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The good neighbor: Mister Rogers documentary opens tonight at Fargo Theatre

Fred Rogers is the subject of the documentary, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Special to The Forum1 / 2
Fred Rogers was the star and creative force behind "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO — Growing up in the 1970s, I wasn't allowed to watch much TV, except for PBS.

Like a lot of other parents, mine saw nothing objectionable about educational shows like "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Truth be told, I viewed "Mister Rogers" as little more than a measly appetizer for the entree that was "Sesame Street," which thrilled me with muppets and singing and counting and Grover. "Mister Rogers" had, well, slow, soft, calm talking.

But there was a lot more going on in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" than I was tuned in to.

That became clear recently when I went to a movie at the Fargo Theatre and saw a trailer for "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" — the documentary about Fred Rogers that opens there today.

I can't put a finger on just why, but less than a minute into the preview, I was in tears. It may have been the scene of Daniel Tiger asking Lady Aberlin, "What does assassination mean?" following the murder of Robert Kennedy. Or Rogers trying to explain divorce to kids. Or maybe it was when he explains, "Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it."

The message of the show was simple — be a good neighbor, be a good person, be kind.

It may be a message he started preaching in that slow, soft, calm voice in 1968 when the show started, but it's one that rings true today.

"It's such a beautiful thing, especially given the current climate of political, economic factors, it's a beautiful thing to have people that advocate for that," says Jhelsi Gulmon. "Watching that brought me right back into the living room as a kid. I'm fully prepared to go in there and cry the majority of the time."

The West Fargo woman was one of the many to claim a pair of tickets Prairie Public TV was offering for tonight's premiere. The PBS affiliate gave out 200 tickets for the showing at the Fargo Theatre.

Gulmon, 34, grew up favoring "Rogers" over "Sesame Street".

"I like how he was very inclusive and I didn't realize what that meant until I'm an adult now," she says. "I work at Microsoft now and inclusivity and diversity are key pillars of our organization. I don't think when I was watching in the 1980s that was a priority. I think there were a lot of taboos around how we reacted to different races, cultures, genders, all of that ... He was always very welcoming. Everyone came into his home."

Troy Ostgarden, another ticket holder, says he also got teary watching the trailer.

"I'm very nostalgic. It reminds me of being at home when I was younger and watching the show. Simpler times," the 36-year-old says. "I started crying watching that because there's not a lot of that (compassion) going on right now and we're missing a presence like that in society today."

Gulmon says she'll attend the movie with her husband. He wasn't as big of a Rogers fan growing up, but she feels that may change after the movie.

"I think it's a movie that transcends being a nostalgia piece," she says. "I think it's going to resonate with the desired outcome that Mr. Rogers had decades ago and a reflection of what's going on today. I think that will be really impactful and resonate with people regardless of the nostalgia ... Mr. Rogers was completely underrated."

If you go

What: Local premiere of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

When: Friday, June 29, show times are at 4:30, 7 and 9:15 p.m.

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $7 for matinees (before 6 p.m.) and $6.25 to $9 for evening showings