Recently, I heard that Gabe Costa, a professor at West Point, would be among the guests at the school’s graduation this year. I started thinking about how a kid from the Hoboken projects got to be a math professor at this prestigious military academy. Perhaps it all began with Gabe and his brother Dr. Gerard Costa, two brothers who became academic scholars.
Some old-timers from Hoboken remember the saying, “Do you live east or west of Willow Avenue”? When you ran north to south to Demarest High School, Fourth Street Park, OLG, and the main library were unofficial landmarks of class separation. The town only being a square mile, it still had its economic race, social, and ethnic boundaries. If you lived in the 3rd Ward, predominately Italian and Irish, you felt a little better off than your 4th Ward friends. The 4th Ward, especially the projects, had the toughest kids, the recreational center and a not so much manicured blacktop. Yet, two brothers, brought up by a single mom without economic means, and a freight train running behind their rooms, were able to reach the academic heights of the Costa brothers.
Up from the streets
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the brothers frequented St. Francis Church, Leinkauf and Kealey Schools, and a seminary in Virginia.
Gabe Costa attended Hoboken High School and was mentored by a solid math department led by Joyce Tyrell and Gabe’s mentor, Ralph Rodriguez. He received a scholarship to Stevens, securing his BS, MA, and Ph.D. from the engineering school. Later he taught at Seton Hall and went on to West Point. Serving in the math department, he instructed cadets for the past 10 years.
At one point in Father Gabe’s wide career, he was asked by legendary sports broadcaster Bob Costas on ESPN, nationally televised, whether the 56 game consecutive hitting- streak by Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio could ever be broken in the future, using math calculations.
Using all of his math algorithms, Costas demonstrated via a blackboard and chalk how it was almost impossible for the record to be shattered. Bob Costas was somewhat dazed by Dr. Costa’s explanation.
His brother Gerard Costa journeyed through St. Peter’s University, Temple, and FDU with a BS and two MA degrees, and Ph.D, arriving at Montclair University, where he is a noted scholar on the development of autistic children. Over the past three years, Dr. Costa has visited Thailand, Hong Kong, Chile, Cyprus to name a few, where he was the keynote speaker at various conventions.
His lectures on child development are often cited by leaders in educational circles. He has given his services to the country of Haiti, spending days there assisting the locals. Gerard has also taught courses at Rutgers and Yale universities and Fairleigh Dickinson. As a licensed psychologist, he has authored many papers on mental health, and pre-school adolescents.
The mystery persists as to how two brothers without a father figure and few economic resources could ride the escalator of educational success. Was it hard work, and anchored mother, or religious beliefs?
To paraphrase Denise Waitley, “Solid results occur when people set a course, pursue it with energy and discipline. Success is not reserved for the talented. It is not in the high IQ, not in the gifted birth, not in the equipment. Success is almost totally dependent upon drive, focus, and persistence.”
The Costa Brothers still have vivid memories of the 4th Ward and projects. Those who know them think it is not about east or west of Willow, but a relentlessness passion and desire to pay forward with Hoboken pride that helps someone succeed.