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PROFILE | A happy heart

How one young man became the inspiration for popular monthly dances for people with disabilities

Andy Villaire
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Andy Villaire is pretty quiet when you first meet him. But ask him about music, and his face lights up. He’ll mention his favorite musicians, including Michael Jackson. “Billie Jean,” he grins as he answers a question about his favorite song. He presents a fedora and sequined glove, which he sometimes wears to dances.

Andy was the inspiration for Felice Cuores (Italian for happy heart), a monthly dance held at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Ellisville for people ages 18 and older with developmental disabilities. Andy’s parents, Gerry and Bob, struggled to find social activities for him. They worked with the Knights of Columbus to sponsor the dances. Bob Villaire died in 2010.

Now in its 16th year, the dances are hosted by seven Knights’ councils and ladies’ auxiliaries in West County: St. Alban Roe, St. Joseph Manchester, Holy Infant, Christ Prince of Peace, St. Clare, Ascension and Incarnate Word. Gerry Villaire said the cafeteria is at capacity almost every month. The dances generally average about 200 attendees.

Andy and his mom recently spoke about his Catholic faith and favorite activities:

How are you involved in the Church?

Andy is a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus Council #7119. His father helped to re-activate the council at the parish many years ago. Andy also is an usher at the 5 p.m. Saturday Vigil Mass and is generally perched at a side door and greets friends as they arrive for Mass. He carries a rosary to Mass and places it around his neck during the consecration of the Eucharist. He received First Communion at age 7 with the late Msgr. Elmer Berhmann, who was a longtime director of the archdiocesan Department of Special Education.

What is your primary work?

Andy works at Lafayette Industries, a packaging facility that employs people with disabilities. He fulfills orders by placing items in boxes. He has many friends at work, some of whom attend Felice Cuores dances with him.

Besides going to dances, what are your favorite hobbies?

Andy joined a group of friends that formed out of a life skills program he attended. The group attends a regular art class and goes to dinner together and to the movies and bowling. Andy also participates in a bowling league and has a black belt in Taekwando. He also is a regular at the Pujols Family Foundation annual prom, which is for people with Down syndrome.

At a glance

Name: Andy Villaire

Age: 38

Parish: St. Clare of Assisi, Ellisville

Family: Mom, Gerry; three older brothers and two older sisters

Favorite musician: Michael Jackson

Favorite dance: The Moonwalk

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