Looking back

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:10

Diana Kuncken reflects on her eight years of service as mayor of Stanhope Stanhope — Diana Kuncken has been involved in the Stanhope community for more than 25 years. She served on the Land Use Board, Recreation Commission and Board of Health before securing a seat on the council. When Brian McNeilly, the current borough administrator who served as mayor prior to Kuncken, decided not to run for a third term, Kuncken stepped up to the plate. “I guess that’s just who I am,” Kuncken said. Kuncken has been Stanhope’s mayor for the last eight years and made a decision not to run again. Rosemarie Maio won the mayor's seat in the recent November election. Kuncken said her choice not to run for reelection was bittersweet. Although she had the desire to run again, she was uncertain if she could fulfill the commitment for another four years. “I wanted to be sure I could finish what I started,” Kuncken told the council and public at her final meeting on Dec. 13. Kuncken and her husband, Rich, were living in the Hilltop section of Paterson, NJ, 38 years ago when they decided to move. They drove west and found Stanhope. “We’ve never regretted it,” said Kuncken. Her children were young when the family moved to Stanhope. Kuncken found a job teaching preschool part-time and soon embarked on a journey of volunteerism. “In a small town, being involved, it’s a part of what’s happening, it’s a rewarding thing,” Kuncken said. Kuncken said she is proud of her family, their accomplishments and her teaching career, but never expected to become a mayor. “I never imagined I would be mayor in the town where I lived," said Kuncken. "It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.” While contemplating her past, Kuncken realized her service as mayor made sense. In college at Montclair State University, Kuncken was a history major preparing to teach social studies in secondary education. She said she always had an interest in how government worked. “My friends would laugh at me since I could name all the presidents of the United States,” Kuncken said. After college, Kuncken lived in Italy for four months where she visited relatives and studied art and Italian History. Following her stay in Europe, she worked as an executive assistant in New York City, and then made the transition into the education field as a teacher in Lodi, NJ. For the past 20 years, Kuncken has taught at St. Michael’s School in Netcong. She's now teaching part-time after holding a full-time schedule until two years ago. Of her tenure as mayor, Kuncken said, “The good outweighs the unpleasant.” “The true test of leadership is enduring the ups and downs, some periods of time were stressful, I think I held myself together, and got through it with the help of others,” Kuncken said. She credited the borough employees and volunteers for their support. Kuncken said she's leaving her position in good financial standing. Despite the state-mandated 2 percent cap imposed on municipalities, Stanhope has not had to lay anyone off. “With the two percent cap, we’re feeling the crunch,” Kuncken said. “We’re a stable community, we have a surplus, and we’re not drowning in debt.” Kuncken said she feels good about her accomplishments while in office, mentioning improvements in infrastructure and borough parks. She also mentioned energy savings the borough has seen due to new windows and furnaces that were installed after the borough’s energy audit. Kuncken said the borough’s recovery from the recent spate of extreme weather and the purchase of the generator for borough hall were both milestones. Although Kuncken has declined to run for reelection, she said if she was called upon to serve the borough again in some capacity, she would. “I'll miss being the face and voice of Stanhope,” Kuncken concluded.