At Home With... Don Cates

The President and CEO of 3Rivers Federal Credit Union says life is more fun when you remember that money isn’t what makes you happy.
Jennifer Blomquist
Steve Vorderman

Growing up, Don Cates said he would never want an office job. 

“From the time I was 10 years old, I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian,” laughs Cates. “My wife, Rae Anne, and I grew up on farms near Richmond, Indiana, so my plan was to be a large animal veterinarian and work outside as much as possible.”

That’s the path he started to travel when he attended Purdue University as a pre-veterinary student.

“I was a very strong student at a small high school, but I got to Purdue University and started thinking, ‘Hmmm… this is pretty hard,’” he recalls. “A great family friend started picking my brain and got me to see that I was probably not cut out to be a veterinarian, so I became an agriculture major.”

After graduating, his career took him to upstate New York where he worked in the farm credit industry.

“It was a fabulous experience. Ag lending is the most difficult of all commercial lending, but long story short, I started working my way back home. I worked for a few years in two different towns in Ohio, then down in Connersville, Indiana, and then back to Richmond.”

By that time, Cates and his wife were married and had their first daughter, Claire, now 17. Their youngest daughter, Ellie, is 12.

“We bought a house and farm near Richmond and we just thought, ‘Okay, this is it! We’re back home, both of our parents lived just a few miles away… I think we’re set.’”

Or so they thought! 

“The bank I worked for in Richmond ended up buying a thrift in Peru, Indiana,” says Cates. “They asked me to serve as interim president for six months. Well, six months turned into 10 years.”

The Cates became ingrained in the Peru community where Rae Anne is still a teacher, the girls attend school and Don served on numerous community boards, including the United Way.

“I also got to coach girls high school basketball, which I loved very much,” he says. “My job helped me be a better coach and coaching helped me be a better CEO.”

Don and Rae Anne ended up selling the farm and moved to Peru.

“When I lived in New York, I had friends who had a place on Lake Erie and I really enjoyed going there. So, we started looking at places to buy on a lake,” he says. “We ended up buying the crummiest place we could find on Lake Manitou in Rochester. It was a seasonal cottage, just two bedrooms, no air conditioning and the water heater and water softener were outside. It was an inexpensive way to get on the lake. We thought we’d eventually tear it down and build new.”

Again, that was the plan… but things changed.

“We did have the lake house torn down and built a new home there, but we never imagined that it would be our primary residence and not just a lake house,” laughs Cates. “We ended up selling our house in Peru. When I came up to Fort Wayne for the job I have today at 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, we were looking for something different and easy, so we signed a lease for an apartment at The Harrison in downtown Fort Wayne.”

Cates was the second person to sign a lease at The Harrison, knowing that the credit union was going to have a branch on the building’s first floor.

“It just made sense,” he says. “We support development in downtown Fort Wayne with my job, so why not extend that commitment by living there as well?”

Rae Anne is still teaching in Peru and the girls are still attending school there. During the week, they stay at their home in Rochester, while Don is at the apartment.

“I know it may sound a little crazy, but it works for us. During the winter, they come up on weekends and enjoy shopping and dining out.”

Through the years with all the moves and changes, Cates says he has held onto one philosophy with his career and his personal life: money doesn’t really make you happy.

“Sure, it’s important to make smart financial decisions,” he says, “but I’m always telling people my job at the credit union really doesn’t revolve around money – it’s about relationships and helping people grow and achieve their goals.”

One goal in the coming year is for Don and Rae Anne to help Claire decide where she’ll go to college after graduating next spring.

“I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan,” says Don. “But as we’ve found out time and again, you never know where life will take you.”

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