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Being a part of the friendliest neighborhood

by Bill Strickland, Founder and Executive Chairman of Manchester Bidwell Corporation

Bill Strickland teaching Fred Rogers pottery in 1991 on episode 1644 of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Image courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions.

My first appearance on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was in 1973. In the episode, Fred visits Elsie Neal’s craft shop where he finds a thinner version of me with a large Afro using the potter’s wheel, and we talked about the process of turning clay into a pot.

From that moment on I had two more appearances on the show and one of my most cherished friendships was born.

When we first met I was already five years into my work teaching children art at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. I believe he recognized that we were both trying to do the same thing: letting children know how special they are and that they deserve respect and dignity.

I’ve been thinking about Fred a lot recently. With the new feature film coming out, it makes my heart smile to know that his legacy of hope lives on. I dearly miss the conversations we had throughout the years about the hard work that goes into uplifting children when there can be so much darkness around them. We received a special gift that I can now look at to remember my friend. WQED and Fred Rogers Productions donated the piano Johnny Costa used on every episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” from 1987 to 2000 to our MCG Jazz program.

In the last episode I filmed with Fred, he came to Manchester Bidwell Corporation and I got him to get his hands dirty in some clay. At the end of the show he said some- thing I still keep with me.

“My friend Bill is a good teacher,” said Fred. “You can see that.”

Everyday I strive to still be a good teacher, so I never let Fred down.