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From Heartbreak To Hope – USOA Mrs. Kentucky On A Mission To Serve

USOA Mrs. Kentucky with husband Casey Hildreth. Photo submitted


By Chelene Nightingale
Jobe Reporter

Even on a cloudy day United States of America’s Mrs. Kentucky, Erica Ann Hildreth, radiates sunshine.  Her authentic joy is on full display with her positive demeanor, sparkling eyes, and bright smile.  She displays no indication that her life has been filled with struggle, but in fact, Erica is a survivor of tragedy, despair, and heartbreak.

Erica was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, to what she described as a “family of drinkers.”  She shared, “When I was young all the drinking just felt like a normalcy.”

Her parents Deborah Montgomery and Barry Vance met while both were serving in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune.  Unfortunately, the struggles of alcoholism contributed to the dissolution of their marriage.  Erica was only 5 years old when her parents divorced, “My younger sister (Courtney Poynter) and I were torn between homes.”  Although the sisters were loved, the two homes were very different.  “I was a daddy’s girl, but he was a functioning alcoholic. I wondered often if I was enabling him instead of helping him.”

Through many years of alcohol dependency, Barry Vance’s liver stopped processing which led to ammonia poisoning in the kidneys and brain.  Sadly, the family watched Barry suffer mental decline.  He was admitted in and out of 10 hospitals until his untimely death in 2021.  Mrs. Hildreth recently posted on social media: “I’ve been counting the days, dreading January 30th, it represents the 2 year anniversary of my father’s death,  He passed in a VA Hospital after losing his battle with alcoholism.  That’s very vulnerable and hard to say, but I share that because even through heartbreak, we can find hope.”

Erica said, “I cannot describe in words what I was feeling inside after the loss of dad, however, I believe God gave me a second chance to help others.”  Although Erica did not struggle with alcohol addiction personally, she still decided to stop alcohol consumption.  She hopes that her cessation of drinking ends any generational curse.  Erica continued, “My dad may be gone, but I am continuing his legacy by serving other veterans.  Out of loss, became hope.”

Erica Ann is the first official ambassador for the Veteran’s Club,  Headquartered in Louisville, their website cites their mission is “to provide connection, healing, recovery, housing assistance and vocational training to the Veteran and First Responder Community.”  Erica believes strongly that veterans served our country, so it’s time for the country to serve them.

Many soldiers leave military life and enter civilian life with struggles and sometimes the two different worlds lead to alcohol and substance abuse.  Unfortunately, a Veterans’ Administration study estimated that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day.  Due to these unfortunate statistics and her dad’s personal struggles, she wanted to reach out and show love and support to veterans.  Besides Erica’s mom and dad serving in the military, her step-dad (Jim Montgomery), two uncles, and her husband Casey Hildreth also served in the military.

Mrs. Hildreth is grateful for her role as USOA Mrs. Kentucky which blesses her with a more visible voice to serve others.  Wearing her USOA Mrs. Kentucky crown and sash, she presented the Veteran’s Club with a $20,435 check on January 3rd. She stated online:  “This fundraiser was a way to promote the importance of mental health, break stigmas, and be a safe space for any (veterans) struggling.  We also raised awareness to the disease that is alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide.  Very real battles that our Veterans face daily.”

Erica Ann raised the funds through her Resilience Ruck event last November 5.  The inaugural festivity included a 12K representing the 12 steps of recovery followed by an early evening celebration with live music, food, giveaways, and birthday cake.  The cake was in honor of her Dad who would have celebrated his 59th birthday on November 3rd.  “It was an exhilarating day.  We need to show our veterans that they are valuable, champion them as heroes, and make sure they are provided with the necessary resources.”

When Erica is not serving veterans, she is serving her family and her community in other ways.  However, her confidence to help others was a journey that did not happen overnight.  “When I was young, I was not strong enough.  I didn’t know who I was when I was younger.  Very unsure of myself.”  The Barren County High School Trojan alumni confessed she was a “total nerd” as a teenager.  “I was not a cheerleader, I was the secretary of the science club.”

