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York County native makes national news in tense 1960s

Rina and Ernest Evans (Chubby Checker) with Reverend George and Betty Garver (Picture from Bradenton Herald, December 2015)

Remember “The Twist,” the dance craze from the 60s? Remember Chubby Checker who brought “The Twist” to life? What connection could this have to York County? Read on.

A friend recently mentioned that her cousin, Reverend George Garber, a retired Lutheran pastor who now lives in Florida, was over 100 years old. She was planning to get some family information to him that another relative from their shared Bahn family had recently given to her.

I Googled Reverend Garber and found that he had made national news in 1964, retold in 2015 during his 100th birthday celebration. See below for further discoveries from those news accounts.Garver was born in York County and grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Gettysburg Seminary and in 1964 he was pastor of Temple Lutheran Church in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Garver was asked if would officiate at a wedding of a young couple. The prospective groom was Ernest Evans, professionally known as Chubby Checker. His fiancé was Catharina Lodders, born in the Netherlands and crowned Miss World in 1962. Checker was extremely successful by that time, thanks to “The Twist.” Checker’s manager lived in Pennsauken and probably knew of the church.

Why would there be a problem finding someone to marry a successful, wealthy musician and an internationally known beauty? Because this was the early 1960s and one was black and other white. In many states, interracial marriage with still not legal. After meeting with the couple for the usual counseling, Garver saw no reason not to marry them. The invitation-only wedding drew nearly 500 spectators and 20 policemen guarded against disorder. Even though Garver had the approval of his church council, he still endured protests and threats and later left the congregation. He was a pastor in Michigan before finally settling in southwest Florida.

Fifty-one years after the wedding made national news, the still-married Evanses drove to Florida from their Pennsylvania home to be surprise guests at Garver’s 100th birthday celebration in November 2015. There was extensive local news coverage as the Bradenton-Sarasota area celebrated the centenary of gentleman who had become one of its own.