Stockton Graves (left) visits with Joe and Ann Shirley beside the arena pens the couple donated funds to provide.
Joe and Ann Shirley of Alva have a long history of giving back to Northwestern Oklahoma State University, or perhaps it’s more of a paying it forward to students who have come after them.
The benefactors of the Shirley’s generosity are members of the Northwestern rodeo team. And, all it took for them to want to give back – a love of the university and learning about a need.
As an alumnus of Northwestern who is in the farming and ranching business in the Alva area, Joe said he and his wife knew a number of people within the university’s rodeo program including a couple of his wife’s nephews who attended Northwestern and were members of the rodeo team, so they knew they wanted to help the program in some way.
“There are 120 members of Northwestern’s rodeo program here, and they work for farmers, and they do cattle, and you can always get them to come help you,” Joe said.
“And if you need someone to rope a calf, they can do it,” Ann added.
“They are just a bunch of really good kids who work really hard, so we knew this was just something we wanted to do,” Joe said.
This idea of giving back led to a dinner meeting with Skeeter Bird, CEO of the Northwestern Foundation, who visited with Joe about the rodeo program’s need for an outdoor arena.
“Joe and Ann have a huge passion for our community and Northwestern,” Bird said. “I am so pleased to see them make such a generous investment in both with this gift after learning about this need.”
Before making their donation, the Shirleys visited about all the positive things Northwestern’s rodeo members provide to the community. They considered how they have a huge impact on Alva’s economy through buying hay and other supplies, purchasing gas, renting houses and pens, and how they come from several different states. Having a successful rodeo team also helps with the recruitment of students and quality team members. These factors and more helped the Shirleys to soon realize making this investment would be the right decision.
“The economic impact on the community is really strong, and we really appreciate that,” Joe said.
It doesn’t hurt that the Shirleys have found the rodeo members to be willing to help and work hard when needed.
“I haven’t met a bad rodeo kid yet,” Joe said. “Good people just want to help good people.”
Stockton Graves, Northwestern’s rodeo coach, is very appreciative of having the outdoor practice facility and for the Shirleys’ generous donation to the program.
“This is super nice that we have our own place,” Graves said.
“As head coach of the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo team. I want to personally thank Shirley Farms for its generous donation of two new Priefert arenas for the new practice facility,” Graves said. "It is great people like Joe and Ann Shirley who make everything better for the students and for their futures here at Northwestern."
While looking at new arena panels, Graves told the Shirleys that one day they hope to cover the area at the rodeo facility. They also discussed a need for lights and other items hoping that additional funding is possible via grants and private sources.
“I think there are many folks in this community who are excited about our rodeo team,” Bird added. “As we attempt to create the facility that our students need, I hope that others will step forward and make a commitment like the Shirleys have done.”
Giving back to the university that provided degrees to Joe and Ann, their daughter Brandi, Joe’s dad, and aunts, uncles and cousins is just something they do.
“People need to understand that if they went to Northwestern, feel like they earned a good education here, and they did something with it, I think they need to give back; they need to help other people,” Joe said.
Dr. Janet Cunningham, university president, also is appreciative of alumni and friends who want to give back to Northwestern.
“We want to thank Joe and Ann for their generous gift to the rodeo program,” Cunningham said. “The Shirleys have great pride in Northwestern and have been willing to invest in our students in various ways. They are great representatives of Northwestern and its alumni.”
Livestock pens, a barn and 16 acres of land were gifted to the university in 2011 by Don and Phyllis Campbell of Alva, which established the new area for the rodeo team’s practice needs. The Foundation also purchased five additional acres, a shop building and grain bin.
With the addition of the arena panels provided by the Shirleys, Northwestern’s rodeo team members have a practice area in which they can become successful, which just might be the reason five men and four women will be representing the university at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., starting June 8.
Northwestern students on the men’s side competing include Ryan Domer, Topeka, Kan., junior, tie-down roping and steer wrestling; Collin Domer, Topeka, Kan., senior, team roping; Dustin Searcy, Mooreland sophomore, team roping; Ethan McDowell, Mooreland senior, who was crowned the 2012-13 Central Plains Team Roping Header Regional Champion; and Steven Chase Johnson, Alva sophomore, who will be heeling for McDowell. The women’s qualifiers include Alexis Allen, Alva sophomore, barrel racing; Trisha Price, Faith, S.D., sophomore, goat tying; Jessica Koppitz, Alva senior, breakaway roping; and Micah Samples, Abilene, Kan., junior, barrel racing and breakaway roping.
“I think having this new arena has had a positive influence on the members of our team,” Graves said. “New things are exciting, and I think it has rejuvenated these kids and made college rodeo exciting for them.”
Any alumni or community members, who have an affinity for giving back to Northwestern or investing in the lives of Northwestern students, may visit with Bird about a number of possibilities. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (580) 327-8599.