Go West Young Man Proves to be Good Advice
Anthony (Tony) J. Costello’s story as told to Scott Truex
As an Italian American growing up in New York, many in my family believed New Jersey was a western state.
So, the idea that I would move to Indiana and to a place called Muncie was not on anybody’s radar. The only thing I knew about Indiana was the Indy 500, which we would listen to on the radio for four hours every spring.
When I announced I was moving to Muncie to take a faculty position at Ball State University, it was assumed then, as it is today, that your first job in higher education will not be your career. Just the starting job to prove you are employable.
My friend and classmate, Marvin Rosenmann, initiated the move to Muncie. Marv and I were in graduate school together at Columbia University in New York City. Marv had been recommended to Charlie Sappenfield, the new Dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State. Charlie was looking for four faculty to build this new program, which was leading the transition of Ball State Teacher’s College to Ball State University. Marv interviewed and told me they were looking for one more new faculty who could develop an urban design program.
Well, as they say, the rest is history!
I came to Muncie and met with this bodacious North Carolinian who said that if I were to take the job, I could build an urban design program the way I felt appropriate. Dean Sappenfield was true to his word and let me develop outreach programs that have since received national awards and have been the model for other universities to replicate.
It was very exciting to be part of starting the College of Architecture and Planning and to be on a campus that had begun as this sleepy little teacher’s college but quickly transformed itself into a university with 1,000 new students each year.
When I arrived in Muncie, the first question I asked one of my colleagues was, “Where is the Italian neighborhood?”
Being from a city of distinct ethnic neighborhoods, I knew I needed to identify early the best restaurants and probably parishes to properly honor my heritage. He paused for a moment and said, “Judge Peronei lives over on Jackson Street . . . and I guess where you live will be the Italian neighborhood!”
This began my journey into learning about Indiana’s culture and diversity.
You know, moving here in the 60s from the east coast was a cultural shock in many ways, but one person I found solitude and a kindred spirit in was with the newly appointed priest leading the Newman Club, the Ball State Catholic student organization. Father Jim Bates was someone that not only embraced Vatican II, but also embodied it. This was a rather sharp contrast to the more conservative Indiana parishes. This friendship still exists today and I would say finding that faith-based home was equally as important as the professional home I had found at CAP.
When Saint Francis became a parish in 1973, I had the privilege to be the architect of the fellowship hall along with Bill Cox. So here was yet another opportunity to design my first building and be part of another new initiative. Saint Francis continues to be an integral part of my faith community and it has opened the door for another one of my passions, working in Haiti. This passion began with trips accompanying service teams in 2001 and later the privilege to join the Haiti Library Foundation Board. I have made over 25 excursions to this country. Most recently, working with an orphanage with Father Andre outside Cap-Haïtien and helping to develop new building systems for Haiti.
When I look back, my personal life in Muncie became more entranced when I married my second wife, Carmen, in 1979. We had two boys, Andy and David. Our sons brought a new connection to community through their school and sport lives. We purposely stayed in our home on Shellbark because it was a neat little neighborhood, but, more importantly, it was within walking distance to the neighborhood school, West View Elementary. I had always dreamed that my children could walk to school, not take the yellow bus I had to ride or the subway if my parents had stayed in the city.
Living in Muncie involved an entirely different set of friends as we engaged in our children’s school lives; through parent associations, attending school events, volunteering, and coaching youth baseball. Since the boys were seven years apart, we had a thirteen-year stent at the school.
I felt strongly about contributing to the community through the youth activities and purposely choosing to stay in the public school system, as opposed to sending them to Burris or Saint Mary’s as many of my faculty colleagues had done. I joked about this by saying I did not want the boys to believe everyone’s parent was a college professor. Muncie Community Schools represented a very diverse student body and a very solid school district.
After both boys graduated, I became concerned that the school system was slipping as the economic health of the community declined. I understood if we did not have a solid school district to attract new business and employment opportunities, then we were going to have real issues. With those concerns, I ran for Muncie Community School Board in 2010 and stayed on the Board through 2015. That decision certainly took my community involvement to a new level, as I continued trying to be an active community citizen. That involvement led to being a weekly volunteer with the Soup Kitchen of Muncie. And more recently, joining the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors as Habitat grows from focusing on single homes to an entire neighborhood quality of life through the 8twelve Coalition.
So today Muncie continues to provide me with new opportunities. I get to practice architecture as a one-man firm, I teach a class a year, serve on Boards, and volunteer. I have a lifelong set of friends that I could never duplicate. Muncie has been a great place to build my life and a great place to spend my retirement. We have D1 athletics, amazing entertainment options, and we are an hour and fifteen minutes from Indianapolis. The cost of living in Muncie is so low it gives you opportunities in retirement to travel and enjoy visiting kids.
You know that guy Marv who convinced me to interview at Ball State? He and I will celebrate 50 years of living in Muncie this September. We both retired from CAP in 2005 and we gather monthly to laugh and tell stories at Vera Mae’s Bistro which just happens to be the original home of the Muncie Urban Design Studio. One thing we agree on, neither of us would have come to Muncie alone! Having the other along for the ride was comforting. After all, we thought it would just be a couple years before we would return to New York and “really” develop our careers.
But I have always held to the life philosophy . . . timing is everything and windows of opportunity come along and you either seize them or they will close. For me the move to Muncie has been a series of open windows which I have seized and never looked back with regret since that first road trip here nearly fifty years ago.
Scott Truex is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) at Ball State University. His areas of teaching and research focus on Sustainable Community Design and Development. He and his wife Terri have two daughters, Carla and Paula.