Bob Heft: Flag designer visits Morenci 2004.11.24

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

When Bob Heft visited Morenci Elementary School Friday, he stated it was his first trip to the city because his previous engagement was canceled due to weather conditions.

It’s true that an earlier visit was canceled, but with the dozens of school visits he makes annually, Heft forgot that he made up for the cancelation with a trip here in November 2004.

Following is a story that was published in the Observer after his earlier visit.


By DAVID GREEN

He just did it for the grade. That’s why Bob Heft designed the 50-star flag of the United States. And it wasn’t all that good of a grade, either.

Heft was in Morenci Friday to tell high school students the story of his flag creation. His tale and his style were compelling enough to keep kids silent in the bleachers for an hour.

“I was the shyest kid you’d ever want to know,” said the Lancaster, Ohio, native who now gives about 300 presentations a year. “I couldn’t get up in front of a class.”bob.heft.jpg

A history class project changed all that for Heft, who was 17 years old at the time. He said he had some interest in politics as a student and he recalled hearing that Alaska might be admitted to the Union as the 49th state. That isn’t going to work, he thought, not with Dwight Eisenhower as president.

“If we take in Democratic Alaska, we’ll have to take in another state to balance it out.”

That was his reasoning and so his project became the design of a 50-star flag. He was no Betsy Ross.

“An interesting fact of history is that I had never sewn before I designed that flag,” Heft said. “Another interesting fact of history is that I have never sewn since.”

He spent $2.87 to buy some blue and white cloth and went to work. He can still remember sitting on his living room floor cutting up the family’s 48-star flag. That’s when his mother walked in from the kitchen and had a fit.

He explained his project and once he had the stars cut and ready for sewing, he asked his mother for help. She turned him down, so he went to the old Singer treadle machine in the basement and tried to figure it out himself.

The front of the flag looked good, but the back was another story.

“I didn’t know how to tack and baste so I used Scotch tape.”

Twelve and a half hours later, it was ready to take to school.

His friend created a leaf collection while riding a bus on the way to school. He earned a grade of A. Heft, with all the time he devoted, was insulted by the teacher—“You don’t even know how many states there are!”—and received a B-.

“I was really steamed,” Heft said.

It was unlike him to argue with a teacher, but the challenge changed his life.

“Get it accepted in Washington and I’ll change your grade,” his teacher said.

His congressman lived in Lancaster, so Heft went to his house and told him he had a 50-star flag in the box he was holding.

“No you don’t,” the congressman answered. “They don’t make them.”

Heft gave his spiel and the flag was taken to Washington. The next year, when Heft was in twelfth grade, Alaska was taken in and there was talk of Hawaii following. Heft made 28 calls to the White House to push for his flag. Eventually he received a call saying that his entry would be among those examined by a commission for a new flag design.

On April 18, 1958, Heft received a call from Pres. Eisenhower telling him that his flag was selected. He was invited to the White House for a July 4 ceremony, and how did Heft respond? He put the President on hold while he asked his boss if it would be all right. His boss told him to by all means get there.

“Dwight, are you still there?” he asked when he returned to the phone.

Heft sat with the President on a stage for the ceremony, but there was something else on his mind. He wanted to talk to his former history teacher about the grade he received.

Mr. Pratt was doing lesson plans at summer school when Heft arrived, trailed by television cameras and newspaper reporters.

“I don’t think you want to go down in history as the person who gave our flag a B-,” Heft said.

He finally got his A.

The original flag is still in Heft’s possession and he recently turned down an offer of half a million dollars for the sale.

Heft closed by reminding students that they’re preparing themselves for the rest of their lives and to make sure their education counts. Everyone has potential, he said, but not everyone uses it.

“America is a not a perfect country,” Heft said, “but far and away it’s the greatest country on Earth.”

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