In 1957, Harrison Ford — long before portraying that hero from a galaxy far, far away — played a heroic role much closer to home.
That’s the year the man who would become Han Solo served on staff at Boy Scout Camp Napowan in central Wisconsin.
Ford, who turned 15 that summer, worked in the nature area, officials at the BSA’s Pathway to Adventure Council confirmed to me this week.
“There is a canoe paddle at Camp Napowan in the dining hall with Harrison Ford’s name on it,” said Aaron Vikemyr, who recently moved to the Three Fires Council.
Jonathan Howe, an Eagle Scout and Chicago attorney, served on staff at Napowan for six or seven summers. One of those summers he staffed with a young man named Harry.
Howe remembers Harrison Ford as a “good guy — a bit on the shy side.” On days off from camp, Howe and Ford would head to Waupaca, Wis., or other nearby towns to “kick off our shoes and get away from the campers for a day,” Howe said.
Howe had no sense back then that he was hanging out with a future movie star. They were just a couple of Scouts who loved the outdoors.
“If someone had told me when we were there that Harry was going to become an actor, I don’t think that would’ve been on my radar,” Howe told me by phone this week.
The two had fallen out of touch when, in 1973, Howe saw the film American Graffiti and spotted a familiar face.
“That’s Harry Ford, my God!” Howe remembers thinking.
The first Indiana Jones movie came out eight years after that, with his former fellow staffer playing a role that didn’t really surprise Howe.
After all, Ford’s time as a Scout “in the outdoors sort of led him to have a natural affection for playing a role like Indiana Jones,” Howe said.
Harrison Ford, former Scout
Harrison Ford was a Boy Scout; that much we know.
The BSA’s national headquarters doesn’t keep historical records on Scouting ranks earned, other than Eagle Scout. But multiple online sources say Ford was a Life Scout — the rank immediately below Eagle Scout.
The BSA’s own “100 Things You Didn’t Know About Scouting” from 2010 says Ford was a Life Scout, and Howe remembers the same.
So while I can’t say so definitively, it would be fitting for Ford to have earned Scouting’s second-highest rank. After all, Indiana Jones was a Life Scout — as confirmed by young Indy’s uniform in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Indiana Jones’ Scouting status makes even more sense when you remember that The Last Crusade was directed by Eagle Scout Steven Spielberg.
Harrison Ford, snake charmer
Remember how Indiana Jones was deathly afraid of snakes?
The man who portrayed him was basically the opposite.
Ford taught the Reptile Study merit badge during his summer at Camp Napowan, according to the June 1994 issue of Boys’ Life magazine.
“Unlike the Indiana Jones portrayal, he was fine handling a snake,” Howe remembers.
Harrison Ford, real-life hero
Earlier this year I blogged about the time Harrison Ford rescued a lost Boy Scout in 2001.
After Ford landed his helicopter to save Cody Clawson, he said “good morning” to the young man, who told the Daily Mail he’ll never forget that voice.
“The way he said it reminded me so much of his role of Han Solo in Star Wars. Then I was like, ‘Oh my God, Han Solo has just rescued me. How cool is that?’”
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out this week, we’ll soon know who else Han Solo might rescue.
How to plan a camp reunion
In his role as chairman of the Napowan Reunion Committee, Howe invited Harry Ford to Camp Napowan’s 50th anniversary reunion about 15 years ago. While he never heard back from the actor, Howe and his fellow Napowan alumni had a great time.
The Friday-to-Sunday event allowed former staff and campers time to reconnect, tour the camp and see how it has held up over the years.
The goal wasn’t fundraising, but the council did earn some money to help improve the camp.
Really, though, the point was familiar faces reuniting in a familiar place.
“The alumni of staff and those who camped there — that’s a great group of people,” Howe said.
Credit: Thanks to Jonathan Howe and Kevin Miller, past Napowan camp staffers, and Aaron Vikemyr, director of camping for the Pathway to Adventure Council, for the tip and photos.