Churchill's past, present come together in auditorium
Feb. 7, 2001
Janet Rathner
Staff Writer

Tom Fedor/The Gazette

A committee has decided Winston Churchill High School's auditorium will be named after Dr. Gertrude Bish, the school's first principal.

While the new Winston Churchill High School bears scant resemblance to the old as it emerges from 2 1/2 years of construction, a link to the past is being maintained through naming the new auditorium in honor of the Potomac school's first principal, Dr. Gertrude Bish.

"We have decided and the community approved it," said George Nemcosky, a Churchill art teacher and colleague of the late educator.

With the backing of a committee made up of Churchill staff, students and Potomac residents, Nemcosky championed incorporating Bish's name into the auditorium's.

"We're being renovated. We needed something to tie the new building to the old," Nemcosky said.

Churchill is undergoing a $31 million modernization that is expected to be completed by September.

Nemcosky said Bish's name is a fitting bond between the old Churchill and the new. He said she was the first woman to hold a high school administrator position in Montgomery County, and was there in 1964 when the Gainsborough Road building, then known as Potomac High School, opened its doors.

She was also responsible for changing the school's name to Winston Churchill, and successfully lobbied to make auditoriums essential additions for high schools.

Prior to Bish's efforts "gymatoriums," gyms with a stage at one end, were the norm, Nemcosky said.

Churchill received its first auditorium in the early 1980s.

Bish died in 1997 at the age of 84, leaving behind an impressive paper trail. Stepson John Bish, a management consultant in Mill Valley, Calif., said his stepmother, who had no children of her own, ended her career as an area director for Montgomery County Public Schools.

What apparently has been lost to time is Bish's motivation in successfully lobbying to change Potomac High School's name to honor the World War II-era British prime minister.

"She was a real history buff and was interested in creative people who ... get things done," said John Bish, speculating on the South Dakota native and long-time Bethesda resident's interest in Churchill.

Churchill parent Sherry Wachtel, a member of the auditorium naming committee, said the community was invited to submit other possible monikers for the auditorium last fall.

"Nobody suggested any others," Wachtel said.

The auditorium name is not official until the Board of Education votes on it. Wachtel said the committee would submit its proposal within the next few weeks. She said no opposition is expected and that board approval is strictly a formality.