By MICAH HENRY
Although every mother whose child wrote an essay about her in The Times’ 33rd Annual Mother of the Year Contest is deserving of the award, only one winner could be chosen. This year, our staff selected the winner as Kaye Frye, whose daughter Dr. Jennifer Hefner, Alexander County Schools Superintendent, wrote the winning essay (which appears below this article).
Dr. Hefner, 54, of Taylorsville, and her mother Kaye, 75, of the Ellendale Community, were surprised and elated to hear of their win.
“I have come to the realization that I did not truly appreciate my mother and the beautiful example she is and always has been until adulthood,” Hefner began her essay.
She said her mom is a caring, understanding mother to her siblings, who were all part of a blended family of seven children whom Kaye all treated equally.
Hefner recalls that her mom and her dad, Quez Frye, raised the family on a small farm in the Ellendale Community. They grew much of what the family ate on the farm, including hogs and garden vegetables.
She recalled that her least favorite chore was having to milk five cows by hand. It was not that difficult, but was time consuming having to milk them in the mornings before school and often after sports games in the evening.
The family lived modestly and rarely took a vacation due to limited means, but Dr. Hefner recalls a couple of trips in her childhood to the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, SC, including one in the back of a pickup with a camper shell.
Pig pickings were a big party at the farm and a cause for celebration.
“Momma would cook all day — baked beans, cole slaw. We would have the whole ball team over,” Dr. Hefner said.
Speaking of sports, Hefner said she and her sister, Linda, played recreation ball with the boys, as there was no girls’ ball team in those days.
She said her mother always made her feel empowered and able to achieve. “I never felt like I couldn’t do anything because of my gender,” Hefner commented.
Kaye always kept up with her children’s school activities, taxiing them to practices and extracurricular events, which was a feat in itself. Eventually, the family had children in the elementary school, junior high, and high school, all at one time.
Hefner noted that her mom was also quite the seamstress and made many of the children’s clothes.
“She was able to do all that and work full-time for Clayton Marcus Furniture office for nearly forty years,” Hefner said of her mother.
Kaye noted that her daughter began her school system career as a teacher assistant and bus driver at Sugar Loaf School. “She worked up through every position until she worked to the very top,” Kaye said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of her.”
“I just feel very blessed, especially being a female, that I could do anything I could set my mind to. And my mother is a gift to me. God couldn’t have given me any better mother,” the superintendent said.
“I’m the one that’s blesssed,” Kaye countered.
Through the years, Hefner’s bond has only grown with her mom. “I’m the closest in nature to her, although I have a hotter temper and will stand my ground more readily,” she said. And Hefner and a sibling in Wittenburg are the closest in physical location among the children to their mother, as the others live out of the county or out of state.
Kaye feels fortunate to have these years with her daughter and family. She has overcome a serious kidney stone blockage, knee replacements, gastric bypass, and pulmonary embolism. From the aforementioned seven children, Miss Kaye has 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
And they have grown especially close since Dr. Hefner’s cancer diagnosis. She had serious surgery to remove the cancer on March 29.
“Momma has been down here basically every night, except a couple days, since March 29,” Hefner commented. “We laugh together and sometimes we finish each other’s sentences.”
Despite Dr. Hefner’s achievements in the school system and in the education field, there are some goals remaining for the superintendent to master one day. For instance, she’d like to be able to sew like Kaye. Picking up her mother’s keen cooking skills is another goal Dr. Hefner has for retirement.
However, work calls, and a return to her duties as school superintendent will draw Dr. Hefner back to the Board of Education’s Central Office beginning next week, as her recuperation is progressing well.
WINNING MOTHER OF THE YEAR ESSAY
I have come to the realization that I did not truly appreciate my mother and the beautiful example she is and always has been until adulthood. I think many adult children would agree with me. I have always known my mother was extra special and well loved by many, but I have come to respect and appreciate all the things she has taught me as a result of reflection on the life she has lived. You see, I am from a blended family and I watched my mother love and care for another woman’s children as if they were her own flesh and blood. She was kind to them and she never treated them differently from her four children. As a result, my mother shares a loving, supportive, and positive relationship with my half-siblings and their mother.
That example has been part of the foundation of my career as I have worked with thousands of children throughout Alexander County and I have always treated those children the way I would have wanted someone to treat my children. Other characteristics that have made my mother a wonderful example to me is her omission of judgement. She is very accepting of everyone and her kindness is genuine. She does not gossip. She avoids being the center of attention. She is strong, hardworking, humble and steady.
I have routinely acknowledged my mother as my best friend during my adulthood; however, I have come to appreciate her friendship more during the past eight months than ever before. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in August 2021, and once again, my mother has been my rock and she has walked with me every step of the way during chemotherapy treatments, surgeries, ongoing appointments, etc. She has been my biggest cheerleader, like always. She even told me I had a beautifully shaped head when I lost all of my hair… Now, that is a TRUE and wonderful mother! She has often reminded me that my hair and eyelashes will grow back, but she is quick to tell me I am beautiful without them.
All this being said, we can’t choose our parents or the family we are born into, and this fact gives us the foundation of our future and shapes our personalities. As I reflect on the mother I was given, I am so very grateful. My relationship with my mother is built on trust, and she is the first person I go to with my thoughts and problems. My mother is very much involved in my life and she has always supported me, always knowing what to say, and being whoever I need her to be: a best friend, a love expert, a shopping partner, or even a partner in crime. As a result of this unique and special bond, I am not afraid to face challenges and take risks. Because of my mother’s love, grace and the example she has lived, I continue to feel loved, accepted, understood, and supported (more so lately than ever before). I love, respect, and appreciate my mother beyond measure, and I am so grateful for the role and example she continues to play in my life.
Dr. Jennifer F. Hefner,