Staying On Track: Haley Taylor and the Susan Joy Stevens Scholarship Endowment

By Frances Badgett

When she died in 2017, beloved coach and gifted athlete Susan Joy Stevens left behind a warm family, grieving students, many close friends, and a lasting legacy at Western. The Bremerton native graduated from Western in 1964 with a degree in education and dedicated her life to teaching and coaching young people. Her love of tennis took her around the world and earned her a place in the Southern California Jewish Hall of Fame. A “powerhouse” and “giant of a woman in a four-foot-eleven-inch frame,” Stevens commanded the classroom and the tennis court with spirit.  

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Susan Stevens celebrating her medals

Stevens coached at Beverly Hills High School from 1971 to 2003. In 1991, she won Teacher of the Year and in 2015, she was honored with the Beverly Hills High McCarthy Lifetime Achievement Award. She also had a sparkling career in tennis, winning gold in singles in the World Maccabiah Games Maters Tennis Competition in 1981, coming back to win gold for singles and doubles in 1989, and gold again in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles in 1993. When it came time to create a legacy after a long and esteemed career as a teacher, coach, and athlete, she chose to establish the Susan Joy Stevens Scholarship Endowment at Western Washington University. The preferred recipient is a deserving student with financial need in the P-12 physical education and health teacher education program within the department of Health and Human Services at Western.

Camano Island native Haley Taylor is just that student. A Physical Education and Health major, she’s a busy woman balancing full-time employment as a camp counselor with the YMCA, a teaching practicum in physical education, and classroom work. After a move to Bellingham, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed her ability to earn money. She was facing dire financial circumstances and needed assistance. She was eager to stay at Western—she was learning so much, enjoying her classes, and she felt particularly inspired by her professors.

“I spent many hours filling out scholarship requests. I received three scholarships and the Susan Joy Stevens Scholarship was the most generous by far. It’s a big deal to me and means so much. I’ll be able to pay off much more of my tuition. I owe a lot to my scholarship support. I can make school my biggest priority now.”

The oldest of four siblings, Taylor’s mom is a schoolteacher—and an inspiration.

“My mom was a stay-at-home mom until later in life, and she became a teacher. When I was figuring out what to do with my life, I thought about all the great teachers I had growing up, and I saw how much my mom loved teaching. I decided to become a teacher, too.”

Taylor was inspired by her professors, too. “This last year, they have played a major role in my growth and have shaped my goals for the future. I highly recommend the PEH program at Western and encourage people to go out of their comfort zones to study what they love.”

During her first quarter at Western, Taylor worked with Compass to Campus at Laventure Middle School in Mount Vernon.

“We were there to help the kids with homework during lunch. I helped with Math homework. The kids had so many questions about Western, and we were encouraging them to consider it.”

She entered the elementary school practicum uncertain of how she felt about teaching younger kids. A giant, echoing gym is an intimidating classroom, but Taylor found that she didn’t have to scream to keep kids’ attention.

“The kids were so attentive. They were so fun to work with. Having their full attention in the gym really built my confidence.”

Taylor helped the Bellingham School District all-fifth grade track meet this May and met several elementary school physical education teachers.

“It was so inspiring. I got to make sure kids were in their heats and finding their events, and I enjoyed meeting all the P.E. teachers in Bellingham. They were really kind.”

Taylor also helped with the Special Olympics track and field events in June. When she graduates, she plans to marry her fiancé Edwin and support him through school as he worked to help support her through Western. One day, she dreams of becoming the first woman in her family to earn a master’s degree. And thanks to scholarship support, she’s well on her way.