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Planetarium dedicated to former schools superintendent

September 23, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

A former Washington County schools superintendent who died in June is now memorialized in the planetarium that bears his name.

The Washington County school system's planetarium closed for repairs in August 1998 and re-opened in April. The Washington County Board of Education renamed it the William M. Brish Planetarium and held a rededication ceremony Thursday night.

"I know that he would be thrilled and very grateful," said Brish's daughter, Margaret Wagner, who attended the event.

"He loved astronomy. I know this planetarium was a pet of his. He was almost like a kid with things like this, he'd get so excited about them."

The planetarium was built during Brish's 26-year term as superintendent, which ended in 1973. He was a strong advocate of bringing technology to the classroom. He pioneered educational television and many educators consider him an innovator.

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"Those who knew him agree Dr. Brish was light years ahead of his time," Deputy Schools Superintendent Theresa Flak said Thursday.

Resource teacher Rodney Martin, who runs the planetarium, led the ceremony with a description of its history. The dome was completed in May 1969. The projector was installed in July of that year, when astronauts were walking on the moon.

The first planetarium director was William Kenney, who served until 1973. J. Allen Martin served from 1973 until 1984, when Martin took over.

Martin said nearly 500,000 students have come through the planetarium. He recalled an intern, Tania Ruez, who recorded Jupiter's radio sounds, graduated from Harvard University and worked in high energy astronomy.

One of Kenny's student assistants, Craig Freidrich, sent along a gift that his mother presented at the ceremony. Friederich, who earned his doctorate in physics, donated a Maryland flag that flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in June 1991.

Doris Friedrich said the framed flag honors Brish, who through his vision and dedication made the facility possible. It also symbolizes the importance of dreams and education, she said.

Brish's daughter presented a portrait of Brish that will be displayed at the planetarium. A Nigerian student at the University of New Mexico carved the ornate wooden bust and frame using a photograph, she said.

Several former school officials attended the ceremony, including Claude Kitchens, who succeeded Brish as superintendent.

In addition to a renovated projector, the planetarium has 63 new padded chairs, new carpet and its walls were repainted. It has new projection booths in two corners, newly installed picture windows and special effects.

The planetarium has public shows regularly on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for students and children. The current program about the moon landing is called, "We Came in Peace."

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