WKU mourns over loss of Kathryn Costello

Hannah Shaffer

A former WKU administrator known for her positivity and passion for the university died Sunday of complications from lung cancer.

Kathryn Costello, the former vice president for development and alumni relations, retired from the position in December 2015. During her time in this position, Costello impacted many of those she worked with and left a lasting impression on the WKU community.

“I think that a number of circumstances in my life came together, and this was the time,” Costello told the Herald in its April 28, 2015, issue about her impending retirement. “I’ve had some health issues which I have to put into consideration, and I’ve got things I want to do which I haven’t had the chance to do. It gives me a chance to chart a different course.”

After hearing of Costello’s death, former Herald reporter Shelby Rogers reflected on the moments she shared with the woman she referred to as a “really fantastic grandmother figure.”

“It was very hard for me to write her retirement story just because I had to admit to myself that one of my favorite administrators was leaving the university,” Rogers said. “She’ll really, really be missed.”

President Gary Ransdell has known Costello for 35 years after they worked together at Southern Methodist University early in their respective careers. Ransdell said they kept in contact over the years.

“When we had the opportunity to hire a vice president, I was pleased that she would come to WKU to complete her career,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell said he knows Costello went through a lot and is grateful to have known her.

“Those who know Kathryn know that she has had a very difficult year or so,” Ransdell said. “Her cancer became progressively worse, and finally she had to retire and devote all of her energy to fighting her cancer … she has had such a difficult year that it’s sad what she had to go through. But your heart hurts for her and her family.”

Paula Jarboe, chief financial officer of the WKU Foundation, said that Costello’s death hit her hard because of the type of person she was.

“She was a great supervisor and boss,” Jarboe said. “She was wonderful to work for; I don’t know what else to say about her. She was great.”

Jarboe said that Costello was great to work with because she had so much to contribute to WKU.

“She brought a level of confidence with the fundraising and obviously the advancement of the university in terms of private funding,” Jarboe said. “She just had the ability to talk to anybody and explain how they could help WKU become the great place that it is, and everyone responded to her. She just had a knack of being able to encourage people to support the university without being overbearing. And she encouraged her staff to do that, and she did a great job with that.”

Jarboe said the news was unexpected and made it hard for those who knew Costello well.

“It was very sad because she loved life and she was very positive about life and always looked at the positive side of things,” Jarboe said. “She’d been having some really good weeks. She had been having health problems for a while, but she looked like she was going to beat them. But things took a turn for the worst.”

The obituary announcing her memorial encouraged donations to be made to the Kathryn Roper Costello Memorial Fund in lieu of flowers.

“We established a memorial fund for her if anyone wants to make a donation in her honor,” Jarboe said. “It will be used to support the causes that she was very involved in at WKU. We wanted something that would honor her in that way.”

A memorial service for Costello will be held on Friday, April 1 at 3 p.m. in the  Augenstein Alumni Center.