CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. — Then-New York City Kindergarten teacher Mary Ellen Rohon was on vacation in Mont Saint-Michel in France in 1958 when she received a telegram from TV station WPIX asking her to come in to interview for a new show.
It was that telegram that kicked off a trailblazing career in the world of educational television for the now 88-year old Cliffside Park resident.
Rohon was hired to write, host and produce "Fun At 1," a program aimed at educating kindergarten aged children.
"It was an enormous deal at the time," said Rohon, whose program was among a host of new educational shows launched on WPIX by New York Governor W. Averell Harriman.
"Nobody had ever done educational TV before," she said. "I was writing and producing my shows, and then appearing live on TV five days a week."
The programs were broadcast from Maine to Florida on the Eastern Educational Network.
Rohon said she would perform similar lessons on TV that she would in the classroom.
Each episode would have a new topic that she would teach through stories, games, songs, and reading activities.
Unlike modern educational programs, Rohon said she stood alone on set, and tried to have a conversation with the child watching her on the other side of the screen.
"It was very intimate," Rohon said. "People told me their child thought I was actually talking to them."
"I remember meeting kids on the street who asked me how I got out of the TV," she added.
The show was renamed and moved to new stations several times before Rohon returned to the classroom in 1971.
In 1977, she retired from teaching entirely.
"It was a huge effort to go work on TV, but it was very exciting," Rohon said, reflecting on her career. "I was on live TV everyday."
She said she is most proud of all the letters she received from adoring fans.
"Kids would send me thousands of letters," Rohon said. "It let me know how big of an impact we were really having. Who knew TV would be such a strong force?"
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