As a leader with the credit union, Shirley McConnell developed an apprenticeship program for youths in conjunction with the state Department of Vocational and Technical Education. In 1995, she was named Outstanding Business Leader of the Year by Gov. Frank Keating for her work in developing the youth apprenticeship program. In 1999, she was honored with the Byliner Award for Business by the Oklahoma City chapter of Women in Communications, and in 2000, she was honored as one of the Journal Record newspaper's Women Making a Difference in Oklahoma.
Partnership of caring
The McConnells said they maintained their marriage throughout their busy careers by sharing in many projects.
In 1988, they co-founded the Choctaw chapter of Crime Stoppers after the abduction of an 8-year-old Choctaw girl from a local elementary school.
Then there is perhaps their most unusual collaboration: Sunny.
The McConnells raised and showed several breeds of horses for years, including miniature horses.
Shirley McConnell said one of her miniature mares, Peaches, had a colt that was born with crippled front legs. She said they took the little horse to a veterinarian who told them that euthanizing the animal would be the humane thing to do because it would never be able to walk.
Shirley McConnell said she could not have the animal put down, and Bill McConnell said he agreed with her. The two sought another veterinarian to help and eventually found one who made two brace-like structures for the crippled colt.
Shirley McConnell said they named the miniature horse Sunny because he was destined to bring smiles to the faces of people who met him.
Today, Sunny is a 6-year-old certified therapy animal. The McConnells have taken him across the state to schools, retirement homes, hospitals and other locations.
Shirley McConnell said people, particularly children and the elderly, love to pet the horse, and Sunny likes to soak up all the attention.
They said the project has become a labor of love for them, because they like seeing the horse bring so much happiness to others.
The couple said their outreach trips with Sunny have come to a halt temporarily, but they hope to take her out on the road again.
Bill McConnell's health became a concern after he suffered a heart attack in 2007 and then battled with kidney cancer this year.
Ever resourceful, Shirley McConnell said the illnesses have only made the couple draw closer together in friendship and love.
â€œThis past year, we really had the opportunity to experience what â€˜in sickness and in health' means, but we wouldn't change anything about our life. We're best friends,â€ she said.
â€œWe were friends long before we fell in love.â€