Leaving a Legacy, Creating a Future

Growing up in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, as his father did, athletic director and women’s basketball coach Tom Shirley, Jr., understands well the sense of duty and love of family and community that sustained his dad for 80 years. “Dad may have moved us out to the suburbs when we were growing up, but he never left his roots,” Shirley says. Thomas Shirley, Sr., passed away in 2004, leaving his children, Tom, Gary, Scott, and Kathleen; his wife of 55 years, Kitty; and 10 grandchildren to reflect upon his life. 

Shirley, Sr.’s story is one of remarkable achievement and spirit. Leaving school when he was a junior at Roxborough High School, he answered his country’s call at the outbreak of World War II. Joining the Navy, he was anxious to play his part as a member of the armed forces. 

Coach Shirley established the Thomas R. Shirley, Sr., Scholarship, which supports East Falls students who come from one of several Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods, as a tribute to years of service to the university. “I knew in my heart it should be about my dad,” Shirley offers. “To honor him, a man who never finished high school yet worked every day of his life to make a better life for his children.”

One of the most recent students to benefit from the fund is senior Deanna Hagman, an interior design student from Roxborough. Hagman, who is partially deaf, is drawn to design disciplines in part out of a desire to create experiences and spaces that are more accessible.

“I was paying over $500 a month for tuition, with all of the materials I had to buy for interior design and all the textbooks I had to buy for my classes,” Deanna says. When she received the Thomas R. Shirley, Sr., Scholarship, she was able to spend more time focusing on her education and preparing for a bright future.

“Donating money to scholarships can make a huge difference in a student’s life,” she says. “There is someone who might not be eating because they’re paying for textbooks instead. A donation of a couple hundred dollars can help someone buy a textbook for class or get food for a couple of months. You never know who you are helping, but you’re always helping someone.”