Fay Sasser Scholarship Recipients Follows Their Passions (Part 1 of 4)

By Jake Ten Pas

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. For 44 years at Multnomah Athletic Club, Fay Sasser was the employee who knew the most members’ names, helping to give the club the homey feeling for which it’s still known. She created community one interaction at a time, and her name lives on in MAC and Multnomah Athletic Foundation’s awarding of the annual scholarships.

It doesn’t take a memory like Sasser’s to remember the names of this year’s MAC Employee Scholarship Program recipients, who all have unforgettable tales to tell. Each one of them received $5,000 to help them further develop their stories by pursuing higher education opportunities. These dreamers envision a better world, and MAC and MAF are helping them to realize their full potential as they pursue their passions.

Leah Steindorf

Leah Steindorf’s first name is pronounced like the princess of “Star Wars” fame, but don’t let that royal title mislead. Lest the word “princess” conjure images of delicacy or damsels in need of saving, know this: Steindorf can accurately fire a bow and arrow at full gallop on horseback.

“That’s how the Mongolians were going to take over the world,” she says with just the faintest suggestion of a smile. Growing up in Germany, Steindorf spent her summers in Bend and Sisters, where she learned mounted archery from a world champion. She also developed her love of horses and the outdoors, both of which drive her to this day.

“I’ve always been very connected to nature, I’ve always loved art, and I’ve always loved animals, specifically horses” Steindorf says. As a child, she attended a forest preschool in Germany, which took place outside all year long. Her father was a pilot, and the family often took advantage of cheap standby tickets to travel the world, broadening her perspective with each new destination.

“It’s an education. It humbles you, and you learn so much,” she says of trips to places such as India, Thailand, Botswana and Egypt. “There are different ways of living and believing than you ever knew existed.”

When she was 12, she learned a much harder lesson when her father left the family, stranding them in Germany without much in the way of a support network. Eventually, Leah, her brother and mother located an apartment for rent in Portland, only to find when they arrived that the listing was a scam and they were now homeless.

After registering at Lincoln High School without an address – so that Leah could continue her International Baccalaureate program – the Steindorfs stayed in an Airbnb for a month, followed by a stint in her volleyball coach’s mother’s basement. “We just had one suitcase each at first because everything was still being moved over,” Leah says.

Evidently, she had everything she needed. Since that humble arrival, Steindorf has built an impressive future for herself through intelligence, empathy, hard work and support.

As a sophomore, she landed a job as a lifeguard and swim instructor at MAC, where she discovered the Fay Sasser Scholarship. “That job was a really big part of being introduced to American culture, and learning how to work with other people here,” Steindorf says. “I also got super clear that I wanted to work with children. Now my major is Family and Human Services.”

Enrolled in University of Oregon’s Clark Honors College, she’s on track to graduate in 2021 with minors in art and outdoor pursuits, as well. After that, she hopes to move on to graduate school, likely focusing on wilderness and equine therapy.

“In terms of what the scholarship has done for me, it has allowed me to continue going to school and helped me finance it,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of money challenges, and being able to contribute makes a very big difference. I’m super grateful to have received that.

Looking back on the challenges that brought her to this point, she displays more wisdom than most people her age. “If I had not gone through what I’ve been through, I don’t think I would have the capacity to help other people. I am very strong believer that everything happens for a reason.”