Howard “Victor” Wimberly Jr. and Eugene Anthony “Tony” Tuckwiller III were the first gay couple to be married at Bering Church in Montrose following the church’s recent separation from the United Methodist Church. That denomination’s anti-LGBTQ stance included a ban on same-sex weddings.
Victor and Tony are longtime Bering members who have been together for over 30 years, but they didn’t want to marry until they could have their ceremony at Bering Church, which was founded 173 years ago by German immigrants.
Victor, 76, from Sulphur, Louisiana, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He was the vice president of Life-Tech International, a local medical-instrument company, for thirty years until he retired in 2008.
Lewisburg, West Virginia native Tony, 66, earned his bachelor’s degree in music from West Virginia University and his master’s degree from Southern Methodist University, which is what brought him to Texas. He taught for 24 years in Pasadena schools before retiring in 2008.
The couple currently lives in Sharpstown’s Country Club Estates neighborhood in Southwest Houston.
They met at Snuffy’s Saloon in San Antonio in February of 1983. Tony was teaching in Boerne at the time, and Victor was in town for a meeting. Because being married was not even a remote possibility at the time, there never was an actual proposal. They have always just considered themselves “partners.”
“We actually dated for a year, and in 1984 stopped by the side of I-10 and pledged our hearts to each other in a field of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Vic traveled internationally, and had bought matching lapis lazuli rings in Amsterdam, which we exchanged in that field,” Tony says.
But times have changed, and over the last few years many of their friends had gotten married. “[So there was] the inevitable question of when we would. We discussed it and decided that we would like to be married in our church, so we were waiting on the Methodist Church to join the 21st century and allow us to marry,” Tony explains.
Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be happening, so Bering Church disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church and joined the United Church of Christ, which fully embraces the LGBTQ community.
The couple was wed on Saturday, September 4, and became the first members of the congregation to be married in the historic building in a quarter century. (To protest the United Methodist ban on same-sex marriage, Bering had halted all church weddings in the 1990s).
Rev. Diane McGehee, Bering’s current pastor, officiated at the landmark ceremony. “Since the church just changed affiliations in June, we put this wedding together fairly quickly, as we know that others would also like to be married at Bering,” Tony says. Being the first gay wedding in the church made it incredibly special, of course. “And to be surrounded by loving friends and family on that day, even with COVID restrictions, made it even better,” he adds.
As a musician, Tony chose songs that had personal meaning to him. “I chose to have an octet sing for the wedding, accompanied by Divisi Strings, a string quartet. We also wanted to have communion for the two of us as part of the ceremony, so that was special. Vic made the communion bread—just one more unique element. And we exchanged the same [lapis lazuli rings from that bluebonnet field] during our ceremony,” Tony says.
All of the planning, livestreaming, flowers, and photography were handled through the church. Planning for the wedding was a little bit tricky because they had traveled to West Virginia during July and August.
“My family has a farm in West Virginia,” Tony says. “Vic and I own some land, and our niece and nephew bought 50 acres about 10 minutes away during the pandemic. We stayed with them and helped them get the property in shape—developing garden beds, cutting firewood, and cleaning up the property.”
Amber Tuckwiller, the couple’s niece, and Deborah Hirsch served as their “best women.” “Our best men, both straight, were coming from Rome for a convention the next week, and had permission to come early for the wedding. But the convention was made virtual, which canceled their business visa, so we kept them ‘in absentia,’” Tony says.
The couple hopes to be traveling again soon, particularly to Italy next spring. But since they’ve been on a 38-year honeymoon and have traveled a lot over the years, they’re in no rush to take an official honeymoon trip.
The love and admiration the couple has for one another is palpable. “Vic is one of the most thoughtful people I know,” Tony says. “He’s always available to help those around him. He is very strong-willed, but is also the most loving person I know.”
And the feeling is mutual, according to Victor. “Tony is so kind and considerate. He volunteers at many school gardens and parks, and is willing to help anyone. He is the love of my life.”
This article appears in the October 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.