By Dustin Luca
---- — More than 150 years after his gift helped pave the way for the creation of Andover Public Schools, town officials at last honored the man inside the building once named for him.
A ceremony in the entrance of the Town Offices on Bartlet Street earlier this month officially celebrated the building’s original use as Punchard High School.
The recognition was especially intended for one man: Benjamin Punchard, who endowed $50,000 to the town following his death in 1859 to establish a free school for residents.
A new plaque recognizing the history of the former school building was dedicated as part of the ceremony.
The plaque hangs inside the front entrance of what today is the Town Offices. The entrance once served as the main entryway for Punchard High, with the principal’s office on one side and district superintendent on the other.
“It started with a $50,000 donation,” Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said at the ceremony. “The foresight that gentleman and his family had was absolutely incredible to produce a legacy like that.”
The effort to install a plaque was championed by the Punchard Free School Trustees after member Bob Stefani sent a letter to the Andover Townsman in February 2012 raising the issue of the lack of a dedication in the building.
“I grew up here, left in my early 30s, and I was (in New York) for 43 years,” Stefani, a 1951 graduate of Punchard High School, said.
“I came back and I saw the oversight every time I came down to pay something in this building. I see everything else, except that this was once a high school.”
Bunny Downs, one of 89 students who graduated from Punchard High in 1965, said she felt the dedication was “wonderful.”
Downs was readying to attend her 63rd class reunion following the plaque ceremony.
She said she wished more of her classmates had joined her for the program.
“I have fond memories of Punchard High School,” she said. “I wish I told the people about it today, and they probably would have come — a lot of them.”