Now, a quarter century after the three consecutive title defense bouts which made Bill Costello a Kingston legend, the champ is battling lung cancer and a local supporters are coming together to ensure that the champ gets a fitting tribute in the city that he put on the map of the boxing world.
For the past four weeks a coalition of Costello supporters, including former County Treasurer Lew Kirschner and former county legislature chairman Ward Todd have been planning a fundraising drive to purchase a life-size sculpture of Costello which will stand on the triangle of land near the intersection of Colonel Chandler Drive and Albany Avenue.
"Kingston owes him, we all owe him something," said Joe La Lima, owner of La Lima's barbershop and a longtime friend of Costello. "It's just unfortunate that it had to come to this time in his life, when things aren't so good to get the ball rolling to get him recognized."
La Lima said that the committee had already raised $8,000 of the $20,000 needed to purchase the monument and pedestal from Kingston's Watson Memorial company. The monument committee has also planned a series of fundraisers this summer kicking off with an all-you-can bowl event at Mid City Lanes from 7- 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 10. On Sunday, Aug. 1, a motorcycle rally at the Candlelight Tavern in Catskill and a Sunday, Aug. 29 clambake at Frank Guido's Little Italy and a September 30 raffle will, La Lima said, allow the committee to raise cash quickly and get the monument in place.
"We really want to see this thing up and we want Bill to see it up," said La Lima. "We want don't want this to be a memorial, we want it to be a monument, like we intended."
But Costello says that while plans for a monument are overdue, talk of a memorial is premature.
"I'm honored people want to build a monument, it's a nice thing, I think it should have happened a long time ago," said Costello. "But for people to want to do it because I'm sick, because they think I'm on the way out... [Cancer] is not going to beat me, if you think negative, negative things happen."
Costello said that he's feeling strong and has suffered no ill effects from the cancer. He remains a regular presence at the Kingston Police Athletic League's boxing gym at the Midtown Neighborhood Center where he trains a new generation of Kingston fighters in the same building where he battled for his belt 25 years ago.
"I'm healthy physically as well as mentally, I'm not in pain, I'm working out in the gym," said Costello. "It's not doing anything to me right now, I'm not dying. All I need is another 35 or 40 years."
And while Costello said he's grateful for the monument fund, he's also fighting to pay his medical bills. The onetime world champion who once commanded a $500,000 payday worked in construction after his retirement from the ring and lives comfortably, if modestly, in Midtown Kingston.
"Unfortunately, when I fought there was no HBO, fighters didn't get the kind of deals they do now," said Costello. "And you know, when you have money, you spend money, that's the way it goes."
Al Nace, who helps Costello train boxers at the PAL program said that the organization had donated money from T-shirt sales at a recent fight night directly to Costello. Meanwhile a group of friends and fans are working on another set of fundraising events, separate from the monument fund to help the former champion pay medical expenses.
"He's a symbol of something, Kingston has had a lot in terms of pro sports but he's the only world champion," said Nace. "He brought big things to Kingston."