Famous Ponte Vedrans?

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood


I started writing this series on famous people who lived in Ponte Vedra because there was a list on the internet, and it made me wonder: Did these people really live here? The list has been replicated and distributed over the years by various Realtors as part of a package pitching Ponte Vedra as a great place to live.

I published the articles that I wrote in the Ponte Vedra Recorder because I wanted them to live on the internet so that future researchers could find my research. And, in fact, a number of my articles have elicited responses from interested parties all over the country. Just the other day, I got an email from someone who wanted more information on an article I wrote about baseball Hall-of-Famer Bill Terry, who did in fact maintain a beach home here although he lived in San Marco. Just last year, an article I wrote about Ernie Mickler spurred the Palm Valley community to put on a History Festival.

As it turns out, many of the people on the list did have some ties to Ponte Vedra, even if they were brief, as in the case of Teddy Roosevelt Jr. One of the names that most intrigued me was Fred Rogers, star of the TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Nearly everybody knows his TV show for children that was a hit for decades. The show opened with the song “It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood” and, of course, it is a beautiful day in my neighborhood as well.

There are a couple of people on the list of Famous Ponte Vedra Residents that I cannot tie to Ponte Vedra, one of those is Fred Rogers. Rogers was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, famous as the home of Rolling Rock Beer. Rolling Rock is no longer made there. It is brewed in Newark, N.J. For a time, Sam Adams was brewed at the old Rolling Rock plant, but has since moved its brewery to Allentown. Rogers was two years older than Latrobe’s other famous resident, Arnold Palmer, and it is intriguing to think they probably met as young men, although it is doubtful they would have had much in common.

Rogers, who learned to play the piano at age 5, went to Dartmouth but did not like it and transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, to pursue a degree in music. It was there that he met his future wife, Joanne Byrd. Joanne was also studying music at Rollins, and she had also learned to play the piano at age 5. Joanne Rogers was born in San Marco and that remains the closest tie to Ponte Vedra. Fred and Joanne bonded over a shared interest in music and unhappy childhoods.  They liked to play piano duets together for fun.

Joanne Rogers was so good that she later toured the country with a college friend performing over 300 concerts. Two of those were here in Jacksonville. Fred Rogers spent most of his life in Pittsburgh where he produced his television show. The family had a summer home in Nantucket. Nantucket is pretty far from Ponte Vedra. Given that his wife was from Jacksonville and that she performed here twice, it is possible that Rogers visited Ponte Vedra at some point, but I can find no evidence that he resided here. Perhaps someone out there knows more and can provide the missing link that ties Fred Rogers to our beautiful neighborhood.

Scott Grant is a local author, historian and money manager. He would love to hear from you at scottg@standfastic.com