GORHAM — Susan Hight listened as one speaker after another extolled the couple whose name is intertwined with athletics at the University of Southern Maine, the couple responsible for the biggest financial gift in school history.

Hight had helped look after Melissa and Richard “Doc” Costello before they died, he in 2008 and she in 2013.

“They were amazing people, right (until) the end,” said Hight, 57, of Portland. “Not one complaint. And that was for both of them.”

On Tuesday morning, USM held a press conference to announce a record bequest of $1.65 million from the Costello estate. The money will help fund improvements to the Costello Sports Complex, which includes a field house, gymnasium, ice arena and athletic offices as well as student academic spaces.

Hight played for Doc Costello on the first women’s basketball team he coached, in 1977. This was after he had won more than 200 games as coach of the men’s program; he would go on to do the same with the women’s program.

But at USM, the Costellos are remembered for so much more. They met in 1953 as they were beginning their careers at what was then known as Gorham State Teachers College. Within three years they married.

He served as athletic director from 1955 until his retirement in 1990. She was a professor of education and director of clinical experiences who also retired in 1990. They never had children, unless you count the hundreds of students, teachers and coaches who crossed their path.

“They were two of the finest people I ever met,” said Ed Flaherty, now in his 31st year as USM baseball coach. “Melissa taught my wife, who was a primary school teacher.”

“They cared very, very deeply for each and every student and staff member who came across this institution, whether it be in athletics, in recreation, in the college of education,” said USM Athletic Director Al Bean. “And they treated them with respect and dignity.”

Bean said the university received $750,000 from the Costello estate last year and learned in October that USM would receive another $901,000. A list of priorities for the gym (built in 1962) as well as the ice arena and field house (both finished in 1998) includes items “as large as replacing floors and smaller things such as locker-room renovations and athletic training room renovations,” Bean said. “We’re in the process of trying to attach costs to those options and see what we can do, in terms of making this gift larger and in determining how we can get the best bang for our buck.”

Bean stressed that the Costellos’ bequest will benefit the entire USM community, not only athletes.

“They would want that,” he said. “We’re going to be true to the people that they were, in caring for people.”

Two dozen USM athletes, many of them wearing Huskies game jerseys, stood behind a succession of speakers for the announcement at the Alumni Reception Hall between the ice arena and gym. There was also a life-sized portrait of Melissa and Doc Costello on display.

“Those two devoted almost every hour of their life to making sure that USM, and particularly USM athletics, was at the top of our game,” said USM president, Glenn Cummings. “We are honored that the Costellos were able to make that kind of gift.

“We know it’s not easy to take care of a complex like this, so having the ability to get these resources at a time when state money and other revenues are not what we’d like it to be is a huge sustainability issue for us. It means a lot to us.”

Afterward, Hight lingered to speak with longtime USM field hockey coach Paula Hodgdon, who retired in 1997.

“They keep on giving,” Hight said. “It wasn’t about them. It’s all about other people and continuing to be concerned.”

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