By Steve Sears
Hanging in the Mount Olive Township municipal building, just outside the administration office, is the “Wall of Mayors” project, courtesy of the township Historical Society and its President, Thea Dunkle.
The “Wall of Mayors” is a historic display of bios and photos of men that have served the township from the lead seat. Dunkle started the ambitious undertaking in 2006. “There are 28 mayors on the wall,” she says, “and I have three more photos that need to be framed.”
Dunkle recalls the day 15 years ago when she was in Budd Lake’s Vasa Park and the idea came to her. As she toured the history room, listed on the wall were names and photos of past Presidents of Vasa Park. “They had pictures of different people and I said, ‘That might be interesting to do with the (Mount Olive) mayors.’”
Dunkle initially contacted township clerk Lisa Lashway and asked her if she could visit the municipal building and find a list of names, which Lashway provided. “And then I just started looking for obits,” Dunkle says, “trying to find out where they were buried, and I got death certificates.” She also researched and tried to find out about election returns, and that’s where there was a challenge. “Before 1972,” she explains, “there was only three men that would serve on the council. They would call them, I think, ‘committeemen’; they didn’t call them Councilmen. And one of those three would serve as the mayor.” Some individuals served more than one year as mayor. “1972 is when they changed the way of the governing board of the town, and that’s when they had the mayor and councilmen. Charles Spangler was the first mayor under that new governing body.”
Dunkle also put out feelers via newspapers and through the Historical Society, trying to get a hold of family members of former mayors. For a couple of them, she could only find a newspaper article. “You’re doing spy work,” she describes it. “I got hold of a few different people from out of state, they mailed me pictures.” She has also been able to get photos and information from Ancestry.com. “And then there’s a couple I just couldn’t find anything on. It was kind of weird that I wouldn’t find anything on them. Some of these mayors were born here and lived here their whole life – the early ones. Later on, some of them lived here for a while, and then their families moved away.”
Dunkle has used the same process for each, including the framing. “I wanted them to all look uniform,” she says. “I print out the date when they served, and they (a local gallery) do all the cutting and the matting. And then when I bring the frames in, the poor guys have to put them in order, they have to move all the pictures. And if I find somebody way back, they’ve got to take all the pictures down and move everything. It’s amazing, all of the sudden somebody will come up with a picture all these years later. You just never know how it’s going to pop up. It’s been interesting.”
The “Wall of Mayors” and all it entails, as with all of her work with the Historical Society, is therapeutic for Dunkle. “I go to the library, or I go to the archive. Some people just have a hobby, and this is kind of mine, the Historical Society and doing genealogy, family history. That’s just my thing.”
For more information, please visit www.mtolivehistory.com.