Introducing: The People of The Ville
Louisville, Kentucky is an amazing town with even more amazing people. In this series, I hope to shed some light on the interesting and awesome personalities that make up our great city.
Enjoy the story of Monica Hardin, a local news anchor on WLKY.
You might only know her as the pretty face on television. Her grace and beauty along with that infectious smile permeate the early hours every day on the WLKY morning news show. People who know her best agree that she’s as genuine and beautiful inside as she is on the outside. She has spent most of her years building on the purpose she discovered for her own life at a young age; and although Monica has had many successes and accomplishments in her life, she will only point to those that have helped her along the way and give credit to the pillars in her life that have not only supported her but also given her the strength and tools to follow her dreams. From humble beginnings to celebrity-like status, she has maintained the same sweet personality that her daddy warned her long ago to never lose. Monica has dedicated her life to motivating others; but her own motivation comes from three distinct sources: her family, her faith, and various mentors through the different seasons of her life. She has had her own radio program, been Miss Kentucky, and now anchors a local news show and I feel blessed that I’m lucky enough to call her my friend.
In 1969, Monica’s parents met on a blind date, which is ironic because her mother, Mona, had been completely blind since the age of six. Her parents soon fell in love and married and started their family with their first two children, and then they waited a full eleven years to have Monica followed by her younger brother three years later. Although Monica and her younger brother were always close, she admits that growing up, the 11 and 13 year age difference between her and her older siblings made it difficult to be as close; but there was always dedication and devotion to each other that was instilled from her parents upon her and her siblings. These qualities are quite impressive enough in today’s world, but there is much more to her story.
The family settled in Valley Station, where her father, after hearing a sermon on the plight of young black men, decided to start a commercial cleaning business to give opportunities to those willing to work. Monica remembers feeling like it was natural to work alongside her father in his business. The family struggled and worked together to make financial ends meet but Monica remembers it as “a good childhood.” She goes on to say,
“We were poor and I knew we were poor, but I recently realized that I grew up privileged because I had access to opportunity.”
Even though her mother’s complete blindness made her family different and was a challenge, there was an incredibly strong bond between her and Monica that was truly inspiring. Monica describes Mona as more than just the matriarch of the family—she was the backbone to much of who Monica is today. Mona never leaned on her disability for an excuse and typically did whatever she wanted to with her kids, including cooking and crafts. Until her eldest son was born, she worked full time in the x-ray department at St. Margaret Mary’s. After that, she stayed home with her family and worked alongside her children in all of their endeavors, no matter what activity they wanted to pursue. She forged an attitude of you can do what you want no matter what obstacle is in your path and she lived by that attitude every day. Monica describes her mother as being an amazing homemaker that made everything from scratch and who was strong and carried herself with grace and beauty. Through the years, Monica became the eyes for her mom as they cooked and played together; and this last year when her mom passed away was one of the most difficult times for her. Monica recalls,
“I realized that for the first time in my life, I no longer had that job anymore.”
Watching Monica move, her grace and composure are as intoxicating as her smile. Her ability to communicate and carry herself she repeatedly credits to those who surrounded her during her childhood and as she developed into a woman. She described to me a childhood filled with difficulties like having utilities turned off because of financial problems. The house she grew up in had no central heat and the family had to rely on a kerosene heater. No matter what difficulty the family faced, though, she remembers that they always stuck together and worked through each problem until they were back on their feet.
Her description of opportunities in her life comes in three distinct forms: her family, her faith, and the various mentors in her life. She describes her family as always believing in her and supporting her.
“If I had a dream, they never told me I couldn’t do it because we didn’t have enough money.”
Her family would work to help give her opportunities to follow her dreams. She credits this to much of her early belief in herself against all the odds facing her. When she was eleven, Monica wanted to compete in a pageant so her dad told her she had to raise the money. Before long, the family began selling barbecue to fund the money she needed. The first pageant she entered and won was called Miss Pre-Teen Louisville. As the winner of the first Miss Pre-Teen Louisville, Monica was interviewed by Dawn Gee and during that interview told the reporter that she would someday grow up and take her job. This comment from a feisty eleven-year-old was the beginning of a life-long mentorship and friendship between the two women.
Monica wanted to continue on with her pageant work and her father became her sidekick as a “pageant dad” in his signature brown pants and khaki shirt. He also became her official coach, always ready with questions when she got into the car and Monica credits him with giving her the vision to work hard to achieve her goals. She calls her father “one of those rare geniuses that can figure out what needs to be done to be successful no matter what’s in front of him.”
With her family behind her, the second part of Monica’s success came through a series of mentors that she believes divinely shaped and protected as her life unfolded and she chased her dreams. The first came at an early age after Monica began regular speaking engagements. When she was just 14, she began praying and trying to find her purpose after reading The Purpose Driven Life. She accepted an invitation to speak at a local Baptist church and afterward a young girl approached her and simply asked, “Are you rich?” Monica describes that moment as a point in which her purpose became clear. Her parents had taught her that “with faith plus education, you can gain success.” Now she wanted to make that her platform.
