- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. (AP) - There’ll be candy at the ready at the Kostka home in Ridgewood on Monday. But if this Halloween is like any other, the doorbell won’t be ringing.

Trick-or-treaters steer clear of the family’s stucco-and-brick colonial - not because the goodies aren’t to their liking, but because the house is inside a cemetery.

“Never, never, never, never,” Jane Kostka told The Record (https://bit.ly/2e1kcwu) when she was asked whether trick-or-treaters come to the door. “If we were 100 feet closer to the road, it would be a different story, but you have to walk into the cemetery to get to the house and I think that freaks out a lot of kids.”

Though sweets won’t be changing hands, except between Jane and Guy Kostka and their grandchildren, Guy will be on holiday alert both for tonight’s Cabbage Night and Monday’s Halloween Night.

He’s in his 35th year as superintendent of Valleau Cemetery and he’ll be driving his pickup along the roads of the unfenced 32-acre burial ground, keeping an eye out for high jinks.

It’s been some 20 years since Kostka has dealt with toilet paper, shaving cream, tossed eggs and other Halloween vandalism. A few Halloweens ago, he encountered a group of girls sitting on the ground and burning candles amid the gravestones. They were having a séance. He sent them on their way.

“Kids today are on the phone or the computer,” he said in anticipation of another uneventful Halloween. “They’re not running through cemeteries.”

Guy Kostka, 57, a sturdy man with tattooed arms and a sun-weathered face, has spent his entire adulthood at Valleau Cemetery, which is owned by the Old Paramus Reformed Church across the street. Burials commenced in the 1840s after the Valleau family deeded the land to the consistory. A stroll through the immaculate, tree-shaded, triangular grounds is a lesson in Bergen County history, many monuments bearing such pioneering names as Ackerman and Bogert, Terhune and Voorhis, Brinkerhoff and Zabriskie.

Kostka, a Paterson native, started at Valleau Cemetery at age 18. He was newly married with a baby and needed work. His father, who installed concrete burial vaults for a living, learned that Valleau’s superintendent was looking for an assistant. Kostka got the job; after five years, he became the superintendent and moved his family to the cemetery. The house came with the position.

Back then, there was distance between the graves and the house, which is set back from Franklin Turnpike in a corner of the cemetery. But the final resting places have been creeping closer; the nearest is now 75 paces from the front door.

Kostka, with a couple of assistants and a backhoe, maintains the park-like cemetery and oversees the 80 or so burials that occur each year. He also keeps the books and sells plots; most double graves go for $2,650.

The laconic superintendent acts like there’s nothing unusual about raising a family - three daughters, now in their 30s - amid the dearly departed. No believer in ghosts, although he jokingly blames any weird creaks in the house to a spirit named George, Kostka sees the cemetery as the safest of places.

“It’s not the people here who are going to bother you,” he said. “It’s the people walking around.”

And the people walking around Valleau Cemetery aren’t the threatening type; they’re mostly neighborhood joggers.

The middle daughter, Barbara DiPitro, said that to her and her sisters, “it was never a creepy cemetery - it was always home.”

“We learned to ride our bikes on the roads in the cemetery, we learned to drive in the cemetery, we went sledding - to us, it was like a huge backyard,” she said.

“My biggest Cabbage Night memory was we’d go on patrol with our father,” she said. “We thought it was the coolest job in the world. We couldn’t wait to find someone in the cemetery - but no one was ever around.”

Not many cemetery superintendents live on-site.

Another is Charles Schofield, who has called Fair Lawn Memorial Cemetery & Mausoleum home since 1990. The Schofield family’s tidy, vinyl-sided Dutch colonial is on the southern edge of the cemetery, which, unlike Valleau, is surrounded entirely by a fence.

Schofield and his wife and their two sons have never had issues with the location.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Schofield, 59, also the son of a burial vault installer. “If I did, I sure wouldn’t be living here.”

Schofield and Kostka, who’ve known each other for decades, point to one of the benefits of raising children in a cemetery, besides the quiet surroundings. Their kids grew up, the superintendents say, with respect for local history and for people in general, both the dead and the living. Schofield noted that his sons were never tempted to toss around a football on the broad, green expanse opposite their front door. That’s because that broad, green expanse is the memorial park section of the cemetery, where barely noticeable flat markers indicate graves.

Back in Ridgewood, Guy Kostka is counting on an uneventful Halloween after a busy week that saw him dig two graves in the historic cemetery he has cared for and watched over for four decades.

Valleau Cemetery has had just three superintendents since the 1920s. The previous two, Charlie Post and Abe Hopper, are laid to rest there.

Kostka won’t be joining them.

“I figure I’ve spent my whole life here, and I don’t want to be buried here also,” he said. “I’m going to be cremated and scattered in the mountains.”

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