Chubby Checker and famous bride show up for 100th birthday of Holmes Beach man who married them

From left: Rina Evans, Miss World 1963; her husband Ernest "Chubby Checker" Evans; George Garver, celebrating his 100th birthday; and his wife, Betty Garver. 
From left: Rina Evans, Miss World 1963; her husband Ernest "Chubby Checker" Evans; George Garver, celebrating his 100th birthday; and his wife, Betty Garver. PHOTO PROVIDED

HOLMES BEACH -- Chubby Checker and Miss World 1962 showed up Nov. 29 to help the Rev. George Garver celebrate his 100th birthday Nov. 29.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Holmes Beach was the site of the festive sendoff.

Garver and his wife, Betty, lit the first candle of the Advent wreath at the start of worship, and he pronounced the benediction at the end of the service.

A reception in fellowship hall and a celebration in the company of church family and a couple of special friends followed.

The big surprise involved Ernest and Rina Evans, better known as Chubby Checker and his wife, Catharina from The Netherlands who was Miss World in 1962.

The couple drove all night from Pennsylvania to reach Gloria Dei. Rina Evans said they "checked into a little hotel" and would be staying for a few days before driving back north.

"I was supposed to be working," she said. "I told my daughter I won't be babysitting this week."

Garver officiated at the couple's wedding in 1964 at the church he was serving in New Jersey. Interracial marriage was legal in the state and the Lutheran Church, but Garver became the target of racist protests and threats and eventually resigned from the pastorate of that church.

A few months ago, Gloria Dei Pastor Rosemary Wheeler Backer invited the Evans to take part in the birthday observance. She received an e-mail last week requesting the church address for delivery of "a special gift." No one knew the gift would be the couple walking into the church sanctuary.

Garver retired in 1981 after a career of serving as a pastor, included developing life coaching programs for clergy.

He and his first wife, Anne, retired to Florida after raising five children, mainly in Pennsylvania. He reminded the Gloria Dei audience he had been "your preacher on occasion and your supply pastor for six weeks."

Garver related the scene he recorded in his memoirs: A gentleman phoned him at work in 1964 and asked to meet with him about conducting a marriage.

The man arrived and gave the pastor a photograph and asked: "Would you marry this couple?" One was African-American and the other Caucasian, and Garver said if he found no reason after counseling they should not be wed, he would conduct the service. He then obtained approval from the church council and his bishop,.

The man also asked the pastor if he knew who the black man was.

"Some ballplayer" was his guess. "I was pretty square."

The private wedding had police on hand in case of trouble. Protesters gathered outside along with the media.

Fifty-one years later, the couple remain happily wed with three children and seven grandchildren.

Checker said they met while was on a concert tour in the Philippines attended by several beauty queens - Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss World.

Miss World that caught his eye with "her speckled bathing suit," he said with a chuckle.

Tears ran down Checker's cheeks as he told Garver: "All this is coming back to me."

He noted the two men have crossed paths a number of times since the wedding.

"All these years, this man is always with us, has always been with us, and it has meant so much," he said.

After presentations and video greetings, Rosemary cued up a recording of Checker's famous "The Twist" and several members of the congregation took to the floor.

Garver invited the Evans family to join him and his wife for dinner at his home in Freedom Village in Bradenton. They accepted.