Embracing the Aloha Spirit & Finding the Best in Others: Family Establishes the Bernard De Costa Scholarship Fund

Bernie De Costa ’63 ’64 made a lasting impression on the many who surrounded him. The themes in Ralph Waldo Emerson poem’s “What is Success?”—laughing often and much, winning the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, finding the best in others—relate to how Bernie lived. It is also how he is best remembered by those who knew him. His natural gift for storytelling and his warm and generous nature often held his audiences captivated and drew even the youngest to his side.  

A two-degree alum of SOU, Bernie believed in the powerful opportunity that education offers, especially as he experienced it in SOU’s closely knit and nurturing community. According to his final wishes and in appreciation of his SOU experience, his widow, Mary Maselli, and Bernie’s brother, Norbert De Costa, used generational stock assets to establish the Bernard De Costa Scholarship Fund for Asian Pacific Islanders. Bernie’s ultimate desire was to give back to the SOU community, and to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams of higher education.  

A fourth generation Portuguese, Bernie was born in Hawaii just three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This tragic family experience did not color his life, but rather, it was the “aloha spirit” of care, compassion, and joy that motivated him. Bernie’s outgoing personality and charisma made him a beloved sibling, classmate, friend, and professional colleague. Quick with a funny story or joke, he was often challenged to deliver the punch line before breaking into laughter. According to his brother Norbert, “Half of the time we laughed because he was laughing so hard. The punch line was beside the point.” 

As he approached his high school graduation, Bernie faced a decision that ultimately shaped his future. Two universities, UCLA and Southern Oregon University, offered scholarships to attend. Both had strong reputations, but Bernie found himself drawn to SOU after a spending an evening with members of the SOU football team on Waikiki Beach. SOU was in Honolulu for an intramural tournament and had suffered a crushing defeat that day, but instead of wallowing in disappointment the team chose to spend the evening playing a casual game of football. The team’s camaraderie and sense of play reflected the aloha spirit Bernie valued and then influenced his final decision to attend SOU. 

During his time at SOU, Bernie thrived as an education major, forming tight and lasting relationships with fellow students and colleagues. Following graduation, he embarked on a fulfilling career in K-12 education, quickly progressing from classroom teacher, coach, and assistant principal to principal in California for 27 years. Bernie’s ability to find the best in others, to respect and work collaboratively defined his character, informed his professional life, and determined his attitude toward giving.   

Bernie’s impact extended beyond his immediate circle. He was actively involved in local politics and community projects. He believed in giving back and donated to causes close to his heart. Bernie died unexpectedly at the age of 57 in 1998. At the conclusion of his memorial service and as a tribute to Bernie’s love of The Western, the children’s chorus lead the large assembly in a boisterous rendition of “Happy Trails,” a fitting acknowledgement of Bernie’s aloha spirit.