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June 2002

Richard Derwald - “Mr. Fitness”

by John BINDER

The old saying a cat has nine lives can also be applied to some people such as local fitness expert Richard Derwald.

Thank you Charles Atlas
Most may remember the old Charles Atlas advertisements where the bully kicks sand in the face of the “97-pound weakling”. Growing up in the 1940’s Richard Derwald was like the 97-pound weakling being underweight, frail and shy and lacked the physical ability to successfully qualify for any of his grammar school sports teams. Like the weakling in the Atlas advertisements Richard was determined to transform his physical condition and in doing so he transformed his life. This transformation was truly amazing.

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Richard’s mother and father, 1958. Richard in 1938.
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Richard’s photo from the Bishop Fallon High School yearbook, 1953.


Professional Wrestler
By age 18 the boy who lacked the athletic ability to play grammar school sports embarked on a career as a professional wrestler. From 1954 to 1959 Richard wrestled many superstars of that era including the famous Gorgeous George in major arenas throughout the Northeast and Canada. His popularity as a professional wrestler was witnessed by 15,000 fans at HSBC arena in 1999 when he was inducted into the Ilio DiPaolo Legends Hall of Fame.

Rock and Roll
Becoming proficient in the entertainment aspects of pro wrestling Richard was bitten by the show biz bug and decided to become an entertainer a decision that offered the rewards of performing without the bumps and bruises. His new objective was to pursue a career in a music craze that was sweeping the country called Rock and Roll. Richard realized that if he were to succeed in his new quest an image modification was necessary. Weighing a muscular 222 pounds at a height of 5”11” Richard again used his knowledge of fitness to reduce his bodyweight to an athletic168 pounds through aerobic exercise and diet. As the lead vocalist for a rock and roll group called the Rhythm Rockers he became well known as a recording artist, regularly appearing at record hops and nightclubs throughout Western New York. Richards unique vocal style caught the attention of radio personality George Hound Dog Lorenz who paired Richard with R&B vocal group The Vibra Harps and recorded Derwald’s song Voodoo Mama that became a regional hit, played nightly on the then rock and roll power station WKBW. In 1997 his ability as an entertainer was recognized by the release of a CD titled BRIGHT LIGHTS by Norton Records in NYC. This popular album named for one of his songs also features recordings of many other original songs written and performed by Derwald.

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Richard and wife Maureen on their wedding day, 1964. Richard, Maureen, Richie and Kathy with Grandparents, 1977.


Corporate Manager
Deciding it was time to “get a real job” Richard entered the corporate world in 1963 and rode the wave of a new technology called computers. In 1966 he became Manager of Data Processing at the Hydronics Division of American Standard where he worked for 21 years and then held the position of Director of Information Technology with Dresser Industries for 11 years. During his years as a corporate manager Richard continued to pursue his passion for fitness as a competitive bodybuilder amassing more than 30 competition trophies and as an author of more than 50 feature articles for major fitness magazines.

Entrepreneur/Author
When the Dresser plant in Depew, NY ceased operation Richard declined an offer from that corporation to join the systems development group in Europe— deciding instead to start his own business. With his wife Maureen he opened the HEAD TO TOE day spa in Buffalo NY in the mid 1980s. The spa featured a full range of health, fitness and cosmetic services. Being a spa owner, he developed a line of men’s skin care products and authored a book titled FOR MEN ONLY - SECRETS OF A SUCCESSFUL IMAGE published by Prometheus Books in Amherst NY. The book became a best seller for the Men’s Health Magazine Book Club.

Inventor
Many people dream of riches by winning the lottery or inventing another Pet Rock. In 1985 Richard developed the concept of marketing action figure toys of popular professional wrestlers which he sold to the LJN Toy Company. This concept turned out to be one of the greatest successes in the history of the toy industry providing the company with more than $500 million dollars in sales. Unfortunately Richard did not realize the true value of his idea which he sold for a flat fee of $10 thousand dollars. Richard says “ I should be a multi-millionaire today because the standard royalty paid in the toy industry is 1 to 3 percent - do the math”. Richard went on to say “we all make mistakes but we can not, we must not dwell on the past; either the good times or the bad. The only reality is today and what we can do to make it a better tomorrow. Health, fitness and wellness are the cornerstones of happiness.”


Technology & Television
In the early 1990s Richard served as Director of Marketing for Silent Partner Software of Tampa Florida, a technology company serving Fortune 500 clients. Richard’s involvement in television programming includes work in front of and behind the camera. In 1999 Richard served as associate producer on the commercial video IN THE SHADOW OF THE KING telling about life at Graceland as told by David R. Stanley, stepbrother of Elvis Presley.

Senior Fitness
Today Richard has become known as a senior fitness guru for Erie County Senior Services, having presented hundreds of fitness seminars at senior centers and other locations throughout the County. Nutrition Director Susan O’Day says “Presenting Richard’s fitness seminars in conjunction with the Stay Fit Dining Program has helped establish Erie County as a national leader in innovative Senior Services. Richard appears regularly on the Adelphia cable CROSSROADS television show working with host Peter Anderson and on Channel 7s AM Buffalo with Linda Pellegrino and Drew Kahn. Richard lights up when he talks about his newest project, saying, “I will now be appearing regularly on the new Living Prime Time television show with host Gary Deeb. This show will be unlike anything shown on local television and perhaps anywhere in the country. It will deal exclusively with all matters of interest to our aging population including finances, travel and of course fitness and wellness. At age 67 my objective reflects a top priority of County Executive Joel Giambra’s administration which is to educate and motivate seniors to adopt a fitness lifestyle to improve their quality of life”

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Entertainers Richie and wife Debbie Derwald in Atlantic City, 1997. Richard’s daughter Kathy and her husband Mitch Garlock, 2001.
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Richard with wrestling greats Dick “The Destroyer” Byers and Johnny Valentine at the Ilio DiPaolo Wrestling Legends Hall of Fame awards banquet, 1999.


A Fitness Family
Talking about his family Richard says, “I have been very fortunate; with two healthy and talented children and a wife who has supported my many ventures some successful, some not but none the less a great journey to this point in our lives.” Growing up in the Derwald household, fitness was a family affair. Son Richie and daughter Kathy followed in their father’s footsteps entering and winning competitive bodybuilding contests. Like his father, Richie took a fling at professional wrestling, appearing on shows in the 1980s with stars such as Rick Flair.

Today Son Richie and his wife Debbie are professional entertainers having appeared in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Orlando and Nashville, Tenn. Currently they are one of the most popular senior entertainment attractions in WNY and can be seen performing dinner shows for travel groups at the Holiday Select Hotel in Niagara Falls NY. and the Holiday Inn on Grand Island. Richard’s daughter Kathy is involved in acting, writing and the production of independent films in South Florida. Kathy appeared on the Regis TV show as a finalist in the contest to pick a replacement for Kathy Lee. Apparently these apples did not fall far from the tree.

Richard tells us “its never too late to begin a fitness program it will make you feel better, look better and be better. It’s all about quality of life - Living Prime Time.”            



John Binder is a freelance writer.

 

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