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International Women’s Day 2021: Local Female Leaders We Admire

March is Women’s History Month. For 31 days, the country highlights and celebrates the historic achievements and contributions of intelligent and successful women. International Women’s Day, acknowledges all women across the world regardless of race, religion, social or economic status. We embrace these women for all that they are, amazing. From artists to educators to first responders to small business owners, there are so many women who have impacted the lives of others and contributed to our local communities. In honor of  International Women’s Day todaay, we are shining the light on just a few of these remarkable women in Hoboken and Jersey City. Read on for a list of women who are changing the world one painting, patient, and cup of coffee at a time.

Maria “Peggy” Diaz

Hoboken Fire Department Captain

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Peggy Diaz is Hoboken’s 1st female Fire Department Captain — as well as born and raised Hoboken resident. She is one of the first two female firefighters in Hudson County’s history, alongside Audra Carter. Peggy was sworn into the Hoboken Fire Department on December 19th, 2002 and in May 2011, she was sworn in as a Captain, furthering her historical mark on her hometown.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

MD: A lot of my job revolves around making sure the community trusts me and trusts the decisions we make on calls to keep them safe or to mitigate a problem on emergency calls are paramount.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

MD: Really learn your craft… continue your education in whatever field you decide to pursue. Train, read, and make decisions that benefit those around you, but make sure they make you feel comfortable and secure in your knowledge. Respect your peers and speak up whenever you feel the need to give input or if you have an idea that may help out.

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

MD: The proudest moment in my life was becoming a mom to my amazing son, Isaiah.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

MD: I love to walk/run or bike along Sinatra drive, and with the NYC view, it’s a pretty great skyline. I also like to enjoy dinners out {pre-pandemic} at local restaurants with friends.


Antoinette Ellis-Williams

Professor, Chair of the Women’s + Gender Studies Department at NJCU, Poet, Activist

Antoinette Ellis-Williams

Dr. Antoinette Ellis-Williams graduated from Cornell University, School of Human Ecology, and earned her doctorate in Public Policy from Cornell University, School of Human Ecology. Dr. Ellis-Williams is now Chair and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at New Jersey City University. She has worked for over 25 years in the field of Inclusion/ Diversity and Social Justice. She’s presented at hundreds of events throughout the state, nation, and world where both qualities of thought and delivery are deemed important. She was invited to present a TEDx talk, “Finding Justice in the Land of the Free.” She is also a poet and artist.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

AEW: I think as a black immigrant woman I find juggle oppressions. I have to had to work extra hard to justify my value. This is especially prevalent as a multi-disciplinary leader. People want me to stay in arbitrary boxes.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

AEW: I would encourage young women to find other women to build a supportive network. Women also need to show up, speak up and listen in the workplace. Also, have a good sense of humor. Women need to be interesting {sports, books, books, current events}. Finally, be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. Don’t overwork to prove anything to anyone. Mental and physical health matter.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

Pre-COVID-19, I liked to visit Branch Brook Park, go to art galleries, and outdoor concerts.


Laura Lagano

Author, Nutritionist, Cannabis Consultant

laura lagano cbd hoboken

Author of The CBD Oil Miracle, Laura is an Integrative + Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Cannabis Practitioner with an in-person and online private practice, focusing on brain, gut, immune, and thyroid health. Because of her experience with hemp-derived CBD with her daughter Isabella, who has a developmental delay, Laura co-founded the Holistic Cannabis Academy and served as its Education Director. The Holistic Cannabis Academy is an online learning platform for healthcare professionals, caretakers, and patients with information on how to integrate cannabis and CBD into nutrition, yoga, meditation, and more practices. With her background and experience in nutrition, functional medicine, cannabis/CBD, and autism, Laura is a pioneer.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

LL: Women, particularly of my generation, are expected to sit back. Well, I can tell you from experience that serves zero purpose. Many years ago when I was working as a nutritionist in communications, a client asked me for a recommendation for a colleague to serve as an on-camera spokesperson for a food trade organization. This was way before social media. I paused for a moment, ready to give some names, and realized that I was the best person for the job. I have told this story {in long format!} to my children several times. It is okay, in fact, it is imperative, to toot your own horn.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

LL: Be persistent. Be confident. Know your value and communicate it regularly to others.

