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Published: Sunday, 12/13/2009

Area ex-mayor created 50-star flag

Heft Heft

Robert G. Heft, 67, a former Napoleon mayor and councilman who designed the 50-star U.S. flag that has flown everywhere for nearly 50 years, died Saturday in Covenant Medical Center, Cooper Campus, Saginaw, Mich.

He had diabetes and cardiovascular problems, said John Senyko, a friend in Saginaw.

Mr. Heft left Napoleon council in 1998 to be close to family in his native Saginaw. He was Napoleon's mayor for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s and served another term in the early 1990s.

For decades, he traveled thousands of miles a year to tell the story of his 50-star flag and to promote patriotism and reverence toward Old Glory. Along the way, he gave his adopted hometown a boost.

"He was good for the community," current Mayor Andy Small said. "He really put Napoleon on the map. The very first time you met him, you knew he designed the first 50-star flag."

Mr. Heft regularly dressed in red, white, and blue, and his Ohio license plate was 50FLAG.

"Everyone knew him," said Linda Howe, a friend and former director of the Henry County Board of Elections.

He was raised by his grandparents in Lancaster, Ohio. As a child, he read about Betsy Ross and wondered how the flag would change when Alaska and Hawaii became states. In 1958, to save himself from failing American history, he took scissors and a sewing machine to the family flag and arranged 50 stars against a field of blue. He didn't fail, but the teacher was unimpressed and gave his handiwork a B-minus.

According to the Ohio Historical Marker outside Lancaster High School, his teacher promised to raise the grade if Mr. Heft "submitted the flag design to their congressman, Walter Moeller," who then passed the design to the Congressional Flag Design Committee.

Alaska became a state in January, 1959, and Hawaii became a state in August, 1959.

The flag committee received many designs, but "they gave me credit for the design since mine was the first one in Washington and was not just a drawing," Mr. Heft told the former Toledo Times in 1975.

According to the historical marker at Lancaster High, "President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the design the official American flag in 1960. It is the only flag in American history to have flown over the White House for more than five administrations."

Mr. Heft was invited to Washington by President Eisenhower for the official raising of the new flag over the Capitol on July 4, 1960.

Mr. Heft was a graduate of Ohio State University. He moved to Napoleon in the early 1970s to manage the local movie theater and drive-in. Later, he sold real estate and taught at Northwest State Community College, Archbold.

There are no immediate survivors. He had a nephew and great-nephew in the Saginaw area, said Rodney Wakeman, a funeral director and co-owner of Wakeman Funeral Home.

"Beyond his blood relations, his next family were all his friends," said Mr. Wakeman, who became a friend as a fellow member of the Lions Club.

Mr. Heft was a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Saginaw.

Arrangements are pending at the Wakeman Funeral Home, Saginaw.

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