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Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Man who led drive for local PBS dies

Wally Fosnight, 79, helped found WFWA

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

He was the man who brought Mister Rogers to Fort Wayne's neighborhood.

Wallace J. “Wally” Fosnight, who died May 17 in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, at age 79, is responsible for a bit of the history  that will be chronicled at 4 p.m. today when PBS39 (WFWA-TV) airs “It's You I Like,” a documentary tribute to Fred Rogers.

In 1969, when Fosnight and his family left Pittsburgh for a job in Fort Wayne, his 4-year-old daughter Wendy felt so bereft at not being able to continue watching “MisterRogers' Neighborhood” that she cried.

Mark Ryan, PBS39's creative services manager, said Fosnight not only brought the show to local audiences, he also set the wheels in motion for the founding of Fort Wayne's public television station in 1975.

It's a story Bruce Haines, PBS39 general manager, tells often, Ryan said Saturday.

As recounted in a Journal Gazette article in 1977, the story goes like this:

Fosnight, moved by his daughter's tears, wrote to the office of National Educational Television in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a major funding source for public television. He asked what it would cost to underwrite daily telecasts of the children's show featuring the friendly man in the cardigan sweater.

“The reply ... (was) a series of new questions, the thrust of which (was) the possibility of bringing a public television show to an area without a public television station raised 'some very complex legal questions,' that needed to be solved,” the article says.

But with cooperation from many local people, the questions worked themselves out, and Fosnight took the helm as first president of the local PBS board of directors.

In that article, he also admitted that Mister Rogers was a sort of “ploy” for getting a public TV station in Fort Wayne.

But he remained proud of the accomplishment throughout his life, said his daughter, now Wendy Fosnight Dymoke, in an online obituary.

While living in Fort Wayne, Fosnight was assistant vice president of marketing at People's Trust Bank and assistant vice president of Lincoln National Bank.

He also was president of the Mental Health Association in Indiana and Allen County and the Fort Wayne Advertising Club.

After moving from Fort Wayne, Fosnight and his wife of 60 years, Joan, who survives him, were long-time residents of Elm Grove, where they worked together at Shorewest Realtors. He retired as director of marketing from Heritage Bank Group.

Also known locally for creating wire sculptures, Fosnight said “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” brought his family closer as they watched the show together. “It taught me how to talk to my children,” he told The Journal Gazette in 1977. 

Fosnight is also survived by daughter Jonell Marie Fosnight Fields, sister Marsha Kay Fosnight Bell and seven grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Howard J. and Edna Mae Paff Fosnight.

rsalter@jg.net