Ennis Love only got to drive it once—the 1937 Studebaker pickup that he spent the last five years of his life building.
But proceeds from the shiny red truck, which he had overseen from the ground up, will now go toward telling the story that Ennis came to love so much during the last six months of his life.
Those last six months brought a transformation that left his wife and five children in no doubt of his eternal destination.
“When he accepted Christ, he just totally changed,” said Jackie, his wife of 34 years. “He became filled with the Holy Spirit and was on fire for the Lord. I often wonder if he had lived longer what amazing things he could have done.”
Ennis Love was a strong East Texas man. Born in 1949 to parents who grew up in the Depression, he was a hard worker. He ran his pipeline services company with great integrity and treated his employees with the highest regard. But he was not given to sharing his feelings.
“It was hard to talk to my dad because he just wasn’t that ‘sit down and tell me’ kind of father,” said his middle daughter, Kim. “He was, a lot of times, all about business.”
You might say that Ennis’ adult life was characterized by three love letters, the first from Kim.
Kim didn’t have a close relationship with Ennis when she was growing up because he worked all the time. But when she was 33, her mom—Ennis’ first wife—died of pancreatic cancer, and Kim began to crave a relationship with him. In desperation, she wrote him a letter.
She explained her need to be close. She told him that when she called him, she felt more like a business associate than a daughter, that she should state her name and her business and hang up, that she couldn’t simply say, “Hey Dad, I was just thinking about you.”
She asked one of his workers to deliver the letter. Ennis called her immediately.
“I cannot believe what I just read,” he said. “How can you feel this way? I thought we had a great relationship.”
“That’s just it, Dad. This is great for you. But it’s not for us.” She knew her siblings, at least her sisters, felt the same way. The conversation ended, and 15 minutes later, he called back.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” he said. “I just wasn’t raised to show those emotions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel that way inside. You kids are my life, and I love you more than anything. I can’t do anything about the past, but I can promise you that from this day forward, I’ll be different.”
After that, he called each of his five kids once a week just to see how they were doing. That was Ennis Love. Committed to his wife and children, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends.
And to old cars. He had joined a local car club while running Love Pipeline Services and at one time owned three antiques that he loved to show. After selling his business and retiring in 2008, he got the bright idea to build the Studebaker.
It was a five-year journey.
“The truck started with an S-10 Chevrolet pickup,” said his youngest son, Josh. “They used the lower half of the cab and about three feet of the frame. Everything else was built from scratch. And it was all top-notch. That truck was my dad’s baby.”
In December 2013—while the truck was in Arizona—Ennis was diagnosed with lung cancer. The Studebaker was returned home and Josh, his older brother, Eric, and some friends managed its completion, just weeks before Ennis’ death.
Meanwhile, Ennis’ daughters were concerned about more than the truck. They had grown up thinking their father was a Christian, but as adults, they weren’t certain he knew the Lord.
“We could just see there was something missing in his heart,” Kim said. Which posed a problem: How do you tell someone of his stature that you’re not sure their eternal destination is Heaven?
Kristie had an idea—Love Letter No. 2.
“This is something I wish I could say to you face to face, but it’s too hard for me,” she wrote. She told him she was concerned about his relationship with the Lord, that God could help him through his illness if he would lean on Him, and that she was worried about his eternity.
Along with her own letter, she gave him a Bible—Love Letter No. 3. She explained that she had read through the Bible the previous year and was doing so again, and she invited him to read it with her. He read the letter and left it and the Bible lying on the table for a couple of days. And then Jackie noticed the Bible was missing.
A few days later, a story began to unfold. Ennis had started reading the Bible. He had not let on to his family the depth of despair he had been feeling. The chemotherapy was making him sick and the cancer wasn’t getting any better. For the first time in his life, he felt completely out of control, and he didn’t want to live anymore. The Bible began to penetrate his heart, and one day he simply walked outside in his back yard, fell to his knees and lifted his hands toward Heaven.
“Lord, if You are real, You’re going to have to help me because I can’t do this anymore,” he prayed. He told his family later that he felt like God grabbed his hands, lifted him to his feet and took over his entire being.
He went back inside to his wife with these words: “Something has happened to me! I’m different!”
“You could see it all over him,” Kim said. “He told all of us just how much he loved us and how sorry he was for all the years of not telling us, and he told our brothers: ‘Don’t be like I was. You need to tell people the way you feel.’”
He read his Bible constantly and told everybody he saw about Jesus. “Can you believe what happened to me?” he would say. And then he would proceed with his testimony.
“His one regret was that he didn’t get to tell more people about Jesus,” Kim said. When he was in hospice, he asked for a visit with the two pastors who would be officiating at his funeral, and he gave them the message he wanted delivered at his service. “Don’t wait, like I did. Don’t be hard like I was. Jesus is real.”
His funeral, in August 2014, was a beautiful service proclaiming that urgent message. The circular drive outside the church was lined with classic cars from his car club buddies. And the Studebaker, driven by Josh, was parked under the awning, just 30 feet from the church doors.
His death left Jackie with a question: what to do with the truck. Finally, she made what everyone agreed was the best possible decision: She would donate it to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, where it could be used to further the spread of the Gospel.
This past January, Jackie received a call from BGEA that the car was about to be auctioned off at the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida. She cried.
“Ennis loved the Mecum Auction,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read through the years while I sat with him as he watched it on television. He would watch it live, and he would watch replays.”
But BGEA had even greater news: Franklin would be at the auction, and he would be sharing the Gospel, just like Ennis would if he were there.
The family watched the auction as it was broadcast live.
“Franklin basically told John 3:16 in front of the whole world,” Kim said. “We just cried and cried because it was like, Dad is still telling people about Jesus five years later.”
Photo: Mecum Auctions