WILMINGTON, MA — The Town of Wilmington dedicated the Wilmington High School Auditorium to the late Superintendent Joanne Benton on Sunday afternoon.
The ceremony began with State Senator Bruce Tarr and State Representative David Robertson offering brief remarks and presenting Benton’s family with citations from the Senate and House.
“Joanne was a good friend, mentor and inspiration to all of us,” said Tarr. “She was a woman who was such a champion of education, not only in Wilmington, but throughout the Commonwealth.”
“Joanne would give it right back to State Representative Jim Miceli,” recalled Robertson with a smile. “I had never seen anyone talk to him like that. But they shook hands at the end of the meeting… At the end of the day, above all, Joanne truly cared about the kids. There’s no better place we can name after her than this auditorium.”
Assistant Superintendent Paul Ruggiero, who emceed the event, then discussed Benton’s personal connection to the high school auditorium.
“Joanne worked for an auditorium that we could all be proud of and for a stage that could fit our large performing arts program,” said Ruggiero. “As only she could, Joanne convinced the Massachusetts School Building Authority that we needed a larger stage than what was proposed. It was due to her efforts that the stage was increased from 1600 square feet to 2190 square feet and included an orchestra pit, and it was because of her that the auditorium seated almost 700. This illustrated Joanne Benton’s love of the performing arts.”
Former Town Manager Michael Caira praised Benton for the impact she had on so many in the Wilmington community.
“The naming of this auditorium symbolizes the profound respect, admiration and affection that this community has for such an extraordinary woman,” said Caira, who added that Benton had lived a full life for having given so much to others. “She leaves a remarkable legacy of service… She was a leader who inspired her staff and connected with the kids. The students of Wilmington knew their superintendent.”
“She was everywhere — at the bus stops, at the hospitals, at the funerals, concerts, plays, every conceivable sporting event — because she cared,” continued Caira. “She cared about your child and our community. She often said that despite being from Winchester, she adopted Wilmington as her own. We can only hope that she knows the feeling of admiration and love was mutual.”
“The community will remember Joanne for her numerous accomplishments — full-day kindergarten, a state-of-the-art high school, making 21st century learning a reality and not a slogan,” added Caira. “I will certainly remember accomplishments, but I will remember her more as a fierce advocate for education and beloved, respected community leader. And, above all else, I’ll remember her for her compassion and kindness.”
Longtime School Committee member Peggy Kane remembered her friend as an effective leader with a big heart.
“Each of us present are a better person for having known Joanne,” said Kane. “She encouraged the creative endeavors of her staff. She and the School Committee made a great team, reflecting one of her values — teamwork… And she never bragged about herself despite her accomplishments.”
Wilmington High School Principal Linda Peters highlighted Benton’s compassion and kindness.
“Joanne especially loved the children of Wilmington. She’d dressed up during the annual WEF Walk. She attended musicals, plays, concerts, proms, and all sorts of special events. When something was going on, she was there,” said Peters. “Whenever a teacher or student wanted to start a special project or present a new idea, Joanne was always there to listen & guide. The 9/11 Memorial is an example. ‘Go for it’ were words she was known to say often. When something was going on, she was there.”
“In her farewell statement, Joanne wrote that for 39 years… she’s been in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people,” recalled Peters. “Because of her, I think many of us can say we’re doing the right thing, in the right place, with the right people.”
The Wilmington Performing Arts Department, in conjunction with WCTV, then presented a video montage of Wilmington students explaining why they liked music.
The video presentation culminated with the stage’s curtain rising and a stunning live performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World” from Wilmington High School Band, Strings, and Chorus students.
Joanne’s sister Carol Boswell then spoke on behalf of Joanne’s family.
“Joanne so loved & was so loved by this community. My brother & I would like to thank all of you who joined us today,” began Boswell. “The completion of this auditorium made my sister so happy. She loved music & the arts. She loved to dance at any function — weddings, bar mitzvahs, proms. She and Ted would be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave.”
“Joanne marveled at the students talented and rebelled in the excitement generated by their passion… She loved to see her students in action outside the classroom,” continued Boswell. “Joanne would be there for the kids. She tried to attend every performance from PReK to high school, whether rehearsal or opening night. Looking at the performers’ faces and seeing such happiness & joy, Joanne wanted the very best for them. That’s why she designed the auditorium so they could have the best space possible in which to reach their goals.”
After the revealing of the plaque outside the Auditorium, Paul Ruggiero ended the ceremony with a quote from Plato — “I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”
Watch the ceremony, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, below:
(NOTE: Some of the above photos are from State Senator Bruce Tarr’s blog.)
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