Northwestern grad shares love of music through scholarship

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Northwestern grad shares love of music through scholarship

April 9, 2012

Northwestern Foundation Release

“I love music, but I’m not talented,” Joe Shirley said, humbly if not honestly. “Music was how I got rid of stress.”

For Shirley, a 1970 English graduate of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, music was an escape. Born and raised in Alva, he fondly recalls his five years playing the French horn in the Northwestern band, marching and adding pep at ball games.

Providing that escape for today’s students is now Shirley’s ambition.

“I hope that music is an inspiration to other people,” he said. “Life’s been good to me.

“I’ve been given a lot, and I just can’t go through and not return something. I love this university.”

By establishing the Shirley Family Music Scholarship, he and his wife, Ann, hope to give future Northwestern students the same opportunity for fun, he said.

“We are very pleased that Joe and the Shirley family have chosen to invest in our students and the music department,” said Dr. Janet Cunningham, university president. “Music played an important role in his college life, and because of this gift, it will play an equally important role in the lives of future students.”

In addition to his university experience and the great strides the band has made in recent years, family ties motivated Shirley, whose family has a history at Northwestern. His wife got her master’s at the university, his brother received his bachelor’s and master’s, and his brother’s wife earned her master’s. His dad graduated from Northwestern, too.

“It’s a small regional university but within commuting distance,” he said. “Students who have close family ties—and my family is close—can still maintain that, live at school and get home on the weekends to see mom and dad, brother and sisters.

“They can maintain that close family tie but still get an outstanding education.”

The Shirley Family Music Scholarship provides financial assistance to full-time Northwestern students with a minimum 2.5 cumulative grade point average. Continuing students participating in band are eligible to apply with preference given to those with the greatest financial need. The scholarship may be applied toward university-related expenses, such as tuition, fees, room, board and books.

“I want it to go to someone with financial need, somebody who really enjoys playing their instrument but has a hard time getting enough money to go to school,” he said. “There are a number of kids out there who are talented, much more than I, who may like to continue playing but know they have to have a job or loans.

“I hope that they get to relax and enjoy the music.”

Dr. Michael Stone, Northwestern’s band director, said he plans for the scholarship to benefit a student who loves to play in the band even though he or she is not a music major—someone like Shirley. He hopes such a student can be a leader within the band program.

“We are overjoyed about this scholarship,” Stone said. “We are very thankful that the Shirley Family saw our need and offered such a generous gift.”

For more information about contributing to scholarships at Northwestern, contact Skeeter Bird, Northwestern Foundation CEO, at or 580-327-8599.