Young prospector’s wish granted
By Sarah Reijonen
A prospector’s biggest wish is to find a shiny, gold nugget staring up at him from the earth.
In mid-July, nine-year-old Evan Valentino’s wish was granted in multiple ways. With the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Valentino, who has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma since October 2014, got to hold a nugget in his hand—a nugget that he found with the help of “Frying Pan” Frank Powell and Gold Prospecting Adventures, LLC.
“Evan’s always been interested in finding treasure since he was little; he has been metal detecting,” said Evan’s mother, Shauna Bowman.
Powell, who is a Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association and Gold Prospectors Association of America member, has been a part-time guide and instructor at Gold Prospecting Adventures in Jamestown, Calif. for three years, but he has never had an experience like this one, he said.
“The joy I found from helping him find gold is worth a million dollars to me,” Powell said. “I didn’t really know how to react at first and know how to act. I have a lesson and all kinds of things I normally do with people from all over the world ... but we just played it by ear.”
After being contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants “wishes” for children ages three to 17 with life-threatening medical conditions, Powell set up the California adventure of a lifetime for Valentino, his mother, father and older sister. They started out with a gold prospecting trip to Woods Creek, where Evan found his first bit of gold, .8 pennyweight, then they explored Yosemite and Calaveras County’s cave systems.
“We had several highlights. (Evan) got to sit in the pilot’s cockpit on the trip there before we took off. We got to stay in a haunted hotel ... and he saw mountains for the first time,” Bowman said. “We saw Moaning Caverns and him and his dad got to go zip lining, which I think was his favorite.”
Powell bookended the trip with more prospecting at LDMA’s Italian Bar Camp.
“The I-Bar was really cool because it’s down in a canyon, and it’s a really neat setting down there and everybody was really friendly with him,” said Powell, who mentioned that Evan even got a sneak peak at some of the other miner’s nugget collections while he was visiting.
In addition to his initial find at Wood’s Creek, Evan also unearthed a 1.8 pennyweight nugget at Italian Bar, Powell said.
“That was a pretty nice chunk of gold; he found it with a metal detector,” Powell said. “We had a little highbanker going on the shore, but it was on the I-Bar property that he found it. Not too many people had been working that spot since the flood came through and deposited a whole bunch of material there on the downstream side. We spent the afternoon down there.”
Powell captured the moment on camera, but the scene will be etched in his mind forever.
“You can see the joy in his face when he’s holding that nugget up,” Powell said.
The experience also gave Powell a new outlook on life, he said. In fact, his emotions boiled over the first morning of the trip, even before meeting Valentino. Powell said he saw some of the usual guys bumming around his shop, guys who were constantly getting picked up by the police and known for drinking their days away, and couldn’t contain his frustration at the way they were living their lives, as Valentino has been fighting for his.
“These guys are just wasting their lives. This kid wants to live. He’s fighting hard, and here are these guys just wasting their lives, so I went off on them. I usually don’t do that ... but it’s moments like this that really make me think clear,” Powell said.
Despite his battle with cancer, including eight months of chemotherapy and nearly two weeks of radiation, Evan was all smiles and upbeat, and finding gold meant more to him than a paycheck, Powell said. Valentino has been in remission since May 2015, Bowman said.
“He was such a bubbly kid and so full of life, and he wants to live,” Powell said. “It’s different for most prospectors that are out there trying to get gold who are doing it for money or a trophy or something. He really wanted to do this. It was really, really special — for him and for me.”
As fragile as life is, Powell said that just 48 hours with Evan has impacted him for a lifetime.
“I was honored to be with him for two days of his life,” Powell said.
Sarah Reijonen is a member of the Gold Prospectors Association of America and a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.