By James Cook, Times Editor and Sarah Bloom, Times Reporter
Robert Heft, affectionately known as the father of our modern flag, died last Saturday afternoon. He was 67, a cause of death was not immediately known. One of his last speeches about the flag was in Clay City just eight days before his death.
Heft designed the 50 star flag as part of a classroom assignment in 1958. He was 17 years old and made a B- but his teacher told him the grade could improve if Washington accepted his idea. At the time there were only 48 states with Alaska about to join the Union. Hawaii soon followed and President Dwight D. Eisenhower called Heft to tell him that his design had been accepted. The flag was ratified in 1960
Heft, known to all who met him as Bob, never married and became a motivational speaker. He would travel the country and tell his story about perseverance. He spoke to a group of students and parents at Clay City Elementary at their Winterfest on Dec. 4
Heft and senatorial candidate Bill Johnson made the impromptu visit on their way to another engagement. “He saw the crowd and wanted to stop in,” Johnson said on Monday. “He loved talking to kids and when they joined him in saying the Pledge there, it made his day. He talked about it the rest of the weekend.” Johnson confirmed that Heft’s visit at Clay City was his last with a school group.
In fact news accounts out of Saginaw, Michigan and interview accounts with friends indicate he had spoken about the visit to Clay City and was happy he got to visit.
Johnson, who seemed to be upset with the untimely death of Heft, admitted that he was caught by surprise but knew Heft enjoyed his visit to Powell County. “I know he loved speaking to those children (at Clay City). He enjoyed it and I hope they enjoyed too. It is not every day that history walks in to talk to you,” Johnson stated. “If anyone has that on videotape, of him and the kids reciting the Pledge, I would love to have a copy of it. I know his family would too. He was quite the patriot and loved America.”
Heft’s funeral is scheduled for today (Thursday) in Michigan. Next July 4 the flag he designed will turn 50 years old, it is already the longest running U.S. Flag design in history.