As a child, I was an avid watcher of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, which appeared each morning on our local PBS station in northeast Oklahoma.

We didn’t have cable television in the modest house I grew up in so I relied heavily on shows like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company to keep me entertained.

There was something about Fred Rogers’ kind voice and cheerful personality that sucked me into his fictional neighborhood along with millions of other children my age.

Who am I kidding? He was just as popular with adults as he was with children. Just ask my mother.

So imagine my surprise in 2013 when I spotted the real-live Mr. McFeely, the “Speedy Delivery” man, walking toward me in full regale at the White House Easter Egg Roll that I was attending with my then nine-year-old twin sons.

I rubbed my eyes and shook my head like cartoon characters do when they get hit over the head by a brick or flying anvil.

Although he was 30 years older than he was the last time I saw him, he looked exactly the same in my eyes.

I don’t get nervous often, but Mr. McFeely had me stuttering and stammering like Daniel the Tiger.

After all, Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely along with Daniel, King Friday, Lady Elaine, Prince Tuesday, and the entire gang were regular visitors to my neighborhood, located in the 1700-block of Surrey Drive.

For me, looking into the real-life eyes of one of my childhood heroes was like stepping back in time to simpler times before the existence of cell phones, social media, and cable news.

Walter Chronkite was still reading the evening news. The Waltons were still living the simple life up on Walton Mountain. And 923 or so miles northeast of me in the Village of Bentleyville, Ohio, the ladies of the Bentleyville Neighborhood Club were gathering for their monthly luncheon just like they had been since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.

From their humble beginnings supporting the war effort in 1917 and throughout their 104-year history, the club has been the consistent and stabilizing life blood of the Bentleyville community.

Responding to my introductory column a couple of weeks ago, Club President and former Cleveland television personality Jan Jones reached out and invited me to attend their December gathering and I enthusiastically accepted.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was tickled to find a close-knit group of neighbors doing exactly what neighbors should do: being neighborly.

Photos of kids and grandkids were exchanged. Health updates were given on friends and fellow neighbors. Christmas cards were shared.

It was a genuine and heart-warming display of neighborly care that I haven’t seen since my days growing up next door to the Coatneys, Stathams, and Baumerts in the 1700-block of Surrey Drive and it reinforced my belief that things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem sometimes when you’re watching cable “news.”

We’re also not nearly as different as some would have you believe. In fact, I think our similarities far outweigh our differences on any given day.

My visit to the Bentleyville Neighborhood Club was a perfect example.

In some ways, the 1700-block of Surrey Drive is absolutely nothing like Greentree Road in the Bentleyville community. Yet,

in many other ways, it’s exactly the same.

After all, the spirit that exists at the heart of a true neighborhood isn’t measured by the size of the bank accounts of the people who live there. Nor is it determined by the make and model of the cars parked in its driveway or the manicured spruce trees that line the driveway.

Or at least it shouldn’t be.

For more than 100 years, the ladies of the Bentleyville Neighborhood Club have come to rely on one another – not just for the ocassional cup of sugar or borrowed egg – but also for the type of moral support, encouragement, and neighborly love that women (and frankly, men) desparately need.

The greater Chagrin Valley is fortunate to have groups like that and our community as a whole is much better off because of them.

So thank you, Jan, and the ladies of the Bentleyville Neighborhood Club, for inviting me to your gathering and for being so incredibly hospitable.

And thank you to Nancy Rogoff and my new friends at the Chagrin Falls Little Theatre for inviting me to attend last weekend’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Each and every one of the performers did an incredible job and I was so terribly impressed with the quality of the overall performance. From the set decorations to the costumes to the facility itself, the Chagrin Valley is lucky to have such a jewel within its reach.

I may have only been in northeast Ohio for a few weeks, but the people I have encountered thus far have only reinforced my decision to move here.

I look forward to meeting more and more of you in the weeks and months ahead.

Gustafson is the editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, Solon Times, and Geauga Times Courier.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.