The Legacy of "Mr. and Mrs. USM"
For those who knew, or simply interacted with Melissa '52 and Dr. Richard "Doc" Costello, generosity just came naturally to the couple. But their unwavering dedication to their students, the School of Education, the Department of Athletics, the university and the surrounding communities has crafted a lasting legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
The Costellos met at USM, taught at USM and enriched the lives of countless students at USM. Now, thanks to the largest bequest ever received in the history of the university, $1.65 million, Melissa and Doc will continue to touch the lives of numerous students for years to come.
Although Doc passed away in 2008 and Melissa in 2013, the Costello legacy endures. The substantial bequest made by the Costellos to the University of Southern Maine Foundation will continue that legacy by helping to fund improvements to the Costello Sports Complex, the Gorham campus facility that bears their name. This gift will help improve the experience for all students and student athletes by leveraging additional support for USM's athletic facilities including improved athletic fields, outdoor lighting, and athletic training facilities.
USM President Glenn Cummings said of the gift "For USM, its students and the athletics program, the gift is a game changer. It will provide valuable resources to ensure the complex named in the Costellos' honor can continue to serve, support and inspire all USM students for generations."
A USM Love Story
The story of the Costellos begins in 1953, when Doc and Melissa were just beginning their careers at Gorham State Teachers' College, now known today as USM. After earning his Doctorate of Physical Education from Springfield College, Doc took a job as instructor of health and physical education. Melissa, a graduate of Gorham State Teachers' College, stayed close to home and accepted the position of assistant dean of women at the college while also teaching fourth grade at the affiliated laboratory school.
Doc and Melissa first met at the beginning of the 1953 school year at the annual freshman welcome reception. All faculty were required to attend, and thankfully so. Doc asked Edna Dickey, dean of women at the time, to introduce the two, and the rest was history. The couple married three years later and bought a home on Flaggy Meadow Road in Gorham - the same home the couple spent the entirety of their lives together in.
The couple opened their home to generations of USM students, a de facto student union where student athletes and budding educators regularly gathered. Their home was but a short five-minute walk to campus, allowing the couple's dedication to the university to never waver.
USM’s Director of Athletics Al Bean said, "This is a remarkable gift from two very remarkable people. Doc and Melissa Costello were truly wonderful people and they each made an enormous impact on the students and student-athletes that they interacted with during their extraordinary careers at USM. They were genuine and cared deeply about the lives of their students and it was obvious to everyone. As a result, they were trusted and revered by all who knew them, Doc and Melissa positively impacted the lives of so many students and staff members and they will continue to do so through their tremendous generosity.”
Bean acknowledged the power of the Costellos’ bequest, saying, “This is a transformative gift for USM Athletics and will allow us to make changes that would make them both proud. I'm honored to have known them, to have been positively influenced by them myself and to have this incredible bequest come forward to benefit our athletics community."
Athletics and the Power of Education – the Costellos’ Legacy
In 1955, Doc was promoted to director of athletics and also became head coach of the men's basketball team, where he led the Southern Maine Huskies to a 207-144 record over the next 13 seasons. A champion for the development of women's sports, Doc would later take on the head coaching position for the women's basketball team, becoming the only NCAA coach to win 200 games in both men's and women's basketball. The long-time coach and athletic director is credited as "the father of college soccer in Maine," establishing the first organized soccer program in Maine in 1957.
Melissa's career advanced as well. She joined the education faculty and later became the chair of the School of Education after holding several titles within the university. She led the creation of the Partnership in Teacher Education, a cooperative venture between USM and Kennebunk schools that was the first of its kind in New England, charting the course for student teaching in Maine. She retired as professor of education and director of clinical experiences. Many classroom teachers throughout the state attribute their success to her thoughtful and caring mentorship.
"Melissa Costello's educational legacy remains strong in her vision of community engagement and partnerships through the teaching internships that she and her colleagues pioneered to improve traditional student teaching for prospective teachers,” said Walter Kimball, director of Educator Preparation at USM. “Melissa's personal legacy also continues in the model she provided faculty for sharing a passion for teaching with new generations of educators. Melissa and Dick's gift is the latest evidence of their ongoing support of the University of Southern Maine and its predecessor institutions and is greatly appreciated,” Kimball added.
Life-long believers in the power of education, the couple also established the Richard and Melissa Costello Scholarship in 1990 as a way to continue supporting the academic growth of USM students pursuing a career in education. Recipients are selected based on academic achievement, leadership skills, good character and the promise of becoming an outstanding teacher.
"When I was making my decision, I knew that the teaching education program was what I was looking for and would help me achieve my future career goals, and being able to play collegiate basketball at a high level helped seal the deal," said Costello Scholarship recipient Stephanie Gallagher '15.
Gallagher, now a teacher and coach in Kennebunk, said her family has a long history of learning from the Costellos -- "My grandmother and mother were taught by Mrs. Costello. My grandmother always spoke highly of her and her experience here, as did my mother," said Gallagher. "I also know that Doc Costello was instrumental in the development of many of the athletic programs, including the women's basketball team at USM, so I was truly honored to receive this award. As a student-athlete, I spent a lot of time studying or practicing in the Costello Sports Complex and I am truly grateful for their contributions to both the athletic and education programs."
Both Doc and Melissa retired from USM in 1990. In 1997, USM's new multi-sport complex was named after the Costellos in recognition of their four decades of service to the university. The Costello Sports Complex on the Gorham campus is home to the field house, the USM Ice Arena, Hill Gymnasium, and athletic offices as well as student academic spaces.
“Over the long history of USM, bequests and other planned gifts have played an important role in the growth and success of the University,” noted George Campbell, president and CEO of the USM Foundation. “We are extremely grateful for the foresight of the Costellos, and hope others will be inspired by their generosity. Planned giving is a simple way to provide support for the organizations that meant the most to you during your lifetime.”
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