By Jim Sielicki, United Press International
This article appeared in the magazine "THE EXCHANGE/JULY-AUGUST 1988"
If the nation ever gets around to adding a new state to the union, Mayor Robert Heft will have a flag with 51 stars ready to go.
Heft's niche in history is already secure as the designer of the country's 50-star flag 29 years ago, but his dream is to have his second version accepted when a new state is created.
"There's a very good chance that I'd be the very first person in America's history to design two of the nation's flags, if it comes to pass," Heft said.
What began as a high school project for the 45-year-old mayor, real estate businessman and part-time college teacher has evolved into a patriotic mission. Heft travels 100,000 miles annually from his home in Napoleon, a northwest Ohio town of about 9,000 people, to spread the gospel of patriotism and the story of how he designed the flag.
His popularity as a speaker - he averages about 150 engagements a year - extends from commencement exercises to appearances before civic groups. The Army invited him to serve as honorary parade marshal last July 4 in Panama.
"Of course that's my whole life," he says.
Heft did not have such a high profile back in 1958 in Lancaster, Ohio, when his interest in politics and talk of Alaska and Hawaii becoming states prompted him to design a 50-star flag as a school project.
"When I was in school I was really shy," Heft recalled. "I was always the type of kid to sit in the back of the class."
Unfamiliar with a needle and thread and unable to get help from his mother who feared her son's projects would be desecrating the flag, Heft spent 12 1/2 hours one weekend arranging and sewing a new combination of stars.
'The thing is to add it (a star) so no one can tell there is a change in the design," he said. Heft arranged the 50 stars in five rows of six stars alternating with four rows of five stars.
His teacher, Stanley Pratt, gave him a B minus on the project.
"He said it lacked originality," Heft said. "He said anybody could make the flag."
Pratt, however, said he would give Heft a high grade if he could get Congress to accept the design.
Heft took on the challenge and sent his flag to his congressman, Rep. Walter Moeller, who eventually got Heft's design accepted.
Heft said he designed a 51-star version a few weeks after he completed his school project. That flag has six rows of stars, beginning with a row of nine and alternated by rows of eight to achieve a 51-star total.
The proposed 51-star flag is in the hands of Rep. Clarence Miller, R-Ohio.
"I told him to do whatever is necessary if we have a contest again," he said.
The flag that made Heft famous is soiled and faded from frequent display. It has flown over every state capital building and over 88 U.S. embassies. An uneven patch at a lower corner is evidence of an attack on the embassy in Saigon in 1967.
"It's the only flag in America's history to have flown over the White House under five administrations," he said.
Heft said he has turned down offers of up to $350,000 to sell his first flag, and he has no intentions of parting with it.
"But of course the thing that I'm worried about is right now it's the official flag of the country and it takes me all over the world," he said.
Until another state is created and new flag is flown, Heft's flag keeps him busy making money through speaking engagements.