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

LL: One of my proudest was when my husband and decided to buy a home in Hoboken and make our life here.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

LL: Having raised my three children in Hoboken, we have made many wonderful friends. In fact, I met several of those girlfriends at the long-gone Café Roma on Washington Street. Those friendships have thrived over 25+ years. Our children {all of which were girls!} are all about 27 and they are great friends, too. My favorite thing to do in Hoboken is to hang out with those friends. We consider ourselves the core group, who remained in Hoboken, resisting defection to the ‘burbs. Pre-pandemic, getting together may have been dining out, but upon reflection, it was always mostly hanging together at one another’s home. In fact, I have a small pod of another set of girlfriends on the block who I see every Thursday at my house. We’re attempting to teach ourselves to play mahjong, but really we just enjoy being together. They serve as my testers for the CBD-infused recipes I create for a cannabis, food, and culture magazine.


Patricia Villanueva

Attorney +  Co-Founder/Chief Creative Bear of Baonanas

Patricia Villanueva

Patricia Villanueva is a full-time attorney and co-founder and Cheif Creative Bear of the popular dessert eatery in Jersey City, Baonanas. She and her partner Lloyd Ortuoste were born and raised in Greenville and West Side neighborhoods of Jersey City, and currently still reside in Jersey City with their nine-year-old Shiba Inu named Iroh. Baonanas’ mission is to keep spreading the love they’ve received by developing innovative flavors, using quality ingredients, providing unforgettable catering experiences, and supporting local businesses.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

PV: I am an immigrant and often the only woman of color in the room, and often deal with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. While I am fortunate to have a supportive work environment and colleagues who uplift me, feelings of inadequacy still creep in.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

PV: Find and trust in your own voice. Be confident in your womanhood; you don’t have to conform to male ideas of strength, leadership, and professionalism.

HG: What you like to do for fun locally?

PV: Pre-COVID-19, visiting local restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. During COVID-19, walking around Liberty State Park with my dog Iroh and daydreaming of tropical islands.


Christine A. Johnson

Superintendent of the Hoboken Public Schools

hoboken superintendent christine johnson

Christine started her career in education as a high school teacher, coach, and adjunct college professor, and her passion for teaching never wavered. She then served as a content area supervisor for social studies in the Livingston School District, where she did extensive work in the areas of curriculum, instructional coaching, and professional development. Dr. Johnson was the Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the Highland Park School District and the Summit School District. Following this, she served as Superintendent for the Mendham Township School District and the Boonton Town School District in Morris County before becoming the Superintendent of the Hoboken Public School District.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

CJ: I have been extremely fortunate throughout my 27 years in the field of education. I have had amazing mentors who taught, coached, and supported me. The most significant barrier that I have experienced is individuals that publicly try to tear another’s work and efforts down in order to promote a personal or political agenda.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

CJ: The best leaders are those that build confidence and capacity in others. It is the grand responsibility of female leaders to stay humble and give the next generation of female leaders as many opportunities as possible to learn, grow and shine. Communities need leaders that serve both strategically and empathetically. Women, that’s who we are! Follow in the footsteps of those female leaders you admire and do not be afraid to lead with both your brilliant minds and tender hearts.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

CJ: I enjoy walking along the waterfront, shopping, and dining in Hoboken’s fine restaurants, and most of all attending Hoboken High School’s sporting events, concerts, and theater productions.


Spoorthi Kumar

Business Owner/CEO of Hidden Grounds

Spoorthi Kumar

Spoorthi Kumar is the c0-founder and CEO of Hidden Grounds, a popular coffee shop with locations in Hoboken, Jersey City, and New Brunswick. Spoorthi is a first-generation business owner. Before co-founding Hidden Grounds, she worked for Johnson & Johnson. Hidden Grounds has a unique vibe and esthetic with an amazing range of coffee and food that highlights the extraordinary Indian culture.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

SK: The fine line between being labeled “aggressive” vs simply being a boss lady. As women, we tend to be categorized and it can be a detriment when trying to simply get the job done. My motto is to dance to your own tune!

