The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

September 21, 2013

Stars shine for United Way

Additional photos from the event

BECKLEY — At what’s being dubbed the social event of the season, more than 800 attendees came out to support the United Way’s biggest fundraiser, Dancing with the Stars.

Last year the event raised $50,000, and United Way Executive Director Margaret Ann O’Neal said she expected even higher totals this year.

“I’m just so excited,” O’Neal said before the show got started. “It’s obviously a sold-out crowd and the dances are awesome.”

She said she has had the privilege of watching the dancers rehearse the past couple days and she was excited to see them on stage.

“This event wouldn’t be possible without the community we live in. They love it and it’s so much fun to get dressed up.”

Outside on the red carpet, the dancers arrived by limousine, all decked out in fabulous suits and dresses.

All the dancers said they were a bit nervous before the show got started, but overall, they were all just excited to be helping out such a great cause.

“It’s great to think of what we’ve been able to do together to help the lives in southern West Virginia,” Sherrie Hunter said.

Hunter was dancing alongside William O’Brien and she said, “We’ve been so blessed to work with such great choreographers and professionals. It’s a very special event for all of us.”

Stephanie Rizo, who works with Dr. Brett Eckley, said she came out to support him and his dance partner, Lori Tabit.

“I’ve helped him with some of the fundraising and I think it’s a great way to get the community involved.”

Jennifer Gwinn agreed that it’s a fun way to help out a great cause.

“I’m here to support our friends Elmer and Libby,” Gwinn said. “The United Way is a great organization that does a lot for the community.”

Elmer Coppoolse and Libby Kelly were choreographed by Beckley Dance Theatre Director Jerry Rose and were the first two on stage Friday night.

Judges Kristen Pennington, Sarah Abrams, Heather Zickefoose and Craig Kaufman were seated above the stage for a bird’s-eye view of the dancers.

Abrams, a United Way board member, said last year she had initially been asked to dance, but they decided she had too much experience, so she came on board as a judge.

“I was a little blindsided last year. I’m a little nervous this year, but I’m more prepared. It’s going to be a great competition and it’s our largest fundraiser.”

Other dancers were Charles “Chaz” Turner and Merrily McAuliffe, Eric Thomas and Melanie McGraw, David Chinn and Donna Williams.

Frank Wood, United Way campaign chairman, said, “This is a great night for the United Way, but there are even better days ahead for the 34 agencies who receive the contributions from the event.”

For more information about the United Way, visit


At the conclusion of the evening, which raised $80,780, the following winners were announced:

Judge’s Choice:

No. 1 — Eric Thomas and Melanie McGraw

No. 2  — Dr. Brett Eckley and Lori Tabit

People’s Choice:

No. 1  — Dr. Brett Eckley and Lori Tabit,

No. 2  — David Chinn and Donna Williams

 — E-mail: wholdren@

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