Originally published Sunday, December 1, 2019 at 07:08p.m.

With the recent release of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” this might be a good time to discuss my meeting with Mister Rogers. Well … I tried to meet him, anyway.

In the mid-1990s, Fred Rogers made a visit to the college I was attending. The local PBS stations were broadcast from the college, and Rogers was there for a radio interview and to promote his “Plan and Play” curriculum for children in day care centers. The curriculum was based on episodes of his popular TV series, which of course many of us grew up with and love to this day, even though it hasn’t been on most PBS stations for many years.

Though I knew Rogers would be there, they didn’t say exactly where he would be, and it was a pretty big campus. So I did what Snoopy did when he played “Joe Cool” — I sort of casually walked around the campus for most of the morning. (Although I did not see the need to wear dark glasses like Snoopy did.) I went to the telecommunications department — no luck. I went to the child development center, where the curriculum would be discussed — nope. I went to the main student center — nothing unusual. I spent much of the day wandering around the places where I thought he might make an appearance.

As you may know, when you go to college, you have to go to these things called “classes.” (Well, I guess you don’t have to go, but when you’re paying so much for them you probably should.) So I couldn’t just play Joe Cool all day. Time went by, and I had to do my student duties. And when classes were over, I had to go home and do a few grown-up duties, so I never actually got to meet Fred Rogers in person.

But he was there — he even showed up at the student center sometime that day. I eventually got to hear the radio interview, and somehow the TV news people got a brief interview with him on campus for the 5 o’clock news. How they found him I have no idea, but you know how sneaky those journalists are.

There’s a little more to the story — I actually did contact Rogers by mail at one point. But I’d like to end with something he said that day that has stuck with me. In the TV interview, Rogers said, “I’m just myself. I think that if I had to play the role of Mister Rogers, it would be a terrible strain on me. But that’s no role that I play.”

There’s a lot to admire about Fred Rogers, but the commitment to being yourself is perhaps one of the most commendable. Though there’s always room for improvement, Fred knew that the core of who we are is something we can be proud of.

Steve Witucki is community editor for The Daily Courier of the Prescott News Network. Email him at switucki@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1104.