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

SK: Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to fight – We are a lot stronger than we look.

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

SK: I biked across the country one summer and built for affordable housing from Jacksonville Florida to San Francisco California.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

SK: When the weather permits, go for walks and bike rides to explore random cafes, restaurants, and parks! A favorite is riding from downtown JC to Northside Hoboken and stopping for a light beer.


Brittani Montalvo

Nurse leader in the Critical Care/Trauma Unit at Jersey City Medical Center

Brittani Montalvo

Nursing has always been Brittani Montalvo’s passion. She has worked as a nurse and is now a Nurse Leader in the Critical Care/Trauma Unit. Her husband, Harry, is a Hoboken Police Officer and they have two children Gianna {12} and “Baby” Harry {5}. Brittani’s family are lifelong residents of Hoboken.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

BM: I would never have imagined 13 years ago when I started my career as a nurse that I would have to work through a global pandemic. It has been the most challenging part of my career thus far. Having the fear of the unknown during this pandemic and not having the control to heal and make it better has been a constant battle. Not only for me, but I’m sure my entire team and every first responder and frontline worker would say the same.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

BM: As a female nurse leader, I strive to continue to grow, learn and flourish. I ask questions, look for answers and never let anything discourage my passion for nursing. For every strong female out there, continue your passion, strive to better yourself, and have confidence in whatever it is that makes you happy! Let your personality shine through! Be tough, take chances, grow from mistakes, and empower each other!

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

BM: The proudest moments of my life have been having my two beautiful children Gianna. Watching my children flourish and grow has been one of my greatest accomplishments. With that being said, nursing has also been my greatest and proudest accomplishment. Going through a vigorous schooling process and a multitude of testing was nowhere near easy, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come and grown and the point where I am in my career today is a sure picture of it being all worth it!

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

BM: My family and I enjoy summers at the Jersey shore, spending our time at the parks, and trying the various restaurants around Hoboken {our goal is to taste test as many as we can!}


Madeline Gonzalez

Security Guard for Hoboken Public Schools {Wallace} 18 years

Madeline Gonzalez

Madeline Lynch was born and raised in Hoboken and has worked as a Security Guard for the Hoboken Public Schools, specifically Wallace Elementary School for 18 years. She attended Hoboken High School where she was a star basketball player. Basketball continued to be a passion of hers and eventually was passed down to her children. Madeline coached girls and co-ed recreational basketball teams over the years. She is well-known for her fun and loving personality.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

MG: The most significant barrier has been not being able to become the head coach for Hoboken High School because I didn’t have the credits to fulfill the position. Coaching has always been a dream of mine, which is why I redirected my focus to the youth. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to coach the 4th grade Wallace basketball team! This allowed me to be around the kids and the game. I didn’t allow my situation of not having enough credits to stop me from coaching.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

MG: For every person telling you, you can’t, should be every reason why you should, so never give up.

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

MG: The proudest moment in my life is that I didn’t give up. I didn’t let my hard times take me down. Yes, I cried! But being able to show my kids that in life you have to fight for whatever it is that you want.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

MG: I enjoy hanging out and eating at local restaurants such as East LA and Madd Hatter with my sisters and colleagues.


Carmen Rusu

Manager of Symposia Bookstore + Founder of Puppetonia Puppet Shows

symposia carmen

Carmen and her husband Cornel were both professors in Romania and wanted to bring their love of educating others to the U.S. In 2001, they opened Symposia Bookstore on Willow Avenue to provide a platform for artists in the area to share their passions with the community and give residents a place to come together, read, and discuss their findings. Now located at 510 Washington Street, Symposia is the only used bookstore in the area and runs exclusively for educational and charitable purposes. Carmen hosts yoga classes there as well as leads Puppetonia shows, a children’s educational puppet show company.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

CR: As a female leader, I’d say that some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced have been internal and self-imposed. I was born and raised in Eastern Europe, in a time and place where women were generally expected to take a secondary and supportive role to their husbands, and where female self-reliance, initiative, and risk-taking were not encouraged nor looked favorably upon. It’s taken years for me to conquer that little voice inside me that kept telling me I’m not strong enough, competent enough, tough enough to stand on my own. And in talking to my female friends who are also in positions of leadership, it’s amazing to me how many strong, successful women have these same thoughts.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

CR: Fake it till you make it! Be decisive, stand up, speak out, take risks – even if inside, you feel like you’re not measuring up. You’ll soon discover that you’re much stronger than you think or than society tells you.

