without them, KERA would not be able to produce, acquire, and broadcast the outstanding programs that help make Channel 13 TV worth watching for viewers of every age. If you appreciate what they do, I urge you to drop them a line and let them know. We’re all fortunate to have such good neighbors.