Jay Copp 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The grand old flag gave Robert Heft a grand life. The Michigan Lion, who died in December, designed the 50-star flag in 1958 as a 17-year-old high school junior in Ohio for a U.S. history class. The teacher gave him a B- but later changed the grade to an A after his design was selected out of more than 1,500 others submitted to Congress as Hawaii and Alaska neared statehood. Heft cleverly and frugally took his family’s 48-star flag and used $2.87 worth of blue cloth and white iron-on material to create the 50-star flag. It took him 12 hours to arrange and sew the stars. Many other designs also alternated rows of five and six stars and at least three designs were identical to Heft’s. But he apparently was the only one to stitch together a flag. Heft’s congressman, U.S. Rep. Walter Moeller, took the flag to Washington, D. C., the U.S. Flag Selection Committee and eventually the desk of President Dwight Eisenhower. Congress accepted his design on July 4, 1960. Heft was something of a rags-toriches American success story himself. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, he lived with his grandparents in Lancaster, Ohio, after his parents separated when he was about 1 year old. He taught high school for 10 years before becoming a professor in Ohio for 22 years. He also served as mayor of Napoleon, Ohio. Never married, Heft traveled the world for decades telling his own Betsy Ross saga. He visited all 50 states and nearly 60 countries. “He was the greatest patriot I ever knew,” said Wil Hufton, a fellow member of the Saginaw Downtown Lions Club. “He’d visit schools and VFW halls giving speeches for free.” Heft’s teacher told him he would change his grade if the flag was accepted by Congress. That promise was central to Heft’s motivational speeches.“His message was don’t lose sight of your dreams. There is no challenge that you can’t overcome,” said Hufton. Heft’s original flag has flown over the White House, every state capitol building and 88 U.S. embassies. Heft was well-traveled, too. He visited the White House as a presidential guest more than a dozen times and flew on Air Force One nine times with six presidents. He toured with celebrities and appeared on their TV shows. “Bob Hope, Dolly Parton, Johnny Carson, Regis Philbin–ask him who he met and he’d say, ‘Give me a name,’ ” said Hufton. Despite his fame, Heft did not take himself too seriously. “He was a large man. He’d say, ‘My name is Heft. Just look at me. But you can call me Bob,’ ” recalled Hufton. One thing Heft was serious about was Lions. He served as district governor and took a special interest in Lions Bear Lake Camp and the Special Needs Vision Clinic, both of which serve disadvantaged children. Hufton, who was cabinet secretary when Heft was district governor, said Heft’s interest in children with challenges stemmed from his own family. Imitating the benevolence of his grandparents, Heft raised a nephew. Some of his relatives grew up in abject poverty and abused drugs, said Hufton. Heft died at age 67 of congestive heart failure. His will, filed by Hufton, stipulated that a grand-nephew receive the proceeds of his assets and his four grand-nephews and grand-nieces get the cash from the sale of the flag he designed, as long as they remain drug free. Heft once received an offer of $250,000 for the flag but declined the bid. “He had it insured for a million,” said Hufton.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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