By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 28, 2001 02:56 PM

This Friday will mark the end of an era. For the last time, Fred Rogers will greet youngsters on his PBS TV show, “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.” He’s had a run of 34 years. There will be no teary farewell (the episode was actually taped last December), and, in fact, the show’s producers hope to segue into reruns with little or no disruption for the 3- to 6-year-olds who consider the cardigan-wearing Rogers as family. Speaking by phone from his vacation home in Nantucket, Mass. Rogers, 73, told Reuters, “The general message of the neighborhood is that the truth is best. If we can share ourselves with our kids in ways that aren’t frightening to them, that’s the greatest gift we can give anyone — the gift of an honest self.” As for what he will do with himself, Rogers, who is married to concert pianist Joanne Byrd, 73, and has two grown sons, plans to pen more children’s books and expand a Web site that showcases his parenting advice, PEOPLE reported when the TV vet (who originally was trained and ordained as a minister) announced his retirement last fall. Still, he will be missed. “There’s a gentleness and a decency about Fred Rogers,” Michael Loman, executive producer of “Sesame Street,” told the magazine. “In today’s complex world, that’s not so easily found.”