Cara Cates can trace the passion she feels for her work to a few key experiences, distinguishing herself as she went from student to mother and to an esteemed teacher. 

Energized by an impulse of perseverance, inner strength and courage, she conquered each personal challenge with facility, catching the “brass ring” signifying victory. 

Today, this plucky woman is a teacher of mathematics, navigating her students in the labyrinth of geometry, algebra, college algebra,, trigonometry and calculus. Her teaching skills and the rapport she demonstrates with her students have bought her the designation of “teacher of the year” bestowed by the administration of Conway Christian High School and the Conway Lions Club. 

“Are you a ‘hard’ teacher?” she was asked in the vernacular of the rating scale students historically have asked. 

“If you mean that I challenge them — then I suppose I am. But if you mean that I spend time helping them, then I would say I was not.” 

Earlier in the decade, she sailed swimmingly through the courses of study demanded by the University of Central Arkansas, earning top grades in math and music, performing on the clarinet expertly. She graduated among the elite, and went on to earn a master’s, and now her sights are on set on a doctor of philosophy degree.

Much of this was accomplished as a single parent, the mother of a young child. But more of that later.

She is Mrs. Aaron Cates now, the one-time Miss Cara Brewer, a member of the estimable Jim Brewer family. She is the mother and stepmother of two 9-year-old daughters who are so similar most people believe they are twins

How these developments evolved is the kernel of a heartfelt story of two single parents meeting, falling in love and blending their families.

The makeup of the family is revealing. Aaron Cates, a product manager at the Axiom Corporation, and Cara Brewer, a high school teacher, each were raising 2-year old daughters when they met.

Two years later they were married.  

The daughters, now 9, are like peas in a pod, blond, energetic and perky and perspicacious, each in her own way. Aaron adopted Cara’s daughter Kali, and they have custody of Aaron’s daughter Jillian. Of this blending of families, Cara Cates exclaims, “I love my ready-made family. It’s perfect for us.”

The woman’s saga began in her collegiate days when she was the recipient of the Single Parent Scholarship allowing her to stay in school and pursue a double major of mathematics and music. She worked vigorously to excel in class and raise her child. It was a daunting schedule — one that might overwhelm a person of lesser fortitude.

During a sojourn in her junior year at UCA, she talked with this writer of the vicissitudes of her life. It was obvious to him that here was a singular person, one who would excel in virtually anything she attempted.

She recognized her unique skills in mathematics. Her stature in music was notable in her performances in various UCA musical venues. She told of juggling each — calculus on the one hand and music on the other, all the while involved in a work-study position in the UCA music computer lab, And she always was mindful of the requirements of her young child ensconced in the Conway Cradle Care Nursery at the First Presbyterian Church.

She appreciated greatly the support of the Single Parent Scholarship program, which, not incidentally, consumes some of her time currently while serving the organization as its treasurer and vice chair.

The Single Parent program was established in 1990 and is viable with many applicants today. Its aims have never been altered for those girls in single parent situations who require financial help to complete their post-secondary education in preparation for skilled employment. 

She took advantage of all the benefits that came her way — UCA scholarships, Pell Grants, an Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship and alumni awards, in addition to resources from the Single Parent group. 

Alice Hines, a Single Parent Scholarship organization official and a professor at Hendrix College, was said to have been impressed greatly with Cara Brewer’s plea for funds and her entreaties for them. She became one of the student’s strongest advocates.

The Cates family today owns the attributes of a well-blended group. Daughters Kali and Jillian get on famously. They finish each other’s sentences and they know each other’s preferences. But basically, they are quite different, Cates said. The proud mother says, “They’re smart,” and chuckles at the simplicity of that remark.

 Perhaps not surprising, mother attempts to teach the girls about classroom math. Kali says that Jillian plays softball and tennis and loves Scooby Doo. Jill, in turn, says that Kali loves cooking and fashion and plays the piano. 

Their dad says: “They’re so different, but to be fair you have to treat them the same way.” 

It’s said that amid the video games, sports equipment, dolls and toy horses, the Cates girls are growing up. “I pray every morning for my kids and the life they’re gong to choose,” Cara Cates says, “and so far they’ve been nothing but wonderful.”

Is mathematics always her focus? “No, “ she answered without hesitation. “I always wanted to study psychiatry. I wanted to work in a mental hospital. But things change. I know now where I am supposed to be. It’s God’s will.”