When Sharon Kirksey, University of North Texas graduate and wife of Cecil Kirksey, Class of 1958, entered The Association of Former Students during the 2018 Sul Ross Reunion weekend, she never expected to be greeted by loved ones and presented with an Aggie Ring of her own.
Initially proposed in the 1930s and approved in April 1942, the first Sweetheart Rings were contracted on April 10, 1944. Originally called “miniatures,” these rings are replicas of male Aggie Rings from 1972 and prior, created for the mothers and wives of former students. These pieces of Aggie gold are identical to a female Aggie Ring, but with the class year of the former student who is presenting the ring and the option of either being engraved with the name of the student or recipient. 2,700 Sweetheart Rings were ordered between 1943-1962 and 34 were sold in 2017.
For Sharon, this gift from her husband was a complete surprise. Cecil told her they were going to finalize paperwork for a scholarship the two recently established and it wasn’t until they walked up to the office and were surrounded by family Sharon realized what was happening.
“My grandson picked up the box, opened it and said, ‘Here Grandma,’ and I was just floored,” Sharon said. “I had no earthly idea that [Cecil] had planned anything like that. We had never talked about that.”
Sweetheart Rings were introduced at a time when women could not attend Texas A&M, but were still recognized as valuable supporters of the student body, according to Kathryn Greenwade, vice president of The Association of Former Students.
“It was designed to be a program that would allow students and former students to honor their mothers or their wives for their support in helping put them through school,” Greenwade said. “That program was discontinued after 1972. It was discontinued when we reached a point when women were attending A&M and when women could earn an Aggie Ring. Today, any class 1972 or prior can still order a Sweetheart Ring for their spouse, but those are the only ones who are eligible to do so.”
Sharon said A&M has been an important part of her relationship with her husband ever since they met at a dance on a blind date in 1957.
“I was a freshman at North Texas and he was a junior at A&M,” Sharon said. “We corresponded through the summer and in the fall, when he was a senior, I started going to the football games. I had a friend who was going to Dallas and I would go from Denton to Dallas and ride down with her. My husband and her husband were drum majors for the Aggie Band in 1958. At the first game, my husband gave me an Aggie pin, which aren’t available anymore.”
Sharon and Cecil continued dating until Cecil graduated and was sent on a tour of duty for 13 months in Korea. During that time, Sharon said she graduated from college and when Cecil returned home, they got married on April 2, 1960.
Decades after graduation, Sharon said she and Cecil still have a love for Aggieland, which they show through regular attendance at sporting events, creation of scholarship funds and connections to the university due to relatives who have also attended.
Cecil said he considered purchasing a Sweetheart Ring for his wife for a long time and saw their visit to Aggieland for the Sul Ross Reunion as the perfect opportunity to do so.
“I wanted [the ring] to signify that she has been a partner all these years and certainly a true Aggie,” Cecil said. “I didn’t need to show everybody, but that certainly does show people that she has been and I didn’t want to overlook that.”
Sharon said by wearing her Sweetheart Ring, she is showing her support and love for A&M.
“When I look at it it makes me think of the band,” Sharon said. “I have always been very fond of the band, of course with my husband being one of the drum majors. … I’m very pleased. Even at 80 years of age I will proudly wear it at every A&M function.”