It was just meant to be. That’s the way Jacob Persing sees it.
Surely it was no coincidence that Jacob loves old Chevy trucks and his neighbor just happened to own one. Surely it was no coincidence that the neighbor had planned to fix it up but was willing to part with it instead. And surely it was no coincidence that Jacob’s stepfather surprised him by buying the beat-up 1977 Chevrolet Scottsdale C10 only a few months before Jacob was given the gut-wrenching news that he had cancer.
Timing is everything. The truck needed Jacob, and Jacob needed the truck.
So when Make-A-Wish Michigan recently handed Jacob the keys to his truck for a second time – after businesses in Traverse City, Mich., joined forces to restore it to “better than new,” as Jacob described it – he now has even more reason to get well.
“It’s gorgeous,” the stunned teenager said after the refurbished truck was unveiled in front of applauding family, friends, volunteers and Make-A-Wish staff members. “It was in really bad shape. The floor boards were ripped up, the speakers were gone. It didn’t look like this, that’s for sure. But everything is done. Everything is fixed. It’s just something I’ll always remember – a way to look back at my struggles and remember what I went through.”
Jacob, a 15-year-old sophomore at Constantine High School (located in southern Michigan near the Indiana border), doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet. He still has to wait four long months for that. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying the truck before, and it won’t stop him now.
“I liked the way the body looked, and I’m into older trucks,” he said. “I came home from school one day and the truck was sitting in our driveway, and I said, ‘How’d the neighbor’s truck get in our driveway?’ And (my stepdad) told me he bought it for me. That was a big surprise. I sat in it for three hours, just playing around. I like how loud it is.”
Jacob’s stepfather, David Keifer, said Jacob’s love for the truck grew exponentially once it was his. “He’d go out there every day,” he said. “Every chance he could, he’d start it up, rev it up. He and his buddies ran it out of gas.
“He made out a list of what needed to be done and what parts he needed. He was going to get a job. He was going to work hard to make it happen. But when all this came about with the cancer …”
That was 2½ years ago. Jacob’s mother, Alicia Keifer, said her son was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, then Hodgkins lymphoma.
“They treated him and we thought it was gone, but three months later a scan showed activity,” she said. “So he went for more chemo more often – three days a week. Then radiation, then a stem cell transplant. He was in the hospital for weeks.”
A follow-up scan showed the cancer was still present, so chemotherapy has continued. Now even the treatment is taking its toll.
“He’s feeling the effects of the chemo,” Alicia said. “His right arm goes numb, which makes it difficult for him to do things. He’s sick all the time – nauseated – and he’s lost a lot of weight. But he hangs in there.”
That’s why the truck is so important to Jacob. It gives him something to look forward to, something else to think about. When Make-A-Wish asked what he would like more than anything in the world, Jacob didn’t hesitate.
Make-A-Wish Michigan reached out to Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, and Hagerty Brokerage Operations Senior Manager Samantha Bonter started making phone calls.
In addition to Hagerty, seven businesses offered to help: Tate’s Auto Body Service, Kinney’s Complete Auto Service, Brickyard Towing, National Motor Club, Rhino Linings, Great Lakes Images and Traverse Bay Inn.
“To see so many people come together and step up without hesitation to make it happen is just amazing,” Bonter said.
“The power of a wish is a wonderful thing,” said Make-A-Wish Michigan Communications and Public Relations Manager Christy Hammond. “We rely 100 percent on community support, so we couldn’t make this happen without them. Days like this, when the kids get their wish, that’s the best part of the job. They’re going through the worst of times, but for a moment they get to be happy kids.”
Tate’s Auto Body owner Tim Tate, who kept in contact with Jacob through the entire restoration, estimated that he and his employees alone donated 135 hours to the project. But he is quick to point out that “that smile is worth it all.”
On the day of the reveal, Jacob thought he and his family were making the 220-mile trip from Constantine to Traverse City to see a kidney specialist. It wasn’t until he arrived at Hagerty and saw all of the blue Make-A-Wish shirts that he realized what was happening.
“This is way better than going to the doctor,” he said with a smile. “My heart started fluttering. I was in awe – a moment of shock. The truck is way more than I ever thought it could be. It’s gorgeous inside and out. I can’t believe it’s the same truck.”
Jacob wanted the Chevy to be painted sapphire blue because it was his grandparents’ favorite color and they both passed away recently. He said the color – which officially is 2015 Chevy Silverado Laser Blue Pearl – will remind him of how much they loved him. He is also impressed by the custom skulls on the gear shifters, and the chrome accents on the rear-view mirror that look like flames. “It’s like they knew me my whole life,” he said.
To Jacob’s mother, the generosity of strangers “means everything.”
“I cried,” she said. “It’s very emotional. Words can’t describe it.”
David Keifer tried to, however. “It’s priceless,” he said. “He’s been waiting a long time for it to be finished. It’s only been months, but for him it probably seems like years. It’s good to see him happy. He’s been through so much.”
Jacob slipped behind the wheel for the first time since the truck was towed away to be worked on five months earlier. He reached awkwardly beneath the steering wheel with and turned the key with his left hand because his right hand lacked the strength to do it. The engine roared to life, and those gathered around the pickup applauded again.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when you get your driver’s license on Feb. 16, Jacob was asked.
“Show off,” he said with a grin. “I can’t wait.”