“It’s an amazing honor, but when I went forward with this I did not know this,” she admitted.
“I had no idea until I was told by another Wauseon friend who is a city councilman down in the Columbus area. He said ‘You know you hold the highest-ranking office for a Latino in Ohio.’ So I did some checking on some areas of the Internet and I could not find one. I was shocked. I would have thought by now there would at least be one.”
Mrs. Huner was selected unanimously as mayor by her peers on city council after former mayor Doug Shaw decided to give up the office to focus on his clothing business. Mrs. Huner will serve the remainder of Shaw’s term—through the end of 2015. She will earn $12,000 annually.
Mrs. Huner has served 13 years on city council. Her first stint was from 2000 to 2011. She gave up her council seat to run against Shaw for mayor, but was elected back to council for a fourth term in 2013. Once the unexpired mayor’s term is done, Mrs. Huner plans to run for her own term as mayor.
The 1981 graduate of Wauseon High School wants to promote the positives of the city to the younger generations—hoping to keep them in Northwest Ohio or draw them back to raise their families. That long-held goal becomes even more important now that she is mayor.
“I was hoping my own children would grow up in this town, go to college, and come back. Many of our children go to college in other parts of the state and then don’t come back to raise their families,” she said. “I wanted to see while on council if there were things I could do—parks and rec departments, helping to get businesses in here or certain types of areas, zoning, that would encourage people to stay here and also bring in other people so we would be thriving.”
But the recent recession delayed those dreams, as Wauseon city officials, like many other communities, had to cut back on its spending. That’s what prompted her to run for mayor in 2011.
“I grew up here. I love everything about it—small-town environment, family ethics. I like that,” said Mrs. Huner. “There were some things I really wasn’t happy with occurring within our city. We had a lot of budget cuts at that time.”
Supporters prompted her to run for council again, telling her they “needed her voice” back in city government.
“I know sometimes people feel they don’t get heard or that it gets overlooked or set aside and I didn’t want them to feel that way,” she said.
Mrs. Huner admitted “there was some debate” among city council members as to who would succeed Shaw as mayor. The city council president was next in line, but nominated Mrs. Huner instead.
“There was a lot of discussion and debate. You’ve got to have a lot of time and a lot of compassion,” she said. “You need to know this doesn’t come without stumbling and certain reservations. But you go in knowing you’re going to serve the people and that’s all you can do. I’m here to do the job. I have no personal agenda. I want to serve the citizens. I do not please all of them, but I sure do try to love them.”
Her father moved from Texas to Northwest Ohio when he was an infant. Her grandfather was a farmer for several years and moved his family to Wauseon to begin working in a factory. Her father went into law enforcement, becoming the first Latino to ever serve on the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department in the early 1970’s.
Mrs. Huner, 52, tries to stay close to her Latino roots. Her family gathered last weekend to prepare their annual Christmas tamales.
“I try to stay involved with my family as much as I can, because it’s getting smaller and smaller as far as our memory of our roots and where we come from,” she said. “Living in Wauseon, my father did not teach us Spanish. That is one thing that is frustrating for me is that I do not speak Spanish, but my father does.”
Mrs. Huner married her high school sweetheart 32 years ago. The couple has two children. Her son Mitchell, 25, is now a Wauseon police officer. She points out he has hired to the city police force during her break from city council.
Her daughter Katie, 22, will graduate next spring from Adrian College. She plans to attend law school.
Mrs. Huner, who has been a preschool teacher for nearly 30 years, will keep her part-time job she started last fall at a non-profit tutoring center.