May 30--STAR -- The end of her senior year in high school was one of the happiest in Leah Hilliard's life. She turned 18 on May 25. She will graduate from East Montgomery High School on June 14 and was headed to Western Carolina University this fall.
That dream week turned into a nightmare on May 26 when her dad, Jerald (Jay) Hilliard, died suddenly with a massive heart attack.
He was 39 years old.
He had no life insurance.
Along with the shock of losing her father, she and her mother had been turned down by several funeral homes because they have no income. On Thursday, Briggs Funeral Home agreed to work with them.
Her mother was injured on the job, but those benefits are exhausted and she has been turned down for disability benefits.
Leah said her father had been laid off from his previous job, had just started at Grede Corp. in Biscoe and was two weeks shy of qualifying for employee benefits.
"We are not having a big pity party and we do not want anything for ourselves, but we need help to give my father a proper burial," Leah said. She is the only child and was the light of her father's life.
"We are grateful to Mr. Briggs and in shock, I guess. Nothing feels real. We have never been through anything like this," Leah said.
Amy Johnson and Pam Lewis heard of their plight.
"We had gone to school with Joann (Jay's wife) and Jay and kind of kept up afterward, but when we heard about what had happened, we just felt called to do something," Johnson said. They began soliciting donations of items and baked goods for a two-day yard sale and bake sale.
On Friday and Saturday, the sale will be at 1470 NC 24/27 just west of Biscoe. On Friday, they will start at 11 a.m. and at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
"We know what we make won't come close to paying the expenses, but it's what we can do and it will help," Johnson said.
Anyone who wants to bring baked goods or items for sale can bring them to the sale site.
"And then buy something," Johnson said, "Or, make a donation."
At the urging of friends, Leah and Joann have opened an account at the State Employees Credit Union in Troy. Anyone who feels led to make a contribution can send a check payable to funeral expenses for Jerald Hilliard, SECU, 1958 Albemarle Road, Troy NC 27371.
Joann and Leah have very little family to lean on. The Hilliard family has diminished to Leah, her mother and a couple of aunts.
Joann's father, Crawford Slagle, was a Montgomery County magistrate for many years, but he and Joann's mother are deceased.
Leah said her father had no symptoms of heart trouble, but a family history of men, including his father and brother, dying young with heart attacks.
"But we never thought we would lose him, not so soon, not now, especially not now," Leah said.
Her plans changed immediately. She cannot leave her mother alone, so she will go to Montgomery Community College this fall.
"Mom and I need each other right now. I plan to walk with my class at graduation. My dad wanted to see that. It will be hard and I hope I can do it."
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