During that same event, Monica met a man named Verman Windburn, who subsequently brought her into his prison ministry, where she met another man named Rod McGavock, With no living grandparents, she lovingly gave Rod the title of “Gramps Dude” and for years, Monica remained very close to him, even placing his special title in her wedding program. This relationship became pivotal in her development and she credits him for making sure she had braces and voice lessons. Verman secured weekly hair appointments for her and so many others from this prison ministry helped her in various ways. By being available to help this ministry, she learned at a young age that her father’s words were so true: “you can never out-give God.”
Others came through her life and provided different types of support and all taught her valuable life lessons. Cathy Perkins was a personal stylist that Monica met, who became a mentor and great help when she needed rides to her many events. With only one parent who could drive, Monica was extremely indebted to this woman. Monica also learned more about personal style and fashion. Teresa Morgan was a woman Monica met who was volunteering at a large FCA event. Even though her own children were all grown, Teresa wanted to give back and continued to serve in this organization. Monica was enthralled by this lady and her attitude. From this relationship, Monica credits the idea of learning that if you want something, go get it. Debbie Robbins was another mentor in Monica’s life. Debbie became a surrogate mom during Monica’s time in the Miss America pageant system who Monica feels she learned how to be a better hostess and to be selfless and volunteer more. Barbara Curry was a woman Monica met after being Miss Kentucky. Throughout the years, this woman helped Monica in every way that she could and taught her how to live life and have fun.
During high school, Monica had another mentor named Paris Anderson. He had a local radio show and invited Monica to come and talk about an upcoming event she was helping promote for ECHO (Exploited Children’s Help Organization). When she arrived at the station, Paris turned the show over to her and a couple of other young people for the day, then kept inviting them back each week. Before long, Monica was doing it alone and hosting a weekly show called Post It Up. During that time, she learned how to host, produce, and even engineer the show and only left the show when she won Miss Kentucky and simply had too many other obligations.
During the Miss Kentucky years, she had a mentor named Tar Bassett who made sure that Monica’s family had the wardrobe that they needed for all their appearances. Others contacted Caesar’s palace (now Horseshoe) in Indiana and secured a room for her parents at the Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City. Plane tickets were also purchased but then the tragic event of September 11 and they weren’t sure it was safe to fly. Monica was already in Atlantic City due to the two-week preparations required for the event. People heard of her parent’s plight and rallied together again, renting a van for her parents to make the long drive up to watch their daughter compete.
“There were many mentors like Dawn Gee and Rachel Platt. Mentorship isn’t something that can happen in one day. They walk alongside you and your relationships change with the seasons of your life.”
These people helped form her in many different ways and through them she learned unique things. Listening to her talk about them, one can easily see how deeply she appreciates their input throughout her life. Her family and the mentors in her life all played a huge part of who Monica is today, but one final element that has shaped her life is her faith. Throughout our interview, Monica brought her faith and her relationship with God up multiple times. This has been a cornerstone of her life and her development.
At the age of 11, Monica was attending a church camp with her brother. She came forward to accept Jesus and her brother did too, then they were then baptized together. She describes her faith as part of her life and that of her family. When she met her husband, it was through church and they became friends for several years before deciding to date and marry. Her devotion to God and her family has carried through to raising her own girls today.
Being a part of the Miss America system has brought her into another “family”, which was coined the “sisterhood of the traveling crown” by one of her friends. More mentors continued to emerge in her life and I got the sense that she felt as if there were many more people she wanted to credit. She has learned that there is “life after the crown” from Heather French Henry and that “you’re not really going to know yourself until you hit 40” from Debbie Robinson, two other women that have influenced and mentored Monica through the years.
The money from Miss Kentucky helped fund her for a year as Monica traveled and spoke and worked on her platform. She was able to complete her education at the University of Louisville as a result of several scholarships as well. Once she reached this goal, Monica was unsure what she wanted next. She took one year and worked toward expanding her singing career but felt that God was calling her in a different direction. One opportunity that had been offered was to be the traffic person for WLKY, a position that was offered again when she returned to Louisville. After starting in this position, she quickly moved to reporting and weekend anchor then to her current position as a morning anchor. Starting at 5:00 AM every weekday morning, while many people are barely rising, she has already been up for at least two hours, preparing to deliver the news along with the rest of the morning team. From that young feisty girl with a passion for pageants and service she has transformed herself into an influential morning face in our community who learned from meeting Clarence Thomas years ago to “stay focused and remember that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” She also told me, “All of us are given a certain amount of Grace to do something…
Grace to do the job and handle the responsibility and to know that we’re not perfect. I’m far from perfect. Please don’t put me on that pedestal.” But I think my favorite quote from her was this:
“I don’t want to die with any potential left in me—a dream deferred or not accomplished.”
With all that she has already been able to do, she is well on her way to meeting that goal and I’m excited to see what dreams she has left. I’m positive that there is much more left to her story and Louisville is lucky to call her our own.