'An indelible mark on Aurora': Fred Rodgers, tireless champion for young people, dies
Aurora has lost a civic icon who spent decades guiding the city's young people onto the path of success.
Fred Rodgers, a fierce champion and advocate for youth, died early Saturday morning in Aurora, Mayor Richard Irvin announced. He was 77.
Appointed the city's first youth services director in the 1980s, Rodgers' accomplishments included directing the City of Lights Sports Tournament, the Aurora Sports Festival, Stepping Into the Arts Music Program and several summer camps. He also coordinated city events such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.
"He built an award-winning, nationally recognized youth department that positively influenced and perpetually impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Aurora children," Irvin said.
Even well into retirement, Rodgers offered insight on youth issues and would often reach out to city hall to offer advice, guidance and gratitude, the mayor added.
When the city dedicated the Fred Rodgers Community Center in 2009, the year of his retirement, the line of those who had "made it" thanks to his mentorship backed up out the door.
The Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy in East Aurora School District 131 is emblematic of Rodgers' unyielding commitment to our youth and their future, Irvin said.
"Fred left an indelible mark on Aurora and a proven blueprint for service and advocacy for us all to follow," he said.
In 2010, Rodgers was named Aurora's Outstanding African American, and last year, the city honored him as part of its "Aurora in Black" series of Black History Month events.
Rodgers was part of a contingent in 1996 that traveled to meet with former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a voice of white supremacy as Blacks fought for civil rights. According to a contemporary press account, Rodgers made the visit to forgive the former governor, who had been paralyzed by gunfire from a would-be assassin and subsequently repented his racist views.
In 2009, Rodgers told the Daily Herald that he spent quality time with about 25,000 children.
"Some of them are parents now and I've gotten to know their kids, too, but that makes a guy feel old," he said. "But seeing them make good choices and be productive citizens is what really makes it worth every second I spent."