Interview with Steve Costa- Jan 23, 2017
Assumption's Class of 1961 is pretty tight--for their 55-year reunion in 2016, 28 out of 40 living alumni were in attendance! They were one of the first classes at Assumption to go through 1st-8th grade together, a class of 50 students, as was standard at that time, and the last class to be taught every year by Dominican Sisters, Sister Mary Emily was both the school principal and their 8th grade teacher. One of the highlights of that year was going to the Cow Palace to hear John Kennedy speak, where he described his vision to establish, if elected, the Peace Corps.
According to Steve Costa, class of '61, the fact that the Sisters could so skillfully manage classes of 50 kids was amazing. The Assumption Parish and School was established in 1951 by Father Thomas Brown, a native of Ireland, to serve the growing number of families moving and buying tract homes for $12-15,000 in the neighborhood at the time Steve recounted the school’s many activities, including the annual Parish festival, which at that time included carnival rides as well as great games and food. For him, the years at Assumption were critical formative years and speak to why so many of the Assumption students stayed connected well beyond their years at the school.
Steve lived on 136th Street near Wake Avenue; he and his son Josh still own the family home. His best friend, Greg Schmidt, lived over on 138th, which made the two of them the perfect altar boys, as they were able to get to school/church within minutes when needed. Graduates at the time went either to St. Elizabeth High School, where Steve attended, Bishop O’Dowd, where Greg went, or to San Leandro High. Many of those attending the two Catholic high schools would continue seeing each other as they frequently rode the same AC Transit buses going to school. Father Ralph Brennan, the Associate Pastor at the time, inspired both Steve and Greg to consider going to the seminary after high school, both applied, Steve was not accepted due to poor grades in Latin and Greg ended up going for only one year.
After St. Elizabeth, Steve went to Chabot College, and left school after his freshman year to become a VISTA Volunteer, where he learned to be a community organizer and spent 45 years working in the non-profit sector. In 1989, his daughter Anna, who graduated from Assumption School in 1984 and was a senior at Bishop O’Dowd, died in a car accident while driving home. Her brother Josh, who was in the Assumption 8th grade, was in the car and miraculously survived. At her memorial, which was held at the Parish, family friends for whom Anna had babysat, offered Steve and his wife Kate the use of their family cottage in Inverness on the Marin Coast as part of their healing process. They went frequently, and there became friends with Jill, the proprietress of Brown Study Bookshop. A few years later, Jill decided to sell the bookstore. Steve and Kate, without any retail or bookselling background bought the store, which they operated for 14 years until selling it on the first of this year. Over these years the store become a community and cultural center, hosting more than 800 author events and raising more than $450,000 for local non profit organizations. Through their holiday Book Angel project they, through customer purchases, donated over 5000 books to underserved children in the area.
Steve has over the years became actively engaged with many environmental education organizations including the Trust for Public Land, the East Bay Regional Parks Foundation and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. His daughter Anna was also a lover of nature, and as a living memorial to her, family and friends plant trees to celebrate her birthday each December. Over 1100 trees have been planted these past 27 years in the local Regional Parks and most recently at the Bishop O’Dowd Living Lab. Last year, trees were planted in honor of Steve's lifelong friend Greg Schmidt, who passed away in 2016 after his own remarkable public service career including his 19-year tenure as the Secretary of the California State Senate.
Steve commented on the great diversity that is reflected in San Leandro today in San Leandro, the city and the school was all white while growing up. His advice to today's Assumption parents is to appreciate and celebrate the strong ethnic diversity of the city, and how the Parish community provides such a special center for spiritual, social and cultural life for families. When asked, Steve shared his advice and vision for Assumption families - which is to expose our kids to a widest range of experiences beyond the classroom particularly through nature, the arts and other experience that challenges them and feeds their passions and curiosity.
Assumption Alumni Association thanks Steve Costa, Class of '61, for his time spent in sharing his memories for this interview, and looks forward to seeing him at Assumption soon.
Anjali Atal-Gupta, Assumption School Board Development Committee