Chaska family honors son with scholarships after tragic water ski accident

Tom Costello (Supplied)

A family in Chaska is giving back to the community in honor of their 24-year-old son, who died in a freak accident up north last year. 

In 24 years, Tom Costello did more than most people accomplish in a lifetime.

"A best friend to everyone, the most inspiring person," said his sister Ashley Costello. "He was the greatest guy you would ever meet, and those of us that got to know him are better off for it."

More than anything, his family is devastated to think about everything else he would have been able to do.

"Even though he's not physically here, he'll never be gone. We're going to make sure of that," said his sister Sarah Costello.

Described "best friend to everyone," Tom Costello battled and survived stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at just 15 years old. He went on to triple major at UW-Madison, where he even gave a TED X talk, before landing his dream job as an investment banker in New York City. Along the way, he mentored anyone and everyone he possibly could.

"I think he was somebody that really believed in paying it forward," Tom’s mom, Beth Costello, told FOX 9.

Tragically, the cancer survivor's life was cut short by a freak water skiing accident at his parents' cabin on June 11, 2021. Tom was airlifted to the Twin Cities, but he had suffered a traumatic brain injury that he couldn't survive.

"None of us got to say goodbye. So that part is really hard, but I also glad that as a family we always told each other that we loved each other. So I know he knows that, and I know that we know he felt that about us, too," Beth Costello said.

When the Costello family was asked whether they wanted to donate his organs, they didn't waiver. The 24-year-old had made his wishes clear.

"It felt good knowing that other people got to see their dad come home from the hospital or see their mom come home from the hospital and get those extra years with their loved ones because we don't get that and it's absolutely devastating, but it's a glimmer of hope to know that other people do," Ashley Costello said.

"If we didn't get our miracle, we were going to give it to other families," Beth Costello added.

But impacting up to 75 lives through organ donation wasn't enough for the Costellos. They knew they wanted to do more.

"Thinking of moving on past this it was just incomprehensible honestly, so we thought: How can we make sure that people know him?" Ashley Costello said.

"His mom said school was Tom Costello’s "safe spot," and his work ethic was unparalleled. After he was diagnosed with cancer in high school, he met with his teachers to make sure he would stay on track of his classes. 

They decided to combine his devotion to education with his love to helping others as they started the Thomas A Costello Legacy Foundation. The non-profit will provide scholarships at UW-Madison and Chaska High School, where Tom Costello gave the commencement speech in 2015.

"He is somebody that every student -- past and present -- and staff members know, because he just led such a beautiful life at Chaska," said Josie Lange, a college and career resource specialist at Chaska High School. "And so while we miss him some very much, we truly do feel his spirit in our hallways every day."

The foundation will also support Make-A-Wish, Life Source and other organizations near and dear to Tom Costello’s heart, in hopes that many other people will follow in his lead. 

"We wanted to live out Tom's legacy and we knew that he would go on to do great things and so we're going to try to do those things for him, try to make the world a better place," Beth Costello said.

The Wisconsin School of Business announced last week it would also be creating an alumni award for Tom Costello.

The legacy foundation's first event, the Annual Hazeltine Golf Tournament, is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 6 at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. The family says there are several opportunities to get involved including golfing, being a corporate sponsor, participating in the silent auction, joining them for dinner and the program or making a donation online.

The first scholarships to Chaska High School students will also be awarded on June 6, and the first UW-Madison scholarships will be awarded in the fall.