After graduation, Erica married instead of attending college.  At times Erica felt like her cup was empty, but other people saw something in her that she didn’t see in herself.  “They believed in me and opened doors for me, but I had to learn to believe in me.”  At the age of 17, Erica Ann started working at Extreme Fitness and became a personal trainer.  While working at Extreme, she noticed an announcement for a local bodybuilding competition.  She attended just as a spectator but was inspired to enter a future competition.  She started overcoming insecurity and dedicated time to not only build muscle but build confidence.  As a young woman, she heard many negative comments and people trying to discourage her.  Erica overcame all the adversity and obstacles and competed in her first show back in 2014.  Four years later, she won the Kentucky Derby Body Building First in Class.  “This win made me realize I am capable of things I thought I could not accomplish.”

The current United States of America’s Mrs. Kentucky credits Jennifer Bailey with opening the door to the world of pageants.  “I am grateful for Jennifer believing in me.  Pageant life really helps me be my best self. Not just the eating right and working out, but it allows me to be a voice for the voiceless. Grants me an opportunity to serve others, cheer others on.”

Erica has competed in over 10 pageants.  In many of the pageants she has won the 1st runner-up position, however, she has won pageants as well.  Her first win was for Miss Breckinridge County and she later won Miss Barren County.  “I have a passion to lend a helping hand to anyone and pageants have helped me accomplish this passion.”

“Life is about stepping stones and listening to God along the way,” Erica declared. This belief definitely characterizes USOA Mrs. Kentucky’s endless accomplishments.  After Extreme Fitness, she led her own successful marketing company that served Barren County and the surrounding area.  One of her clients, a local Keller Williams Real Estate Agency, offered her an invitation to take her marketing expertise to become a Realtor.  After just a couple of years, Erica won Best Real Estate Agent in Bowling Green for 2021.  In addition, she was nominated again for Best Agent.  “I love helping the community finding their dream home. A house is just a house without a family,  A family makes the home.”

Mrs.  Hildreth manages to balance career, church, volunteerism, and family effortlessly.  “God doesn’t promise us the next two minutes, so I just focus on the present.”  Erica’s first marriage dissolved however she remarried last year.  She met her husband Casey through mutual friends.  “God gave me what I needed in His perfect time.”  Together they joke they are the “New Brady Bunch” blended family.  They enjoy co-parenting 5 children with their former spouses.  “You must set aside ego and do what is right for your children.  The struggles I endured as a child helped me to show grace and understanding.”  The couple ensures their home is a safe space filled with love and faith for their children.

In fact, as a mom, Erica takes the time to listen and have conversations with her own children to empower them for the future.  “I wear many hats and sometimes a crown, but my mom hat inspired me to write a children’s book.”  Adding to her long list of successes, Mrs. Hildreth can also add published author to her resume.  “Shine for all the World to See” was just released on Amazon.  She wrote the children’s book to inspire and uplift every child.  “Children should be confident knowing they are each shining bright stars.”

The current USOA Mrs. Kentucky is definitely a bright star that the world certainly sees shine.  Besides winning pageants, sports competitions, and business awards, Erica was presented the “Citation of Achievement” at the State Capitol by Representative Steve Riley.  “This extraordinary Kentuckian has represented her community and the entire Commonwealth with the utmost integrity, elegance, and charm.”  Erica humbly shared, “I didn’t plan on recognition, I just wanted to help other daughters to celebrate their dad’s birthdays, not funerals.”

Erica believes her journey thus far has taught her to just be herself.  She is both humble and grateful for everyone who helped her along the way.  God has also shown her that after any storm, there is a rainbow at the end.  Erica Ann Hildreth’s life is a hopeful example of overcoming loss and heartbreak.  When asked what was next on her journey, she sweetly smiled and said, “As long as I still breathe, I will be serving others.”

*The United States of America Pageant will stream live online March 30-April 2nd.  Pageant includes a People’s Choice Voting.

**To learn more about the Veteran’s Club go to or call (502)487-1464.

Blended family. Photo submitted

USOA Mrs. Kentucky presents Veteran’s Club with a donation. Photo submitted

Young Erica with her dad and little sister. Photo submitted

Better times with Dad, Berry Vance. Photo submitted

Erica, at left, at her dad’s memorial with her father’s best friend, Brian Fisher, and Erica’s sister. Photo submitted

State Representative Steve Riley presents USOA Mrs. Kentucky with Citizen Honor. Photo submitted


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