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Fred Rogers statue unveiled in Latrobe

Joe Napsha
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Nancy Crozier of Latrobe sits next to a sculpture of her brother, Fred Rogers, following a public unveiling ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Latrobe.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Renowned artist Jon Hair of St. Petersburg, Florida, unveils his bronze sculpture of Fred Rogers during a public ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at James H. Rogers Park in Latrobe.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
A crowd gathers prior to a ceremony unveiling a bronze statue of Latrobe native Fred Rogers on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at James H. Rogers Park in Latrobe.

With tears in her eyes, Nancy Rogers Crozier hugged the newly-unveiled statue of her late brother and proudly proclaimed that he was home.

“It really is my brother,” Crozier told more than 100 people who watched Saturday in downtown Latrobe as she sat next to the lifelike bronze statue of Fred McFeely Rogers.

“It’s really thrilling,” she said minutes later. “The little children are beaming and smiling, and that’s what it is all about.”

The statue of the Latrobe native, who gained fame for creating and hosting the children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” during its 33-year run on public television, sits at the corner of Jefferson and Main streets in James Hillis Rogers Park, named after the siblings’ father. The park is maintained by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation.

“We are excited and very happy to be bringing him home,” Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford said.

Although Fred Rogers died 13 years ago at age 74, it was clear he remained in the hearts of those who gathered to see his statue — which depicts a smiling Rogers sitting at one end of a bench with his legs crossed and an arm around the back. He is adorned in his trademark cardigan sweater and tennis shoes.

Sculptor Jon Hair of St. Petersburg, Fla., said he used countless photos in deciding how to create the 300-pound work of art that took more than six months to make.

“I wanted him on the bench, so that you want to sit by him. From the street, it looks like you want to sit with him,” Hair said as he watched parents and children have pictures taken with the statue.

Hair was so detail-oriented that he wanted to know the sizes of the jacket, shoes and even pants that Rogers wore, said James Okonak, executive director of the McFeely-Rogers Foundation.

He declined to say how much the foundation paid for the project.

The statue had been scheduled to be installed in June as part of the “Bringing Fred Home” special gala but was postponed when Hair became ill, Okonak said.

The statue’s unveiling was to coincide with that of a state historical marker honoring Rogers, which was stands on the Main Street side of the park.

Another statue of Rogers sits on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, near Heinz Field. Dedicated in 2009, it depicts Rogers looking across the Allegheny River toward Point State Park and Downtown Pittsburgh.

St. Vincent College, just outside of Latrobe, is home to the Fred Rogers Center, a conference facility that holds a special exhibit dedicated to Rogers.

He arguably is one of the two most-famous people to hail from Latrobe — the other being legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, who died in September.

The initiative to place a statue of Rogers in the Latrobe park began about two years ago. Okonak credited Crozier with her vision and perseverance in pushing foundation trustees to accomplish the project. Former Latrobe mayor Warren Marckioni, who died two years ago, also wanted Rogers’ statue in the park, Okonak said.

Crozier said it was fitting that a statue of her brother now is in Latrobe, a town he loved.

“He called it ‘the garden spot of the world,’” she said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].

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