Derek Stephen Wastler

Roses are red, Violets are blue, Let’s celebrate Derek, Because he truly loved you!

Derek Stephen Wastler, 49, a life-long resident of Marblehead and well-known character and dog walker, passed away peacefully on the fourth of February, 2023. If you were lucky enough to know Derek, you would probably know he was born on the ninth of April, (1973):  the single most important day of every year.  Yet he never aged; he adamantly refused to get old.

The year Derek was born was the year the Down Syndrome Congress was founded, and Down syndrome was barely known by that name. It is during Derek’s lifetime that programs such as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) came into existence. In 1973, children born with Down syndrome were institutionalized, but not Derek:  he was welcomed into a busy household as the second boy and sixth child of Bettie and Harry Wastler of Marblehead, MA.

When Derek was just old enough to speak, he heard someone say he was “down”. To this he emphatically replied: “I am NOT down; I am UP!” And he has been UP his entire life.

Derek was a kind-hearted, happy giant in the way he loved everyone he met and enriched the diversity of his large family. He was the glue: he taught his siblings patience, understanding, sharing and kindness. They all are feeling a large, gaping hole in their hearts with his passing.

As time passed and programs improved nation-wide, Derek was able to attend and graduate from Marblehead High School with the Class of ‘95; among some of the first groups of individuals with life-long disabilities who were able to receive a high school diploma in the 1990s. Among his accomplishments and jobs during his high school career, Derek enjoyed his job as water boy for his brother’s MHS varsity basketball team. He also worked at Lafayette Nursing Home, Filene’s Basement, Salem Hospital and Penni’s Market.

Dogs and Walking: which came first?

His first dog “Snowflake”, an albino boxer who was ‘different’, helped Derek learn how to walk, something doctors told his family he would never be able to do. Every dog owner in the Clifton area of Marblehead knows Derek had become a ‘walker of dogs’: he walked every dog small and large in the family since then — Sandy, Kimba, Muffin, Abby, Grumble, Sunny, Ivy, Riley, TeaTea — every day of his life for miles and miles. Derek wore through shoes like some of us wear out our welcome. 

Fulfilling and Exciting Life

Derek’s life overflowed with a tremendous number of experiences that would be fulfilling and exciting for anyone.

In 1983, Derek moved with his family to Sweden and attended school with the population of like-aged children in Linkoeping. He learned to speak Swedish and how to eat exotic cafeteria food with ketchup.  Derek continued his life-long love of food and “creative” cooking, and he continued to add ketchup.

It’s during the time living with his family in Europe that Derek did much traveling.  His vocabulary in English was already well-developed and filled with multisyllabic words he used to try to impress those to whom he spoke or wrote notes. In addition to Swedish, he began picking up words in French, Italian, and Spanish. He visited his sister who lived in Italy three different times for three months each time over the years. The people he met while walking Sunny in Italy remember him still. He travelled to Spain to visit his father; he loves to recall drinking cognac there.

As a child growing up in a household with many children, Derek became an avid ‘gamer’. Although Wii and Game Cube were favorite pastimes in later years, Derek enjoyed playing board games such as Monopoly, Trouble, Rack-o, UNO and Yahtzee. When he was the last remaining child living at home, he would play a game every night with his mother.

“TV Guy” was one of Derek’s monikers. Before DVRs existed, he would video record sitcoms, game shows, and movies and then watch them over and over and over again. He knew when new movies were being released before anyone else in his family. His personal video collection of 100s of titles took up an entire wall.

Derek was somewhat of a ‘name savant’ for celebrities and people he met. If he had one encounter with you, he would know you for life: by sight and name. He would always flatter those he met by telling them which celebrity they resembled, and he was a self-proclaimed flirt: “I can’t help it. I was just born that way.” was always his response.

Sunnyside bowling alley was another place Derek made friends. He was a passionate candlepin bowler and belonged to a Monday-night league for so many years. He was a lefty and proud of it.

And there was music and dancing . . . he loved to dance and listen to his walkman, then ipod, then iPhone. The Northeast Arc provided monthly opportunities which Derek loved to attend. Derek had a CD collection that rivalled a DJ.

