By Sarah Bloom, Times Reporter
It’s not very often that a real piece of American history walks into a small town elementary school lunchroom. Such was the case Friday night at the Clay City Elementary School when Robert “Bob” Heft, designer of the current and longest flying American flag, made a surprise stop as students, parents, and staff were enjoying the annual Winterfest.
Just as the musical entertainment for the evening was wrapping up, a lively fellow in a red, white, and blue shirt came through the door escorted by Republican senatorial candidate Bill Johnson. Johnson stepped to the microphone and announced that as he and Heft were passing through town en-route to a speaking engagement they noticed the full parking lot and decided to make an unscheduled stop.
As the children quickly gathered around the stage Heft began to explain his story and suddenly the enormity of what these lucky students were beholding became clear. They were fortunate enough to be audience to a genuine and priceless piece of American history. Heft carefully related the story of how a poorly scored assignment from his high school history class inevitably changed his life.
In 1958 Bob was seventeen and merely wanted to pass his history class. So when his teacher once again announced it was time for the projects the students were to do outside of the classroom he decided to build on his childhood fascination with flags. At the time there was much political talk surrounding the decision on whether or not to make Alaska the 49th state. With an important Presidential election on the horizon Bob came to the deduction that there was simply no way the powers that be would settle for an unbalanced Democrat and Republican ratio and would therefore be more likely to adopt two new states. So he made it his project to construct a new American flag with 50 stars instead of the then-current 48 star flag with the assumption that the United States would indeed one day have fifty states.
As he nervously stood before his high school history class and gave his presentation he had no idea how this small project would shape the rest of his life. Upset as his teacher handed him a disappointing B- for his efforts he took it as a personal goal when his teacher said he would be willing to raise his grade if Bob could get Washington to accept his flag. That was all the incentive the spunky seventeen year old needed and with much determination the rest of the story is what you would call “history”.
After much work and waiting Heft’s flag was adopted as the new symbol representing the United States of America shortly after Hawaii was ratified on August 21, 1959. Keeping with the country’s tradition the fiftieth star was added to the flag on the fourth of July in 1960 with the adoption of Heft’s rendering. Since the flag selection is a presidential decision Bob received a call from President Eisenhower himself notifying him of the honor.
Bob pressed home the point to his young audience “that hard work and determination was the key to achieving your goals.” He also told them to never give up on their dreams and that with much effort those dreams would become reality.
In closing Bill Johnson offered to have the students come forward and have their picture taken with the man of history. The swarm of children that engulfed Heft was amusing and his smile beamed as they all gathered around and recited the Pledge of Allegiance…a fitting tribute to the man who created our current flag and symbol of our freedom.