Justin Vanderwalker became an organ and eye donor upon his passing in May 2016. His mother Colleen shared this remembrance.
September 3, 1996, was a beautiful day for our family; our son Justin was born. He joined his brother Michael and his sister Danielle. We had our perfect little family. As our children grew up, they were very close. Justin definitely looked up to his big brother. He followed him around and wanted to be just like him. Everything Mike did, Justin was sure to follow. It kind of became a joke in our family because every time we went out to dinner, Justin would wait until his brother ordered then he would say, “I’ll take the same.”
As a young child, he had such a sweet personality. He was always smiling and making the people around him laugh. I miss the days when I would wake him up in the morning and he would have the biggest smile on his face (maybe not so much in the teenage years). What he enjoyed the most was making people laugh.
When he was young, Justin enjoyed playing baseball and hockey. When he was little he did not have a competitive bone in his body. He was just out there to have fun. When he was a junior in high school he decided, he wanted to play volleyball. He worked hard at learning the game. Justin really loved being part of the team and truly enjoyed playing. We loved going to all his games.
My son Justin’s best quality was having a heart of gold. He would do anything for anyone, at any time and he would do it because he wanted to not for any recognition. I can’t tell you how many times I heard from others “Your son is such a respectful young man” and that truly makes us proud. We loved that about him. Justin could light up a room with his smile and wonderful sense of humor.
Justin was the type of person who always wanted to help others. As a young child, whenever he saw his dad or me doing something around the house, shoveling, cutting the grass, bringing in the groceries or vacuuming, he would run out to help. It makes us proud that we raised a son that found it important that people could count on him when they needed help or just needed a friend. We heard so many stories from his friends about how he helped people. We were told about a time when he was coming out of a downtown restaurant and saw a homeless man shivering in the cold, he didn’t think twice and gave him his sweatshirt.
Justin thought of others first. Every time we went camping our kids brought friends with and there were never enough beds. Justin always said he would take the floor and never complained. On vacation, he would take the uncomfortable cot. He wanted everyone else to be comfortable. If I tried to change things around so he wouldn’t be on the floor, he would give me that look. I knew, just let him do what he wanted to do.
He was great with kids. At every family party, he was always playing with all the little cousins. They followed him around and loved being with him. It breaks my heart that we will never get to see him with his own children. He would have been a great dad.
He was always respectful to adults. We heard from many friends that when he would come to their houses, he would sit and talk with the parents for a while before going to hang out with them. He had a special relationship with our elderly aunt. She was so fond of him. He always made sure to sit next to her and would spend time talking with her. She was 92 when she passed away. It was just a couple of months before Justin’s death. He told his sister how sad it was that there weren’t many people at our aunt’s funeral and half jokingly, said that he hoped he would have more people at his when he died. There were over 800 people that came to pay their respect for our son, a true testament to how many lives he touched and how he was loved by so many.
Justin loved listening to music. He loved all kinds, from country to hard rock. I remember a Goo Goo Dolls concert that we went to at Darien Lake. He had won an orange squid hat at the park that day and wore it all night long for the concert. People kept asking to take their picture with him. He was having a ball.
He also loved animals. He was always laying on the floor playing with our dogs. He liked taking our dog, Lexi with him to his friend’s houses.
He loved skateboarding and snowboarding, and coming home to tell me about the new tricks that he was trying to learn how to do. He also loved fishing with his friends. When we were in Florida, I remember him fishing off the pier with his friend. They caught a sting ray. He had a huge smile on his face. He thought that was cool. He enjoyed sitting around a campfire with his family, playing games or just telling stories and making people laugh.
He had a very large circle of friends. They all knew that they could count on him for anything. He was there for them in a heartbeat. If they needed to talk, they knew that he was there to listen. So many of his friends have told us how he was there for them when they were going through hard times.
Justin was working at 84 Lumber and taking welding classes. He never got the chance to really decide what he wanted to do in his life.
Justin was supposed to stand up for his brother’s wedding, June 18. He was looking so forward to that day. Instead 15 days before the wedding, we were burying our son. They wanted to postpone the wedding, but we knew that Justin would never have wanted them to do that. He loved them so much.
On May 25, 2016, our son was seriously hurt. We were told that he could not survive his injuries. We were faced with the decision that I never imagined we would ever have to make. We knew that Justin would want to be an organ donor. During his life, he was always trying to help others and now in his death he was giving the gift that would save lives. We know that his big caring heart is beating in another man, his lungs, liver and kidneys were able to go to some very special people. There are two people that are seeing the world through his eyes. These people are in our prayers every day. It gives our family a sense of peace knowing that in such a tragedy something good could come of it. It is our hope that someday we can meet the recipients.
We miss him so much and he is never out of our thoughts. We love you, Justin.