Ohio University alumnus James E. Guyette was chatting with friends in Swanky’s, an Uptown Athens bar, in 1979 when he said he saw the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. After approaching Jill Costa on the dance floor, he soon forgot all about his friends.
Their 37-year courtship came to an end on Sept. 18, when Costa passed away at age 59 after a battle with cardiac arrest following months of a growing tumor in her lung.
In an effort to honor the memory of his college sweetheart, Guyette, who graduated with a degree in journalism in 1977, is searching for a Southeastern Ohio museum or art gallery to display Costa’s unique hobby: miniature scenes.
Costa first became intrigued by miniatures to bond with Guyette’s mother.
“Upon visiting my family home in South Euclid, Ohio, Jill thought the miniatures were really cool,” Guyette, a former Post reporter and copy editor, said. “She thought it was something her and my mom could work on together. Jill embraced the hobby as her own.”
Costa not only used miniatures to connect with her family’s past, such as recreating a scale model of her grandfather’s bar in Youngstown, but also to display the historical significance of industry in Southeastern Ohio. Costa made scenes modeled after coal mines and the brick plant in Nelsonville, where she lived.“Southeastern Ohio was very known for its coal mining industry,” Guyette said. “Jill’s hometown was close to the Hocking River, and a lot of what was left of the railroad from coal-mining was in her hometown.”
Costa used objects she found at flea markets and train shows to create scenes, such as a miniature Tiki bar made primarily of reworked manger from a Nativity scene. Her imagination is what made Costa’s work so impressive, Guyette said.
“I like the creativity that Jill put into designing and building these things,” Guyette said. “She would gather all the pieces and parts and alter them and do some deep thinking to fit them into the display and figure out how to put everything in context.”
Guyette has enlisted other people in his quest to find the miniatures a home.
Ann Addington, OU’s Assistant Director for Health Promotion, met Costa through community meetings held by the Collegiate Recovery Community. She was one of the first community members to enroll in the SMART Recovery group to have discussions with students and other local citizens.
After Costa’s death, Guyette, whom Addington had never met, got in touch with her about his plan to memorialize Costa.
“After she passed, her boyfriend contacted me and asked if there was anyone I knew to preserve those miniatures she made,” Addington said. “I knew a few people in Nelsonville (and) started contacting people.”
Because of the strong ties Costa’s work has to Southeastern Ohio, Addington said •Appalachian communities can benefit from the miniatures.
“Some of them are really representative of Appalachia,” Addington said. “She captures some of the history of Nelsonville, Southeastern Ohio and Appalachia.”
In addition to Costa’s historical contribution, she made an impact in the OU medical school. Costa studied nursing at Hocking College so donating her body to science seemed logical to her, Guyette said, even though it surprised him at first.
“Jill was a very generous soul,” Guyette said. “She was very proud of what she had done because she felt she was sparing her family any difficulty in arranging a burial space. She felt she was benefitting society by having other students learn from her death.”
Macy Kuhar, a sophomore studying pre-nursing, is reaping the benefits of Costa’s generous donation. Her father, OU alumnus Mark Kuhar, is a friend and former colleague of Guyette.
“With anatomy, it’s one thing to read about it in a book or to dissect an animal,” Kuhar said, “but to have a cadaver and to be able to see the things you learn about come to life, that’s pretty valuable for someone who is going to be in the medical profession.”
Through her life and death, Costa made an impact on so many people’s lives, Guyette said.
“I’m hoping Jill’s legacy can live on forever because of all the good times we experienced over many years,” Guyette said. “With the time and efforts Jill put into her miniatures, I think that’s an accomplishment that should live on forever. It’s wonderful that Jill’s contributions to medical science might live on forever.”
Originally published for The Post on October 12, 2016. To appear in the print tabloid on October 13, 2016.