On Friday, March 7, after the first part of the “Gold Rush” Season 4 finale aired on Discovery Channel, fans worried about the health of legendary Alaskan miner John Schnabel, the beloved “grandpa” of 19-year-old miner Parker Schnabel, who’s been working this season for equally legendary Canadian miner Tony Beets in the Klondike.
The elder Schnabel was undergoing treatment for a recurrence of cancer, and fans rushed to the Internet, concerned that something terrible had happened to the kindly 94-year-old, whose gentle manner, sage advice and obvious love for his grandson have endeared him to viewers’ hearts.
But Parker assuaged fans’ fears, tweeting, “My grandpa is way more of a bada** than I’ll ever be.”
And by the end of the episode, Schnabel and both grandsons — Payson and Parker — were back at Smith Creek, part of a family claim deeded to them jointly by Schnabel (according to him, 49 percent to each grandson, with two percent to their mother, Nancy, as a tiebreakers). To their delight, they found some sizable nuggets, proving the stake isn’t yet played out.
The concluding part of the finale airs tonight (Friday, March 14), and John Schnabel calls in to Zap2it from his home in Alaska to talk about his health, life on television, Parker and the sort of granddaughter-in-law he’d like someday:
On how he’s feeling: “I am feeling wonderful, thank you. I am doing so far beyond my expectations that I have begun to think of things to do. I can’t quite adjust, because my mind is about 35 years old, and my body’s about 94, so I haven’t got it synchronized. I find I can’t do everything I think I can.”
On becoming “America’s grandpa”: “Well, that seems to be, for the past several years, the theme. I’ve made quite a few trips for cancer treatment to Seattle, and all the way, a big string of people follow me through the airports. Even, on the last trip on the plane, I hugged six people who photographed me. You just don’t have much privacy. You sit down in a restaurant to eat, and people come over, ‘Oh, you’re Parker’s grandpa!’ And I say, ‘Yes, I am, and proud of it.’
“I look upon this as something that I’ve contributed to other people that uplifts them a little bit perhaps. In a lot of letters, people say they wish they were so lucky to have the same relationship as we seem to show on Discovery Channel, with my son, my daughter, my son’s wife, Parker and Payson, my two grandsons, and I. We feel like we’re all working together.
“We can hug each other; we all love each other. People view that on the screen … I got a letter yesterday from a couple in Kentucky, and she says, ‘My husband is a John Wayne clone, but he sheds tears when he watches your show.'”
On Parker’s early years working the family claim at Porcupine Creek: “When Parker was 16, he was much more aggressive and goal-oriented than Payson, who’s more laid-back. But Payson is a wonderful boy. I value him tremendously.
“Parker took over the mine at Porcupine at the age of 16, and he had a few growing-up pains. First of all, he had to get rid of the idea that if you sign the check, you’re the boss. He had to realize that if you want to be a successful miner, signing the check had nothing to do with it. You’ve got to develop a crew that works together as a team.
“He developed that capability so fantastically that he was able to, without fear, load up his stuff and head to Canada, leave behind his family, friends, all the rest of the so-called comforts of having backup close at hand.
“He was able to put it all together to where his crew became respectful, and they stayed with him to make sure he was having a successful year, and he managed it. He doesn’t go around with the face where, ‘I’m somebody, and you have to be nice to me,’ but he goes around and works for people to accept him for what he is, and I love him for that.”
On what young people can learn from Parker: “They should learn that we should face challenges with confidence.”
On Parker’s future: “He wants to be a mining engineer, and I have uncertainty as to whether that’s the right thing to do. Mining is such an up-and-down affair. …. He’ll probably get married, because thousands of girls already want to marry him.
“I’ll always remember the Valentine he got. It says, ‘Dear Parker: If you would be my Valentine, I would think I have struck gold.'”
On what would be the ideal woman for Parker: “A woman for Parker would be one who is able to understand his goals and his dreams, first of all, and a woman who also has enough foresight, education and whatever it takes, to understand the difficulty and problems that one has to face in life. So, be supportive but at the same time be independent.”
On his relationship with his own wife of 63 years (she suffered strokes a few years ago and doesn’t appear on the show): “I go to bed every night with her, and I said to her this morning, as I kissed her, I said, ‘You know, ever since that song ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning,’ starts rattling around in my head, you’re the beneficiary.’
“I hope Parker finds a woman that he can spend a lifetime with and be comfortable with for all the years they are together.”
On what he, as a devout Christian, thinks matters most: “There’s nothing on Earth more challenging than to get married and hold in your hands a little babe, maybe five days old or less, and what it’ll do to you mentally … you are convinced this whole life is worthwhile, it’s right there.
“We had five children, and believe you me, I think the toughest challenge in my entire life was how to be a father. It’s very, very hard for parents to learn how to be a parent, and that is tough.
“If Parker were to marry a woman who didn’t use him as a vehicle to, say, project herself, I think life would be wonderful.”
On whether Tony Beets is proud of his protege: “Oh, Tony Beets is happy as a hog in a cornfield.”