Hallmark asked Fred Rogers to create a holiday display. His design was peak Mr. Rogers
dreambird/Flickr (left) Matt Hoffman/Unsplash (right)

The world can't seem to get enough of Mister Rogers, and for good reason. In an era of salacious reality television, online trolls, and non-stop political scandals, Fred Rogers remains a pure beam of light and goodness, even 16 years after his passing.

The movie "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" opened to rave reviews Thanksgiving week, and has spawned a slew of stories and articles about the beloved children's television star. But one little-known Fred Rogers story in particular seems perfectly fitting for this holiday season.


RELATED: The first trailer showing Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers is here, and the world can't handle this much goodness

A recent article in the Washington Post tells a story of Rogers being asked to help decorate Hallmark's flagship store in Manhattan during the holidays. In his book, "The Good Neighbor," biographer Maxwell King describes Rogers visiting the store and seeing other famous people's ornate, over-the-top displays. But that was hardly Mister Rogers' M.O. After seeing what others had created, Rogers returned home and designed a display perfectly befitting his person and purpose.

Imagine a clear glass Lucite cube encapsulating a single Norfolk Island pine tree, approximately the height of a child. No decorations. No ornaments or tinsel. Just the simple, bare tree, roots and all. And at the bottom, a plaque that reads, "I like you just the way you are." That was his design.

Oh, Mister Rogers. I know you weren't perfect, but you were pretty darn close.

Fred Rogers didn't just love children; he understood them on a level deeper than most. Millions of us spent a good portion of our childhoods watching him methodically change his sweater and shoes, feed his fish, and take us on the trolley to the Land of Make Believe. We listened to him talk about feelings, about how each one of us is special in our own way. We learned about neighbors and community, about hospitality and support. His show wasn't about teaching kids letters and numbers, but about teaching us how to be whole, compassionate humans.

RELATED: There's a wonderful reason why Mister Rogers always said aloud he's feeding his fish.

He never wavered in the message that every child is capable of loving and being loved. He never wavered in his belief that expressing our feelings was healthy and that children need a safe place to do just that. He never wavered in his humanity or his passionate defense of quality programming for children.

And his conviction that every child was special and worthy of being loved just the way they are was summed up in that simple Christmas tree display. You don't have to do anything extraordinary to be liked. You don't have to dress yourself up in fancy things to be lovable. You don't have to change yourself or be anything other than who you are to be worthy.

Mister Rogers expounded a simple truth that people spend thousands of dollars in therapy to discover, and his gentle way of conveying that message to children made him a hero to so many of us. And the world needs him now more than ever.

Let's keep sharing his legacy through these stories from his life, because every generation deserves the uplifting gift of Fred Rogers.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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