Alumni Conversations: John Leineweber '99 and Sara Wright

Alumni Conversations: John Leineweber '99 and Sara Wright

John Leineweber ‘99, President of the Central Catholic Alumni board, and Sara Wright, Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement, sat down to interview one another so we can find out more about what the Alumni Association is up to.  


SW - John, tell us about yourself.

JL - I am the President of the Alumni Association, for about two-and-a-half years now since we restarted it. I am an alum from the Class of 1999, married with three small children (ages 3, 5, and 8) living in Canby now and spending most of our time doing family things - chasing our boys at soccer games and barbequing with grandparents. I work for 503 Distilling in Southeast Portland where I am the Director of Sales and Marketing. 


JL - Sara, introduce yourself to our alumni who might not know you. 

SW - I am the Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement at Central Catholic. I have been here in the Advancement office for a little over three years. My family and I live in Southeast Portland and I have two great kids - one, a freshman at Montana State University and the other, a sophomore here at Central Catholic. My husband, Steve, and I have been happily married for 25 years. 


SW - You come from a long line of Central Catholic alumni! Tell me about the decision you made to come to CCHS? 

JL - I grew up in Northeast Portland, but moved to Northwest Portland when I was finishing up grade school, and yet still had a lot of connections through the Madeleine parish where we went to church, Sabin Elementary, and little league, soccer, etc. When I was in Northwest and looking at the options for school, there was a draw to come back to some of those connections where I had such good memories with those people. And yeah, also, there is definitely that family connection for me. My Dad, my uncles, and cousins galore have gone through Central with such positive experiences for everyone. It was an easy decision for me. 


JL - I know you did not attend Central, but you are very involved in the work that is going on here. What was your path to Central Catholic High School?

SW - I grew up in the pretty rural Eastside, I didn’t think attending Central Catholic was really an option for me. But I was born and raised in a very supportive Catholic family - attending church and CCD [Confraternity of Christian Doctrine] classes and all that. After I got married and moved back to Portland, I wanted that Catholic school experience for my kids, and both of them went all ten years to All Saints. While they were there, I was working in sales and working with a lot of nonprofits. I realized that was what I really liked doing; that's what I wanted to do - work at a nonprofit and do work I cared about. So I changed the direction of my career, started volunteering more, worked for some small nonprofits, and went back to grad school - the Nonprofit Management Program at University of Portland. Then, soon after graduating, from there, this job opened up. It was perfect timing and I was really looking forward to being part of this community. My daughter ended up coming here, and ever since we have been here - it really re-affirms my decision. I’m very much in support of the Central Catholic mission and the direction in which we’re headed. 


SW - Tell me a little bit about your time here at Central Catholic? What were you involved in? Favorite teachers/subjects? 

JL - When I was here at Central  - gosh I did a lot of sports. Played soccer, ran track, ran cross country for a year, swam and played basketball for a couple of years. I was in student government my senior year and Peer Mentors. Obviously, service is a big part of what we did. Some of my favorite experiences were in Student Government, social studies, service projects and Spanish. Lots of great experiences. 


SW - And you went on to attend college at Baylor? What drew you down there? 

JL - It was a phenomenal experience. I looked around at a lot of schools around the country. I had a rough idea that I wanted to do something in engineering or business. As awful as it sounds, it came down to the food. It was a tiebreaker between University of Washington (UW) and Baylor. UW had a food court lined with your favorite fast food brands, and Baylor had a food court with just a bunch of Grandmother’s cooking for you, and it was excellent. That's what tipped the scales for me. It was a great experience living in Texas. It was a great cultural immersion for me. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot and met some lifelong friends. So I have my two families of friends - my Central Catholic friends from Portland - and my Texans.   


SW - So what was your path to your current position at 503 Distilling? 

JL - To get me there - I'm coming up on two years with 503 Distilling now, and ironically a bit of a Central Catholic connection is what kind of started me down the beverage industry path. I had a classmate - Jonfranco Roberti ‘99 and his father, Frank Roberti ‘73 - who was in the wine business. When we graduated our Senior year and were looking for summer jobs, he mentioned his Dad’s distributor hired people to work in the warehouse and merchandise stores and all that. I went and applied and was hired as one of their merchandising guys and did that for a few summers between years at Baylor. I came back to that after I graduated, just to make a little bit of money so I could still have a bit of a social life while I was begrudgingly living at my parents’ house. I did that, and within about a month, I was offered a job as one of their sales reps. It's been a journey ever since, growing within that company and then learning another side of the industry with  warehouse management and sales execution software; and then going to Sierra Nevada Brewing. I worked with them for eleven years before I  was recruited away by 503 Distilling to take the lead on their sales and marketing. So that was my path.

SW - I love that it was all started by a Central Catholic connection!


JL - When you were hired in late 2018, what were some of the challenges? What goals did you have? 

SW - When I came on, there was not an alumni board. One of my first goals was to get the board up and active again. I wanted to put it together thoughtfully so it would be a real reflection of all of our Central Catholic alumni. We want people from different backgrounds, different grad years and different experiences. We are now a board of twelve members, and I think we are doing a pretty good job in terms of representation. We recognize it still needs to grow a little in that, so we are looking for some specific years, such as more representation from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and experiences to make sure we have that variety. But I am super excited about this group! They are a working board; super talented and energetic. They started the new Oktoberfest Marketplace during the COVID shutdown - your own brainchild, John. They made such a difference in engagement, and they did it right away. I wanted to be clear from the get-go, you know, my title is “Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement,” so that to me, is not just about “Can we garner more financial support from our alumni?” It’s really, “Can we get them more connected?” And how do we do that? How do we get them more engaged with what we are doing here at Central? How do we motivate them to come back and become more engaged with their fellow classmates? The board was in agreement with that. I believe we have created different events that bring people together, things like “Career Connections” and alumni nights at games to bring our alumni back into the building. We still want to progress on that, for sure.


