Spotlight On: Hedda Sharapan -- Celebrating 50 Years with The Fred Rogers Company

This month, Hedda Sharapan celebrates 50 years since she began working for Fred Rogers. We asked her to reminisce about what it was like what she first applied for a job:

“It was 1965, before Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I had just graduated from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a degree in psychology.  While I was waiting to hear from graduate schools, I thought I’d have a back-up plan and see if I could get a job in Pittsburgh.  So I went for a few job interviews at companies in the area.  I thought I’d try WQED because growing up, I used to pretend to have my own television program and took lots of theater classes.  I was told there were no jobs there, but the man who interviewed me suggested I get advice from Fred Rogers. I knew his name from Children’s Corner days, and so I knew I’d be getting sound advice. At the time Fred was working on learning more about children through the Graduate School of Child Development and waiting for funding for his television program concept.

Fred was kind enough to meet with me, and he suggested that for work in children’s television, I consider a master’s degree -- not in TV production or mass media, but rather in child development – to understand children and childhood in order to be able to communicate with them through television.  He encouraged me to apply to the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate program. Fortunately, I was accepted there and would see Fred off and on during my first year in graduate school.  When he got funding for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he remembered my interest and asked if I would help.  I was to be the Assistant Director.   No pay…no staff… in those beginning months.  We were taping at night, so it fit in with my last year of graduate studies.  And that’s where my work with him all started – October 1966.”

She describes Fred using four different adjectives: appreciative, tough, caring, and humorous.

"Fred was so appreciative – of each one of us on our small staff.  I felt that he saw the particular strengths that each of us brought to our work, and he was grateful for what we were contributing to his work.  He often wrote such kind and thoughtful comments on the writings I did about the program.  I remember one in particular: ’Thanks Hedda, you’re a great synthesizer.’ 

He was also a ’tough’ boss because his own standards were so high that I felt whatever I wrote or did speeches about his work had to be really well-thought out.  I had such great respect for his wisdom and his commitment to serve children and families in an authentic and meaningful way – so I wanted to do my very best.  I learned a lot from stretching myself to always be better…and I learned a lot from him because he always elevated whatever writing I did.  We used to joke that he was my E.O. (“elevator operator”). 

Fred cared about us as people – and our families, always asking about them, letting us know he respected the time we needed for our families.  When my mother’s cancer became terminal, I told him how sorry I was not to be at work because I needed some time to help care for her.   He said, ’Oh, Hedda, that’s the most important work there is.’

Fred had the most wonderful and whimsical sense of humor.  He and I were walking down the hall when I was on my way out of town for a speech about his work.  He asked where I was going this time.  I told him the group was the National Association of Pediatric Nurses and Practitioners – called NAP-NAP!  And he said with a twinkle in his eye, ’Well, I hope they don’t nap-nap while you talk-talk!’”

Hedda eventually became Associate Producer.  “That title didn’t really fit what I was doing,” Hedda said. “But there was no other way to describe my work.  I joked that the title did actually work because I associated with the work of the producer (Fred Rogers)!”

She assisted Fred with the viewer mail, giving speeches around the country about his work, writing articles and newsletters, creating professional development modules, and assisting with the books for children and families.  Eventually as Director of Early Childhood Initiatives, Hedda worked primarily in professional development, making speeches, and writing a monthly newsletter.

Hedda is a Curriculum Consultant for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the beloved series produced by The Fred Rogers Company series for PBS KIDS. Asked what she likes best about this new program, Hedda said:

“I think what I value most about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the program’s respect for childhood and the honesty about what life is like for a young child. I also like that we show the importance of caring adults to help young children learn about dealing with their feelings and getting along with others.”

We asked Hedda to share a favorite memory of Daniel Tiger and Mister Rogers.

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