Pageant winner on a mission

When Whipple resident Marie Crum read, crying, about the grave injuries suffered by then-Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry two years ago, she never imagined he would one day be part of her family.

Nor did it ever cross her mind that Hockenberry’s recent marriage to her daughter, Ashley, would lead Crum to a Chicago stage with more than 70 other married women from around the world, in her first pageant since high school.

But that’s where Crum, 45, is headed in July after being named Mrs. Ohio International in April. Her charitable platform includes Building for America’s Bravest, the organization constructing a smart home in Newport Township for Hockenberry, and S.C.A.R., a foundation she is starting with her son-in-law’s input and advice.

“Watching Kyle has inspired me more than anyone else in the 45 years I’ve been alive,” Crum said. “I know he doesn’t like to be called a hero, but he really is my hero.”

Hockenberry lost both legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow after being wounded by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan in June 2011. He met his future wife when she sent him a message of thanks for his sacrifice.

An intensive care nurse, Crum is no stranger to people dealing with significant health challenges, but getting to know Kyle “opened my eyes” to what wounded soldiers endure.

Crum said the Department of Defense reports that 82 percent of wounded soldiers have injuries that require amputation of one or more limbs.

“Being an intensive care nurse, that was staggering to me,” she said.

While she appreciates the work of initiatives like Building for America’s Bravest, Crum thinks the government should do more to support the soldiers who give so much for their country.

“When they come home, it’s up to communities to build them a home,” she said. “The Mars Rover is nice and all, but we really need to take care of those that are here, defending our country.”

According to the pageant’s website, the Mrs. International competition is intended to be a showcase for married women ages 21 to 56, their accomplishments and their commitment to marriage and family. It also “gives married women a voice for something dear to them,” Crum said.

It was her husband, Mike, who first suggested Crum enter the pageant. She hadn’t participated in such an event since high school.

“I’m a tomboy by nature,” she said. “Most of the time, I’m a blue jeans, T-shirt kind of girl.”

Ashley Hockenberry, 24, said she’s proud of her mother for entering the competition but was a little surprised given her usual lack of interest in getting really dressed up. But Crum’s passion for her cause didn’t surprise her daughter a bit.

“She’s a very outspoken person, and once she has a good cause, you know, she really puts forth 120 percent,” Ashley Hockenberry said.

The state competition wasn’t a traditional pageant format; contestants submitted photos and were interviewed by judges. But when Crum won, she did get a tiara and sash.

“The national pageant, it’ll be very much like what you see on TV … lots of bright lights, lots of people,” she said.

But Crum doesn’t find that intimidating.

“I don’t get nervous. I’m a confident person. I have a very strong belief in God, and I (believe) if He got me to it, He’ll get me through it,” she said.

The pageant is scheduled for July 19-20 at the Northshore Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago. The event consists of an interview competition, which accounts for 50 percent of a contestant’s score, and evening gown and fitness wear sessions, each worth 25 percent.

“And of course, there will be an opening number that requires dancing in 4-inch heels,” Crum laughed. “If I was going to be nervous about something, it would be that.”

That’s one area where her daughter is concerned.

“If she does wear heels, they’re like maybe an inch or two,” Ashley Hockenberry laughed.

Between now and the competition, Crum will be lining up local appearances, including riding in a military vehicle in next week’s Marietta Fourth of July parade, to bring attention to her cause.

“And of course a lot of extra situps,” she added.

After winning the state title, Crum had to prepare platform sheets and an ad to run in the competition program. Reluctant to hold a fundraiser when the community puts on so many for people in greater need, she turned to Washington State Community College at her daughter Jessica’s suggestion. Casey Corbett, associate professor of digital technology, interactive graphics and web design, and two of his students – Ted Howell and Seth Ward – got those materials turned around for her quickly.

“They did an amazing job. They were so easy to work with,” Crum said.