SW - We met when you were planning your 20-year reunion in 2019. Tell me more about how you got wrangled in and brought on board. 

JL - Ah, yeah. Rizeld Hagerty ‘99 - that's how. (chuckles) No, she took the lead on planning our reunion. She reached out to me to help with the planning as I had worked with Ryan Foote [‘99] on our 10-year. The 20-year turned out to be a pretty good party too - a lot of fun. Obviously you reached out after that and asked me if I would be interested in participating in other ways. We had coffee and you walked me through your thoughts and the restarting of the board and all that. Timing wise, it turned out to be good as well, I was stepping away from previous volunteer work that I was doing with Healthy Start Clackamas County. It helped fill that part of my life. I had free time back then, but since my wife and I welcomed our third child, now I have of course no free time. 

SW - (laughs) But you are still with us, so thank you!


SW - Tell me about what you wanted and what was important to you when you first started as Alumni Board President. 

JL - So, going back to the question of what resonates with me after you leave this school is the community part that is the big thing. For me it is engagement. At all levels, and not just financially. I think there are enough asks everywhere in your life - there are a lot of options out there to make a financial contribution somewhere. I think the idea of bringing the alumni community back to 24th and Stark and to other events that we have - and maintaining that connection; especially that connection coming off a ten-year reunion. That was the big thing that really hit me. I had such a great experience here at Central and then, in a way, because I went to college in Texas, I didn’t connect again with a lot of classmates until I was 28 at my 10-year reunion. For a lot of those same folks, we didn’t see each other for another ten years. There is a motivation for me to try to find a way to bridge that gap for as many alumni as possible, to find ways to bring  folks together through common hobbies, interests, same age of children, and careers. The career thing is a big one. That has been a hot topic for the board. We know we have a lot of great alums, successful alums, so we have a really spectacular network of folks out there. We have an opportunity to utilize that to help our fellow alums get their careers started, or careers moved forward, or to change directions. To your point, students have a lot of support here. There is a lot of opportunity for us to build our own network for that kind of support, post-graduation, to continue to help our classmates along. 


SW- What are your hopes for the Alumni Association in the future?

JL - You mentioned Oktoberfest. We are trying to create some events and experiences, in addition to the auction, - it's opportunities to get together and spend time with families and staff and the whole of the community. Oktoberfest has been a great new thing for us. So has the Tailgater before a football game; we’re just starting to do the gatherings at basketball games. It’s all of these things where we try to find people in their comfort zones and bring them together to create that engagement. That's what we have really been focused on. The next piece is to try and figure out, “How do we grow that, again, in a way to get more people engaged in larger quantities?” I think that is our hope and our goal moving forward. 


SW - What do you think makes Central Catholic special? 

JL - There is the really easy answer - being an educational institution, college career or future prep. Anyone who comes here is set up for a solid foundation moving forward as an adult. Whatever path the person takes, it sets the foundation. The community of the school, though to me, is really the standout piece. It doesn’t matter what generation you run into, whether it's folks my father’s age (Tony Leineweber ‘62), before the school went co-ed, or all the way through the younger alums (we have been meeting younger alums through our board events) - it's the connection. Not necessarily that people stay connected at the hip, but even if you only gather every ten years for a reunion, there is always that instant connection. It's really something. I feel like you don’t see that with other high schools. You may see it more, like say, in your college groups - sororities and fraternities and things like that. I think Central has a really unique way of creating those relationships; they are bonds and relationships that last. 


JL - What do you think makes Central Catholic special? 

SW - I would say that as well. Being here and seeing the community - not only the alumni, but the parents and students. It's just a special group that really welcomes you. As you said, it's beyond academics.You see it everywhere, but it’s true. Character really does matter here. It reverberates throughout the school. There is also the ability for students to come here and really be themselves. In that - in that comfort of being yourself - you can spread your wings and expand and grow. The acceptance of that, the welcoming of all our students, is super valuable and gives everyone here a richer experience and that feeling of being more connected to our community. 


SW - Anything you would like to make sure the alumni reading this know about you or the Alumni Association?

JL - Nothing about me. (laughs) I think the message that the Alumni Association would like fellow alums to understand is that it is about engagement and bringing people back. It’s about having the chance to see and interact with one another again. When we reach out about these activities and events, we are not asking alums to just open their checkbook. We are asking them to give their energy and creativity and their time and just to spend it with each other. That's really our goal. 

I would add that from a board member standpoint, we are always looking for new members. We are at a point where some folks are transferring off the board, and we would love to fill those positions with other passionate and enthusiastic alumni. We are looking for those who want to join in and give their energy and time - and drive this in a way that is going to appeal to more and more alums. We would love to gather alumni of all generations (all nine decades of Central Catholic’s existence). Come join us! Come sit in on a meeting or come to some of our events. We are all ears. We would love to have you! 


JL - How about for you - anything you want to make sure comes across?

SW - I would just like to say we want our alumni to know we appreciate their talents. Every single alum has a special gift to offer. Please contact me if you want to share your career story. If there is an event you connect with, you can certainly be on a committee and not necessarily have to commit to being on the board. We appreciate any amount of time you can contribute.  We need the diversity of thought and experience, and we would love to have you!