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Published: Tuesday, 10/28/2008

Designer of U.S. flag urges focus on goals

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bob Heft, designer of the 50-star flag, talks to senior citizens at Swan Creek Retirement Center. Bob Heft, designer of the 50-star flag, talks to senior citizens at Swan Creek Retirement Center.
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Bob Heft, who has been called the Betsy Ross of America's 50-star flag, said yesterday he's proof that good things can happen to those who stay focused on a goal.

"If you believe in something and it's proper, don't let anyone discourage you," Mr. Heft said, referring to advice he typically imparts on youth. The comment was made during an hour-long talk with 40 residents of Swan Creek Retirement Village, 5916 Cresthaven Lane.

Now a resident of Saginaw, Mich., the 66-year-old former Napoleon mayor was a longtime educator for Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio.

He figures his life would have turned out much differently if he'd initially received the A he felt he deserved for an American history project in 1958 at Lancaster High School in Ohio, where he graduated.

He spent a weekend replacing the blue background on his family's 48-star flag with one that had 50 stars.

His teacher, to his dismay, wasn't that impressed by his 12-plus hours of labor. He gave him a B-.

Mr. Heft, 17 at the time, said he was told the only way he could get an A was if he went to Washington and got his idea for a 50-star flag accepted, which he did.

He said he was motivated not only because he thought America was on the verge of getting two more states, but also because he was jealous of a classmate who got an A just for sticking five leaves in a notebook and identifying them on the way to class.

"If [the teacher] had said 'Here's an A,' then that would have been it," Mr. Heft said.

With the help of public officials, including former Ohio Gov. Michael DiSalle of Toledo, Mr. Heft's flag was accepted. Last year, it surpassed the 48-star flag as the nation's longest for continuous service.

Mr. Heft recalled a lot of talk about Alaska becoming the 49th state in 1958. At the time, it was a heavily Democratic state. President Dwight Eisenhower was Republican, as was the U.S. Senate.

He figured the 1960 race for the presidency between Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon would be one of the closest in history, which proved to be true. He also figured Hawaii, being mostly Republican, would be granted statehood for political balance before that election.

That's what happened: Alaska and Hawaii were both were granted statehood in 1959.

Mr. Heft's parents weren't happy with him for tearing up the family's old 48-star flag and sewing on a new background with 50 stars. It was the only time in his life he used a sewing machine.

Little did they know he was making the investment of a lifetime.

Mr. Heft said he has received offers as high as $3.5 million for the flag he used to get his 50-star design approved.

He wants to sell it to somebody willing to keep it on display for the public. At least one of his potential buyers has offered to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution, he said.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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