‘A beautiful day in the neighborhood’
Mister Rogers made quite an impression on his cousins back in rural Kasson.
The future children’s TV star visited Roger and Ruth Rogers in the mid-1940s, long before Fred Rogers became the genial creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the hugely popular kids’ TV show which aired from 1968-2001.
“Such a sweet fella,” said Ruth Rogers, 95, who still lives southwest of Kasson. “He visited here a few times. We had a good old time, talking about kids and farming. I could tell he was gonna be a star with the kids. He was something else, all over again. And he took a real shining to Kasson. He always said he felt at home here.”
Fred Rogers, a Pennsylvania native, died in 2003. But his legacy lives on.
Ruth’s great-grandson, Hollywood producer Ralph Mervynn Wermpf, a big fan of the TV show as a child, will honor Fred’s “adopted hometown” by purchasing a Kasson neighborhood and naming it “Kasson’s Neighborhood of Make Believe.”
Wermpf said the centrally-located 10-acre area will feature a Neighborhood Trolley, the Mister Rogers Library and Museum and Kids’ Store, McFeely’s Diner, Chef Brockett’s Fine Dining, King Friday’s Coffee Shoppe, Prince Tuesday’s Ultimate Bakery, Lady Elaine Fairchilde’s Ice Cream and Chocolate Emporium, Larry Horse’s Pub, and Daniel Striped Tiger’s Large and Small Men’s Wear, among other amenities.
Wermpf also plans to add a 50-foot bronze statue on Main Street, depicting a seated, smiling Mister Rogers, putting on his fabled blue sneakers. Traffic will flow around either side of the structure.
Engineers have said the two-year project will cost about $35 million.
It’s hoped construction can begin in mid-2019 and the new neighborhood can be completed by 2021 or 2022.
“We are so looking forward to bringing this magnificent addition to Kasson,” Wermpf said. “Our plan is to transform Kasson into a complete, can’t-miss destination, honoring the one and only Fred Rogers, who so loved that small town. It’s the project of a lifetime. A real labor of love. I can’t wait to see this very special neighborhood up and running.”
Local and state officials were unavailable for comment.
An informational website dedicated to the project, www.slooflirpa.com, will be operational Sunday.