HG: What was the proudest moment of your life?

CR: The proudest moment of my life is when I became the manager of Symposia Bookstore!

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

CR: I am passionate about staying active through daily walks, runs, and workouts with friends on the waterfront have kept me sane during the pandemic. Actually, during the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, I used the time to study and get my NASM Personal Trainer Certification. I am very excited to start this new sidekick as soon as it is safe. I also love sampling all the delicious food Hoboken has to offer. And, of course, I am an avid reader! I love exploring a wide variety of genres and authors so I can guide my customers to their next favorite read!


Kelli Glancey

Artist, Illustrator, and Educator at Parsons School of Design

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Kelli Glancey is an artist and art professor at Parsons School of Design. She teaches Introduction to Printmaking and Screenprint, Explorations of Drawing, and Color Theory. She teaches students from many design disciplines, such as graphic, illustration, fashion, interior, fine art, and more. Art had always played a significant role in her life from a very young age and continued to create art throughout her life. Her work was recently exhibited at the Hoboken Historical Museum Upper Gallery and at Field Colony Gallery.

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

KG: All is possible with self-discipline, a good work ethic, and a strong moral compass. This is the key to it all.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

KG: Pursue a career that makes you happy, be appreciative and respectful to those along the way, and always keep learning. If you enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life!

HG: What is the proudest moment of your life?

KG: Traveling on my own to study art abroad at Parsons in Paris. Renting my first apt there at 19, everything was so new and so exciting. It was during this very special first chapter in my life, eyes wide open in a foreign country, that I discovered the beauty of the unknown. It’s been an ongoing rewarding journey to places and people’s unknown ever since. As a student then and as an artist and educator now, I am most proud to have paid my curiosities and encouragement forward, nominated for teacher of the year numerous times throughout the years.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

KG: I love to walk everywhere {Hoboken, Jersey City, Weehawken, Manhattan}, draw in my sketchbook on location, eat a delicious meal with a good friend out at my favorite local restaurants. Post-pandemic, a glass of wine listening to Frank Sinatra’s Summertime’ on the jukebox at Leo’s, enjoying a quiet sunny afternoon at Pier A watching the boats and ferries go by on the Hudson while marveling at Manhattan’s forever changing skyline, listen to local live music and enjoy Hoboken’s yearly Art/Music Festivals.


Joy W.

Founder of Be The Difference Clothing

Joy goes by her author name, Joy W. She was born in Hoboken, raised in Jersey City. She is the founder of Be The Difference Clothing, a clothing brand that aims to create discussions around important topics. She has spoken as a guest at several community events, including at Beloved Community Charter school about the importance of education. Joy also spoke during a Women’s Empowerment and Vision Board Workshop about the importance of speaking things into existence,

Hoboken Girl: What’s one thing people wouldn’t realize about you, being a female leader in your career?

JW: One of the most significant barriers is lack of Time. I feel like we’re all living and sometimes that’s all it is.. just living. My desire is to see more of us enjoying each other’s time and really cherishing the memories being made. As I progress in Be The Difference Clothing, I care more about people living the best versions of themselves so they can turn around and positively contribute to the community and beyond. As far as business goes, wearing positive affirmations can be a simple or an on-time reminder to stay on course.

HG: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

JW: As far as the future, do better than us. We may have created a path, but it’s up to you to dress that baby up with all of the goodness that resides in your hearts! Keep on keeping on and never ever give up. Learn from your mistakes and bounce back. Also, know that time is only wasted when you do not try.

HG: What do you like to do for fun locally?

JW: Lawd, fun locally is kind of hard with COVID-19. I am still trying to get back into the swing of being in crowds {big or small}. I look forward to dining out, going to lounges and poetry events. I cannot wait to go to an in-house Paint + Sip!

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Written by:

Victoria is HG's Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Hoboken Historical Museum + Fire Department Museum. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.