It’s noontime on the Fresno State campus as football quarterback, Tom Aney, boisterously laughs at a joke told by one of his teammates. A subtle February breeze picks up, tousling number eleven’s hair.
As he sits among his teammates, he notices the doors to the Student Union open. The laughter around him suddenly fades into the background as he lays his eyes on the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.
Her short brown hair, which delicately frames her smiling face, and the sway of her long pleated skirt hypnotizes the young quarterback. With his gaze fixated on her, he asks aloud, “Who is she?”
His friends respond, “That’s Shirley Porter…and she is way out of your league!”
Tom Aney fondly recalls that memory of seeing Shirley Aney (then Porter) for the first time, back in 1950. He was enamored from the start, and knew he had to find some way to get to know the dynamic song girl. Shirley would make the first move though, by asking Tom to her sorority’s formal dance. She struggled to find a date and asked her roommate for help.
“I asked her if she knew anyone that was a good dancer,” Shirley said, “She mentioned Tom – and that’s how we met.”
The married couple of 67 years have been dancing ever since. Both are proud alumni of Fresno State, having graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Physical Education in the early 50s.
Shirley was drawn to Fresno State for its elite dance program – one of the best at the time, she said. Born and raised in the quiet town of Taft, California, a place well-known for its oil fields, she never imagined she would pursue dance as more than just a hobby, but rather – as an educational tool.
Tom, however, had plans to attend Fresno State since his early years of high school, where he played football in Bell, California – a small community nestled in Los Angeles County. His coaches and teachers encouraged the young quarterback to continue with his love for the sport in his college years. He found himself at Fresno State, where he excelled on the field.
Even though he was a senior and she was a sophomore, Tom and Shirley knew nothing could separate them; not his graduation, nor his enlistment into the United States Air Force, where he would later move up to ranks to become a fighter pilot.
While Tom was away in the Air Force, Shirley focused on completing her degree. On her graduation day in May 1952, Tom surprised her not just by coming home, but asking for her hand in marriage. He received a resounding ‘yes’ from Shirley and the two married just a couple of months later, on July 4th. As Tom said,
“I thought it would be a good way to keep the fireworks going.”
Shortly after their wedding, the Korean War began and Tom found himself in the midst of the action. While he was in the service, Tom and Shirley went months on end without hearing from one another. For Shirley, the distance was tough, but it played a prominent role in their love story.
In 1955, after Tom received an honorable discharge from the Air Force, he and Shirley made their way back to California where they both pursued teaching careers. The lovebirds persevered through college, separation during the Korean War, living abroad and yet their feelings for one another, and the Fresno State community, never faltered.
Nowadays, the Aneys do everything in their power to give back to the communities that served them so well. Both have led extensive careers in the Southern California educational system, with Tom serving in teaching and administration and Shirley pursuing careers in teaching, counseling and administration. Both of their careers in the field span nearly 35 years.
In 1985, Tom received the incredible honor of having Rowland High School’s football stadium named after him, a school where he served as principal for two decades.
Despite living the majority of their lives in Southern California – Hacienda Heights, to be exact – the Aneys never lost sight of the college campus that brought them together. The immense amount of Bulldog pride and support they have for the Fresno community is ever present with their scholarship – The Tom and Shirley Aney Kinesiology Scholarship.
They created the scholarship on July 4, 2019, in honor of their 67th wedding anniversary. The scholarship, which is available to Kinesiology students (specifically majoring in physical education), is the first of its kind for the department.
The couple knew they wanted to give back to the program that gave them so much, as it would bridge their connection back to the campus and many students it serves.
For Tom, the scholarship is a chance for him to provide Kinesiology students the financial support he was fortunate enough to receive so long ago, as a scholarship recipient himself. If there’s one thing he wants students to focus on, it’s their educational success. In his words, which is inspired by his former boss, Joe Dale, Jr.,
“Work hard, study hard, and I guarantee you something good is going to happen to you.”
Through the scholarship, Tom hopes that future Kinesiology students can achieve the same success and opportunities that he and Shirley received. With a glint in his voice, Tom remarks how he could have worked in the airline industry once he was honorably discharged from the Air Force, yet he decided to utilize his education in order to make a difference in the lives of generations to come.
When asked why the Aneys decided to give back to Fresno State, the answer is simple.
“It was the only meaningful present we could think of to give ourselves,” Shirley said. “Why wouldn’t we give back to the place that blessed us so much?”
The Tom and Shirley Aney Kinesiology Scholarship is available for current Kinesiology students to apply through March 2nd. Learn more.
~Written by Kelsey Lyman, CHHS Student Writer / Photos provided by Tom and Shirley Aney