Media madness continues for local family
A New Richmond couple has had more than its allotted 15 minutes of fame.
Over the past few weeks, Russell and Kandy Hildebrandt have been on a media tour that would even leave President Barack Obama's head spinning.
It's all the result of the Hildebrandt s being selected as "Client of the Year" by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.
With the help of a credit counseling program at FamilyMeans in Stillwater, the Hildebrandts managed to pay off about $123,000 in debt in less than five years.
Their story apparently struck a chord with the nation.
Since receiving their award in September, the Hildebrandts' story has circulated far and wide.
They've been interviewed on National Public Radio and had their story told on various Web sites (including Yahoo! News).
On Oct. 8, a crew from CNN traveled to New Richmond, along with personal finance editor Gerri Willis, to produce a segment outlining the family's successful path out of mountains of debt. They were at the Hildebrandts' home for eight hours.
For the CNN shoot, Kandy was directed to prepare a typical meal the family had during their lean times. As the Hildebrandts scrimped, they didn't eat a lot of meat, lettuce or fresh produce because of the high cost.
On Thursday, Oct. 15, the Hildebrandts were in New York City appearing on the "Today Show." They and the show's financial editor Jane Chatzky were interviewed by hosts Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
Kandy noted that the couple had to go through make-up prior to filming, but it wasn't to make them look better.
Kandy's hair had to be flattened so that her appearance didn't upstage her hosts.
"It really is all about them," Kandy said. "They have to shine. They try to make you look plain."
On Friday, the Hildebrandts stopped by the set of Fox & Friends and were interviewed by Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America who hails from Minnesota.
"We were in New York for four days, but it felt like two weeks," Kandy said in an interview Monday. "It was kind of a whirlwind, and we're glad to be back home."
Thanks to her new budget-conscious sense, Kandy said she was amazed at the money the network news programs shelled out to accommodate the Hildebrandts during the long weekend.
In addition to flying Russell and Kandy there, the couple was housed in expensive hotels and treated to meals at several nice restaurants.
"It's mindboggling what they spent," she said, noting that the couple hasn't eaten out that much in years. Going to restaurants was one of the first things they cut out of their budget when they committed to pay off their debt five years ago. "They treated us very well."
The Hildebrandts also managed to see a few of the tourist sites during their first visit to New York. They went to Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty.
"It truly is a city that never sleeps," Kandy commented.
Apart from their television appearances, the Hildebrandts have also been interviewed by Consumer Reports and Spry Magazine for future articles. They await word about possible stories in Readers Digest and Focus on the Family.
Kandy said the family is thrilled that their story of hope through debt reduction is getting so much attention. Even though they were presented the national award, winners are not obligated to tell their personal stories to anyone.
"There's no glory in sharing with people that we made some mistakes," Kandy said. The family at one time paid a monthly $1,544 finance charge on 11 credit cards. "But knowing our story is helping people kind of makes it all worthwhile."
Because so many families are under financial stress today, the Hildebrandts' story hit the airwaves at the perfect time for media outlets, Kandy said.
"So many people can relate to us," Kandy said. "We've gotten phone calls and letters from people who are encouraged by our story. It's nice to know that people are benefitting from our story."
Kandy encouraged anyone seeking credit counseling help to visit www.nfcc.org to find a qualified counselor. Local residents could contact FamilyMeans in Stillwater for more information about their program.
Now that the media frenzy is slowing down, Kandy said the family is ready to get back to their normal routine. The couple's twin daughters, Heidi and Holly, are already two week behind in their home school schedule and will have to shorten their Christmas and spring breaks.
"It's going to be a long school year," Kandy said.