Bob Heft, a shy 17-year-old high school student in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1958, had to come up with a project for a high school class. He was interested in politics and the talk of Alaska and Hawaii possibly becoming states intrigued him.
An idea began to spark and he wondered, “If indeed we get two more states, what would a 50-star flag look like? How would the arrangement of stars be different from a flag of 48 stars?”
He had little confidence in his sewing skills, so he asked his mother if she would help. She was reluctant. Wouldn’t such a project actually be desecrating the flag?
Disappointed but undaunted, Bob persisted. He carefully unstitched the blue field from his family’s 48-star flag. He sewed on a new blue field, then added 100 stars made of iron-on fabric, 50 to each side. It took him 12 ½ hours one weekend to complete the project.
The trick in designing a new arrangement of stars is to add new ones in such a way that people don’t notice the arrangement has been changed. The old flag had six rows of eight stars each. Bob’s new flag had five rows of six stars each, alternating with four rows of five stars each.
When he submitted the project to his teacher, Stanley Pratt, he received a B- grade. Pratt said it lacked originality. However, the teacher said he would give Bob a higher grade if he could get Congress to accept the design.
So Bob accepted the challenge and sent the design to his congressman, Rep. Walter Mueller, who submitted it. Unfortunately, 1500 other designs also flooded the office of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The good news: Bob’s design won!
Shy Bob became a high school teacher, a college professor, and served as mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, for 28 years. After retiring from teaching, he became a motivational speaker, averaging 150 speeches and 100,000 miles a year.
His original flag flew over every state capitol building and over 88 U.S. embassies. A patch in one corner is evidence of an attack on the embassy in Saigon in 1967.
This year on Flag Day, June 14, remember the shy kid who spent a weekend, reshaping a little bit of history. And remember too that “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
Ron McClung is assistant general secretary for The Wesleyan Church.
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