Joe and Chris McKee were on a flight back to St. Louis when they decided they had to help make it happen.
"My brother and I had just taken a tour of Radio City Music Hall in New York City that Dave Checketts had arranged for us," Joe recalls. At that time, Dave was the sole owner of the former Municipal Auditorium Complex, St. Louis’ 1934 performing-arts gem that closed its doors in 1991. “Dave had overseen the renovation at Radio City and believed that Peabody Opera House could be to St. Louis what that music hall is to New York.
|Brothers Chris and Joe McKee were the catalysts for reviving the Peabody Opera House and, in turn, supported multiple sclerosis research.
The McKee brothers talked about Dave’s vision for Peabody Opera House. As builders and developers by trade and lifelong St. Louis residents, they agreed that this dream had to become a reality. They, along with Mike McCarthy, CEO of the St. Louis Blues, joined Dave Checketts as co-owners of the Peabody.
“The Peabody Opera House is a symbol of what we can accomplish as a community; it was built during the Great Depression to bring something important to St. Louis,” Joe says. “With it came jobs and a reason for tourists to visit and, today, it is once again bringing life to our great city.”
In 2010, Peabody Energy committed to be the naming rights sponsor of the opera house. For the next 15 months the team worked with diligence, modernizing only where required by today’s standards in an attempt to keep the opera house’s original grandeur intact.
“When the scaffolding came down and revealed the main stage, I was seeing it come back to life, but it wasn’t until I heard the kids hollering and laughing at ‘The Grinch’ musical that I knew for certain we’d done it,” Joe says. “At that moment, I leaned over to my son and said, ‘This is why we did this; to let people come and enjoy life and for a moment forget about their fears and cares.’”
Chris had a similar moment a few months earlier when the sound system installation was complete.
“I came down to hear the acoustics for the first time since the renovation,” Chris recalls. “I sat in the theater and the team turned on some great, old time rock n’ roll—and it was then that I knew this place was going to be spectacular.”
Grand Re-Opening Supports Multiple Sclerosis Research
The Peabody Opera House’s Grand Re-Opening Gala on Oct. 1, 2011, featured Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno. Proceeds from the event were donated to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to support research at the John L. Trotter Multiple Sclerosis Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
“The opera house is St. Louis’ asset so it was only right that its grand re-opening should benefit our community,” Chris says. “Because many of us have friends or relatives who have been impacted by MS (multiple sclerosis), we all agreed that this was a worthy cause to support.”
The McKees’ loved ones receive care from the nationally recognized team at the Trotter MS Center, which “has given them exceptional care,” Joe says. “It’s a great feeling to give back so the Trotter Center can keep giving great care to more people.”
Chris adds that raising awareness about MS is just as important as raising money for MS research.
“Someone can be suffering and no one knows because the symptoms can be invisible. We’ve known friends and family who have gone from being symptom-free one day to having gutwrenching symptoms the next. They live fully engaged but are constantly wondering when their next symptom might show.”
In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath covering nerves, interfering with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Symptoms, and when they appear, vary widely, including: loss of ability to walk or speak, muscle weakness and coordination problems, failing vision, memory loss and the inability to form clear thoughts. There is no cure for MS, but research has made great strides in helping patients live full, long lives.
“We are excited about the improvements we’ve seen in our patients and about what the future may hold in terms of science and understanding of MS. I’m very hopeful that, with continued philanthropy, we will achieve better outcomes for patients using more effective and less risky therapies, and reach our primary goal to discover a cure.” – Dr. Anne Cross
The Peabody’s owners are happy the grand re-opening proceeds are supporting the Trotter Center team as they work to make critical progress for MS patients.
Supporting the Next MS Treatment Breakthrough
Anne Cross, MD, is The Foundation’s Manny and Rosalyn Rosenthal – Dr. John Trotter Multiple Sclerosis Center Chair in Neuroimmunology. She began her research 20 years ago, at a time when there were no treatments to slow the progression of MS.
“Today, we have several therapies proven to prevent relapse and cognitive decline and that significantly improve the quality of life for some MS patients,” Dr. Cross says. “Some of the research studies leading to these therapies were performed here at the Trotter Center. Proceeds from the Peabody Opera House event are putting us on track for even greater discoveries.”
Specifically, the proceeds purchased a critical piece of equipment that allows the team to decipher more detailed information from patients’ cells than ever before, giving them a more complete picture of each patient’s disease. This new information could reveal what activates specific symptoms in patients, allowing the team to modify treatments to meet a patient’s individual needs.
This research, like all Trotter Center research, has the potential to deeply affect the lives of patients. Brian Phillips, longtime Trotter Center patient, can attest to this.
“Working with the Trotter team is not what I expected,” he says, “because you don’t expect that level of care, compassion and talent. They’re not just taking care of patients; they are doing the research to find the next treatment and eventually the cure. I chose to receive my care here because the center has some of the best doctors in the country, and I need the best because I am fighting MS and I’m going to win.”
Dr. Cross is encouraged by Brian’s ability to manage his disease and delighted that the Trotter Center has helped him maintain a very high quality of life.
“Two of the medications Brian is taking to manage his MS were developed from ideas researched by Trotter Center team members,” Dr. Cross says. “We are excited about the improvements we’ve seen in our patients and about what the future may hold in terms of science and understanding of MS. I’m very hopeful that, with continued philanthropy, we will achieve better outcomes for patients using more effective and less risky therapies, and reach our primary goal to discover a cure.”
Please support the Trotter Center’s research by making a donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund (#7486) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. If you have questions, call 314-286-0600 or email GivingBarnesJewish@bjc.org.