Sandra Van Trease among 3 UMSL alums Dancing with the St. Louis Stars

Sandra Van Trease and David Scherer

Alumna Sandra Van Trease dances with partner David Scherer in the annual Dancing with the St. Louis Stars competition held Jan. 28 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Clayton, Missouri. (Photo by Alex Paz)

The lights were turned down low in the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton hotel when the music began pulsating from the loud speakers.

From behind the stage came Sandra Van Trease and her partner, David Scherer, and they marched out onto the dance floor in front of an audience of about 650 people.

It was not a setting Van Trease had found herself in before, but the BJC HealthCare group president and noted University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna had been preparing for it for months.

She proceeded to step, twirl and jive along to the beat of “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, while the crowd sat captivated.

Van Trease, who earned a degree in accounting from UMSL in 1982, was one of the eight community leaders who competed in the annual Dancing with the St. Louis Stars competition on Jan. 28 at the hotel in Clayton.

Always a generous benefactor of her alma mater, Van Trease was working for a different cause on that night. She was helping to raise money for Independence Center, a community-based rehabilitation program for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses in the St. Louis area.

It serves about 1,500 individuals each year through programs for education, employment, wellness, housing and work readiness.

“The members of Independence Center I spoke with recently told me Independence Center is not just part of their community, it is a community,” Van Trease said by way of explaining her commitment to the cause. “It eliminates their isolation, develops self-esteem in a safe environment, helps develop skills and finds them transitional jobs with supportive employers. They are provided with daily meals, access to showers and laundry services, and can even receive help finding clean and safe housing. In fact, Independence Center provides a lifelong support system because, once you are a member, you are a member for life.

“Best of all, it works. It works for families with nowhere to turn to help a loved one, it works for those suffering in isolation.”

The event generated more than $836,000, and Van Trease and Scherer, an instructor at Convergence Dance and Body Center, were directly credited with $82,110 through votes – that were $10 each – and $115,610 when also factoring in corporate sponsorships and table sales.

Both figures were third among this year’s teams.

But topping the charts was another UMSL graduate, Jim Brennan, BSBA 1974 and the president of McKelvey Home. He and his partner, Lucy Fitzgerald, co-owner of Just Dancing West, were crowned Dance Champions and Dancing MVPs after raising over $157,000 in votes and $200,007 overall. Mike Keller, the retired executive director of Independence Center, and his partner, Angie Brooks, an instructor at Majestic Dance Studio, finished second.

A third UMSL graduate, Marcela Manjarrez Hawn, also competed in the competition. The 1998 economics graduate, now the chief communications officer at Centene Corporation, joined partner Robert McKenney of Convergence Dance and Body Center, and raised a total of $94,840.

Brittny Adams with Independence Center and Joe Elvis-Alway Baker, director and choreographer with Three 5 Productions, were selected the Judges’ and Crowd Favorite.

“This has been an incredible experience,” Van Trease said after she and Scherer wrapped up their performance and addressed the audience. “I’ve had so much fun.”

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