Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 10, 2013

A final recognition for Punchard High

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — Punchard was Andover’s high school for 100 years, and I lived so close to the ivy-covered building I could see it out my windows. I looked forward to attending the legendary school, but, the year before I was to start, a new high school, named Andover High School, was built. I was disappointed.

In the movie of my mind, I see standing-room-only crowds on the sidelines of Punchard games and the All-Girl Band victoriously playing the Punchard fight song while parading through town. In 1911, Punchard’s first varsity fields appeared with the opening of the Playstead.

Then, a young man named “Pop” Lovely took on coaching football and baseball. Called Pop because he was prematurely bald, his legend grew so great over the next three decades that the football field at Andover High is named for him. He was revered throughout Andover for he taught rough boys not only how to win, but how to be gentlemen. Good sportsmanship was the overriding theme to Lovely’s coaching, and the lessons taught those rough boys were later taught by those rough boys to their children.

William Goldsmith, Punchard’s first great principal, was strict yet loved. He allowed his students to pick a name for his newly born daughter, and they chose “Punchard.” Thus came Bessie Punchard Goldsmith, a colorful, strong-willed, Andover character of the 20th century and a long-time Andover Townsman columnist, who, on her death, bequeathed 130 acres to AVIS.

For three decades preceding 1940, Nathan Hamblin was the school’s principal. Carrying a walking stick and wearing three-piece suits and a Van Dyke beard, he strode to and from his Chestnut Street home to Punchard. Personifying the word dignity, he brought academic excellence to the school. Like Goldsmith and Lovely, Hamblin taught basic values of right and wrong and stressed educational fundamentals. During the era of Hamblin and Lovely, it seemed an inordinate number of Punchard students received college scholarships. The whole town was interested in Punchard, and each week, the Andover Townsman had a school column written by a Punchard student.

In 1947, due to lack of town funding for uniforms, eight men formed the Boosters Club, paying for football and band uniforms. The club continued doing good deeds for years. The Punchard Alumni Association, thriving for decades, gathered once a year to talk and celebrate. After the name changed in 1957 to the Punchard-Andover Alumni Association, it died after a few years, or at least gave a good imitation of doing so.

Maybe it was the unusual name that gave Punchard a certain cachet or mystique. Punchard, or Punch Hard — what was it, out-of-towners and newcomers asked, and where did the name come from? The answer: Benjamin Punchard’s money (inflation calculators estimate his gift would be worth close to $2 million today) paid for the first town high school that was built in 1856 and then paid for the one that replaced it a few years later. The remainder of this bequest, with the help of donations from a few other townspeople, still contributes to scholarships and programs through the Punchard Trustees.

The last Punchard Building was built in 1917, but was abandoned as a school only 40 years later, in 1957. It was converted to the town municipal building in the 1980s.

This Friday, at 9:30 a.m., a ceremony is being held in the Town Offices building to unveil a plaque that describes the building’s history. Thanks largely to a private citizen, Robert Stefani, a Punchard alumni who advocated for the plaque, and Earl Efinger, who was chairman of the Punchard Trustees for years, one more step is being taken to preserve the Punchard legacy. I had the honor of assisting in the plaque’s wording, and perhaps doing so slightly assuaged the boy within me who wanted to go to Punchard.

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For more information on Punchard and why the name changed, please email BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com. His somewhat regular column will be a continuing feature under “Opinion” in the Andover Townsman.