Couple’s chance meeting with celebrity leads to friendship

Published 5:32 pm Saturday, October 4, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A typical way to meet a celebrity can sometimes mean waiting for hours for an autograph in a dark and shadowy alley.
And, then there's Chuck Imler's way.
Imler, a City of Niles Utilities Department employee, recently returned from Las Vegas, Nev., where he, his fiance, daughter and new son-in-law, visited legendary singer and entertainer, Wayne Newton.
Imler, whose tale includes war, a certain jacket, a young couple in love and Newton's extraordinary ranch located five miles outside of Las Vegas, tells the unusual story from his home on Bertram Road in Niles.
It all began as far back as 2000, when a young man from Milwaukee named Brent Van Hofmann, now Imler's son-in law, served in a U.S. Marine Engineering Co. in Afghanistan.
Imler said Newton one day was flown into camp to entertain a 60-soldier crowd, of which Brent was part.
After entertaining, Newton talked to the soldiers and signed autographs, Imler said.
Imler said his now 22-year-old son-in-law suddenly said: "Wayne, that's a beautiful jacket you have there."
Newton then turned around and asked: "Do you really like it?" Imler said.
Without further ado, Imler said, Newton apparently took off his jacket, which his wife Newton's Cathleen bought especially for her husband's trip, and gave it to the surprised soldier.
Before leaving the camp, Imler said, Newton told Brent when back in the states to pay Las Vegas' Stardust Casino a visit, which is where Newton performs.
Brent and Jessica, who were not married at the time but had been dating since 1999 after having met at an N' Sync concert, went to the Stardust after Brent's return from Afghanistan.
Imler said Brent showed his jacket and told his story to security guards, who gave the couple free entrance to Newton's show.
Then, after Newton was done performing, the couple was invited by Newton in person to his private ranch for dinner and drinks, Imler said.
The two couples must have enjoyed each other's company because "they became good friends," Imler said.
While living in San Diego, however, Brent received orders to go to Iraq to serve in this year's conflict, Imler said.
He said Jessica and Brent, who still weren't married, hurried to Milwaukee and got married in a court house.
But Cathleen, Newton's wife, took care of Jessica while Brent was away, Imler said.
Then, one day, from out of the blue, Imler said he received a phone call from his daughter who said Newton was organizing a combined birthday party and proper wedding ceremony for her and Brent.
Which is also how Imler, who didn't make it to Milwaukee for the court house ceremony, got a chance to meet Newton and his family.
Imler remembers the 45 foot limousine the wedding party was picked up in after the wedding ceremony was over.
The following morning, at 3 a.m., the couple, who during the wedding ceremony renewed their wedding vows, were picked up and appeared on ABC's Good Morning America.
Although spending time on a luxurious ranch that has Arabian horses, penguins and other exotic animals -- including the Aflac duck -- Imler is amazed at the Newton family's friendliness.
He said Newton appeared in casual shorts and t-shirts at Jessica's birthday party and made a wonderful speech. "If your family had a cook-out in the backyard, that's how it was," he said, to describe the atmosphere.
Imler is amazed with the beauty of Newton's house.
He said Newton and his also wife gave the couple amazing silver and gold gifts.
During his visit at the ranch, Imler said he also saw Newton's famous $2 million duck, which has appeared in countless TV commercials and is best known as the Aflac duck.
Imler, who didn't go straight back to work after his return from Vegas, has had time to think about the recent amazing events. "It all started with a jacket and now they are loving friends," he said.