November 27, 1920 — March 24, 2019
“No guts, no glory” was a favorite phrase used by Lt. Colonel Raymond E. Costello, which also described his storied military career. Another saying was “cead mile failte,” ("A Hundred-Thousand Welcomes"), the bronzed Irish greeting, hanging on his front door. Ray was a man of courage and action, and also one who loved to welcome, entertain and keep people near during his entire long life.
He passed on March 24 at Emanuel Hospital in Portland, surrounded by his family. He was 98.
Ray was born on November 27, 1920, in Rossland, British Columbia, to William and Margaret Costello. Shortly after his father’s death in 1936, Ray left Canada with his mother and three of his sisters, Helen, Elaine and Mary, and moved to Redlands, California, to begin a new life. His married sister, Marie remained in Rossland.
To this recent immigrant from the North, Southern California was definitely La La Land. Ray was amazed and relieved by the work opportunities he found in the middle of the Great Depression. He joined immigrants from the South for long days and months in the fields and orchards, thriving on the hard work and cherishing the friendships.
With a ninth-grade education from Canada, Ray thought he was through with school. But his California uncles had other plans for their bright and energetic nephew. They enrolled Ray in Redlands High School, opening for him a previously unimagined world of scholarship, activities and love! Ray excelled in class, became the sports editor for the school newspaper and yearbook, starred on the track team, and fell in love with the prettiest girl in school, Floy Bellenger.
Working harder than he ever did in the fields, competing with his ice-skating and skiing talents against the baseball and football skills of Floy’s other boyfriends, and topped by trips into L.A. to swing with the Glenn Miller Band, Ray finally won the girl. He and Floy were married on February 13, 1942. The next year, never having set foot in a plane, he enlisted in the Army-Air Corps and qualified for flight training. With the birth of his daughter Michelle and the earning of his wings within the same week, he found himself both a father and a pilot. Thus began the two storylines that would forever define Ray’s life: Family and Flight.
Over the next two decades this family would burgeon to include five children with the births of Patrice, Bill, Kevin and Colleen.
Ray’s military career was equally eventful. He flew B-24 bombers in the Pacific during World War II. Then after a three-year interlude as a civilian he was called back into the Air Force to fly food to blockaded German citizens during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. He was then trained in the first Air Force rescue helicopters and assigned to Japan where his family accompanied him. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Floy chose to stay in Japan while most of the other wives and children returned to the states. So she, Michelle, Patrice and Bill stayed at Ashiya AFB, practicing air raid drills and often spending nights in foxholes. Ray, across the Sea of Japan from his family, fought in Korea, commanding the Air Force’s first helicopter and small aircraft combat rescue unit.
Stateside assignments in Washington State, Michigan, and an overseas tour in Germany followed. In 1963, as a Kennedy military advisor in Vietnam, Ray was Chief of Special Air Force Projects, which included developing tactical counter-insurgency air operations. During this time, Ray also served as a test pilot for experimental short-take-off-and-landing aircraft (STOLs). At one point, he had the distinction of being flight approved to fly more types of aircraft than any pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Ray ended his 20-year Air Force career as a highly decorated veteran with numerous commendations for valor, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross and Order of Merit. His citations included many campaign medals, 16 Oak Leaf Clusters and three battle stars. He retired from the Air Force in 1965.
After a life of globe-trotting Ray and Floy decided it was time to settle down, and fell in love with a 25-acre parcel of land near their last assignment, Adair Air Force Station, just north of Corvallis. They purchased the wooded and pastured piece, built a home that would accommodate the entire Costello Clan, and dubbed the property Rivendell. It was on this beloved estate that Ray was to live the next 54 years as he continued his rich engagement with life.
After this unbridled optimist survived several hapless entrepreneurial misadventures, Ray returned to his first love and went to work for the Oregon Department of Aeronautics. As ODA’s director of planning, Ray accepted the challenge by the Federal Aviation Administration to develop the first comprehensive airport plan in Oregon state history. The FAA was impressed, and Ray’s aviation systems plan for general aviation airports became the paradigm nationwide.
A longtime private airplane owner actively involved in general aviation, after his retirement from ODA, Ray seamlessly segued into becoming the Northwest Regional Representative for the national organization Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Putting the family’s Beech Bonanza to good use, he promoted and problem-solved AOPA issues in Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
For his visionary planning during his 29-year general aviation careers with the Oregon Aeronautics Division and the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association, Ray was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Honor, the Oregon Aviation Historical Society Hall of Fame, and presented with the first ever AOPA Distinguished Service Award.
Ray had a passion for aviation and this lucky man was able to work most of his life in that field. But he had other interests as well. His dedication to Scouting was strong and long. He led Boy Scout troops before he was married, before he had children, and then was the Scout leader for his sons and troop advisor to his daughters.
He and Floy both loved to travel. His general aviation careers required frequent trips across the U.S. and Floy would accompany Ray for double the pleasure. The two of them took a six-week 50th anniversary trip to New Zealand and Australia, and a few years later, Ray planned and took the family to his beloved Ireland, with Floy, all his children, their spouses, and his grandkids. He was still traveling to Ireland at 96 years old.
Ray loved to fly fish, especially on the banks of the Metolius River. How he loved to tie those flies!
He was a self-taught carpenter, a skill that came in handy when he corralled his teenage sons and a neighbor or two to help him build the home that, for half a century, has been Rivendell’s centerpiece and glue for his widely scattered family.
With the passing of Floy in 2012, after 70 years of marriage, Ray increased his participation in the St. Mary’s Catholic Church community where he and Floy had been members for over 40 years. His affiliation with the Knights of Columbus and his volunteer roles during mass reflected a commitment that started when he served as an altar boy in his youth in Rossland.
He met fellow parishioner Rebecca Bordreaux whose deep faith, kindness and love added a wonderful quality to the final years of Ray’s life, and helped sustain him up to the moment of his death. The Costello family is forever grateful for her compassionate care.
Ray is survived by his five children, Michelle (late Alan) Abramson, Patrice (Norm) Maves, Bill (Wendy Krakauer) Costello, Kevin (Patti) Costello and Colleen (Frank Rentko); grandchildren, Camille Mulchi, Gunnar Abramson, Shannon Duster, Michael Maves, Maureen Costello, Paul Rentko, and Katerina Rentko; and five great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Elaine Burnett.
A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 3910 SE 11th, Portland, Oregon.
Interment with military honors will be at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, May 20, at Willamette National Cemetery, 11800 SE Mt. Scott Blvd., Portland.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Scouts BSA (open to boys and girls 5th grade through high school).