Greenport man’s memory highlights life insurance benefits

COURTESY PHOTO | Don Wachtel, left, was able to take out half of his life insurance policy after he was surprisingly given a terminal diagnosis.
COURTESY PHOTO | Don Wachtel, left, was able to take out half of his life insurance policy after he was surprisingly given a terminal diagnosis.

When Greenport resident Don Wachtel began forgetting things and having trouble with simple math problems in 2010, those close to him sensed something was wrong.

Mr. Wachtel had always been a “go-getter,” a man who started his own tile-laying company to support his wife, Tonia, and their two young daughters.

“Everything he did was for his children,” Ms. Wachtel said.

The Wachtels went to a doctor after Don’s behavior worsened and learned the worst possible diagnosis: Don had glioblastoma: an inoperable, malignant and ultimately fatal tumor in his brain.

Ms. Wachtel said she and her husband waited a few days before they told their two children.

“That was difficult, very difficult for us,” Ms. Wachtel said.

The family visited their insurance agent, Chris Manfredi, soon after and at first checked to make sure the insurance was still active and up to date. But Mr. Manfredi sensed that something was wrong.

“I vividly remember that day,” Mr. Manfredi said, describing where the two stood in his open-air office, waiting to speak with him.

The Wachtels later explained Don’s diagnosis to Mr. Manfredi, and learned that a waiver in his insurance allowed the family to take out half the policy’s payout due to his terminal diagnosis.

Those funds allowed Ms. Wachtel to take off from work and the family to take small trips together while Don was still able to. The four visited Disney World and went horseback riding in upstate New York, Ms. Wachtel said.

And while Don began to weaken soon after the family’s vacations, Ms. Wachtel said the funds let the family spend Don’s final months together.

“It was precious time,” she said.

Don Wachtel’s life was recently featured in a video by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, a nonprofit group that advocates the value of purchasing life insurance.

Click here to see a trailer of the video.


The family’s story was chosen out of about 100 stories to be part of the nonprofit’s outreach campaign this year, said LIFE president and CEO Marvin Feldman. Mr. Feldman said the videos serve as a way to show “what life insurance does versus what life insurance is.”

Mr. Manfredi — a longtime friend of Don’s who was also featured in the video — said he was very happy the Wachtels wanted to share their story.

“It’s a bittersweet story in that, yes, he lost his life, but his family could keep going,” Mr. Manfredi said. “It’s a story for people to see all across the country.”

In the years since her husband’s passing, Ms. Wachtel said the family has started healing.

“It’s a day-by-day process,” she said. “You never get over it. You just have to deal with it.”

She is hopeful that someone who sees Don’s story learns about how life insurance can be valuable, even to those who think tragedy could never happen to them.

“You never know,” she said. “Hopefully, people get life insurance.”

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