And then there was swimming and sailing . . . he had opportunities to sail with his “second sister” — as each one was numbered — and her husband near Marblehead and Salem and off the coast of Maine. He enjoyed swimming in pools at his siblings’ homes, but not so much in the ocean. But he did love to walk to the beach with all of his dogs.

Other than April 9th each year, Derek was fond of October 31st. He would plan for an entire month or two exactly what he wanted to be for Halloween every year.  Families in his neighborhood around 187 Humphrey Street would receive a visit from Derek. His ideas were his own creations.

Life-long Friends and the All-Important Day Program

Derek started at Communitas’s Life Choices program in Beverly in 2016. This program brought so much joy to his life. It ranked #1 in his life because his friends were his extended family. He met new friends there as well as reconnected with friends he known in the earlier years of his life. Derek kept his friends for life. Albert Gello and Derek met when they were both very young, yet never forgot one another even though they were separated for many years.  Ned, Albert, Xander, Cody, Lauri, Beth, Josephine, Terry, Nicholi , just to name a few, were so dear to Derek. He spoke about them with love and fondness.

Derek’s oldest sister and his brother shared the same story:  They tried to invite Derek to spend time with them in Orlando, Florida and at the brother’s house in Pennsylvania on a number of occasions, and Derek would always say, “Just for the weekend would be okay.” He never wanted to miss a single day at his day program.

Fulfilled Life

Derek is one person who has lived to prove why it was necessary to provide programs and opportunities, and his life illustrates why this country is lucky to have individuals like Derek as part of its diversity. He grew into an incredibly independent man who took great pride in his personal appearance. He loved to style his hair and get frequent haircuts. He loved to dress in bold colors and to be different than everyone else.  He thrived on being himself; no one else — except Zac Efron once High School Musical came out!

Sadly Derek’s closing months were filled with tremendous pain. Some local hospitals didn’t know how to care for and were unwilling to address the needs of someone like Derek. It wasn’t until he met the tremendously caring surgeons, doctors, nurses and technicians at Tufts Medical Center in Boston that Derek’s pain was relieved. Unfortunately by then Derek’s suffering had taken its toll, and despite his inner strength and strong will, he couldn’t win.

Derek we will love you forever!
Derek Stephen Wastler is survived by his mother Bettie Wastler;  his sisters Karen Tehan, Elizabeth Wastler Bruno, Kathryn Leigh Thorndike, and Kimberly Wastler; his brother Wayne Wastler; and his father Harry Wastler. He also leaves behind his ‘favorite’ nephews: Nigel, Caleb, Tommy, Cooper and Curran; his adoring nieces: Isabel, Olivia, Emily, and Emma; his brothers-in-law: Peter, Blas, and Stefano; his only sister-in-law Amy, and his only living aunt, Jeanie.

If you would like to remember Derek, donations can be made in the name of Derek Wastler to Communitas, Inc., 60-D Audobon Rd., Wakefield, MA 01880 or online at

Saturday, February 18th at St. Stephen’s Methodist Church,
67 Cornell Rd.,Marblehead, MA 01945
Visitation will be held from 9:15 – 10 a.m.A Celebration of Life service will follow immediately at 10 a.m.Derek’s ashes will be interred at Waterside Cemetery on West Shore Drive, Marblehead


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3 Condolences

  1. Whitney Wykoff Schumer on February 17, 2023 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Karen and familly:
    Derek sounds like a very special person who lived a fruitful life. Condolences to all of you. It is not easy losing a sibling. Peace to you all. While I am not able to attend the Celebration of Life Services, I will be thinking about you coming with love.

  2. Carole and Howard Levene on February 26, 2023 at 2:27 pm

    Dear karen and family,
    What a wonderful and loving tribute to your brother.
    Thank you for sharing his inspiring story.
    Sending sympathy and love to you all.

  3. Tom Neenan on April 13, 2023 at 10:19 am

    What a moving tribute to an incredible life. I can only hope that our 8 year old daughter with Down syndrome has half of the amazing experiences that Derek had. I wish we’d met him on one of his many walks.

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