William H. Macy was weeping.
But there were no cameras around; these tears were real. The year was 1965 — decades before the Oscar-nominated actor gained fame for his roles in Fargo, Jurassic Park III and Pleasantville, among others.
Macy, a member of Explorer Post 10, was halfway into a mile-long portage at the Boy Scouts of America’s Region 7 Canoe Base in northern Wisconsin. Macy was 15 years old and weighed just 110 pounds at the time, but he carried a 75-pound pack on his back and a canoe on his shoulders.
He was carrying more than his weight.
“I kept hearing everyone saying, ‘Let’s not stop. We don’t need a break. We can do it. We can do this,'” Macy said. “And I kept walking, and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and I thought I was going to die.”
After another 500 feet, he reached the end of the portage.
“And they lifted this canoe off of my head, and a couple of people looked at me and sort of laughed,” he said. “But it wasn’t a derisive laugh. They were sort of laughing with me. My face was covered with dust from this long walk, and I had been weeping for about the last half mile. And there were these great tear tracks through the dust.”
The tears weren’t because Macy was sad, he said, “it was just it was so painful it squeezed it out of me.”
Then Bob Moreland, one of the post’s advisers, came up and complimented Macy with words the actor remembers 51 years later.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘You got a lot of spunk, kid.’ And I’ve carried that with me to this day — that I have a lot of spunk,” Macy said. “Carried more than my weight, more than a mile.”
Watch the video in which Macy recollects this memorable moment at the end of the post.
His start in Scouting
These days, Macy stars in the critically acclaimed (but not-safe-for-Scouts) TV series Shameless on Showtime. He plays an alcoholic on the show, but the real Macy is pretty much the opposite of the character he plays on television.
He has supported numerous charitable causes, including the Alzheimer’s Association, UNICEF and United Cerebral Palsy. That’s no surprise, given that Macy got his start in Scouting — and still has the Boy Scout membership card to prove it.
Macy was a member of Exploring, which was split into two programs in 1998: a career-exploration program called Exploring and a co-ed Scouting program called Venturing.
Explorer Post 10 was chartered by LaVale United Methodist Church in LaVale, Md. Last month, Post 10 held a 50-year reunion during which members reminisced about that 1965 trip to Region 7 Canoe Base, which closed in 1983.
The former Explorers talked about selling lightbulbs to raise money for the trip, drinking water directly from the lakes (a no-no today) and the scenic, 1,000-mile journey to Boulder Junction, Wis., in a school bus.
Macy couldn’t make it to the reunion, so he sent in the video below. He’s never forgotten the way a high-adventure trip can shape a young person for life. In fact, the actor was so inspired that he made a donation to Post 10’s scholarship fund, meaning more Scouts will experience high adventure.
Fifty-one years later, William H. Macy is still carrying more than his weight.
Thanks to Chip Zimmer, Doug Schwab and Charles Nicholson for sharing their memories and photos for this post.