Dr. James Russell “Rusty” Spieler Jr., 52, Columbia, passed away July 8, 2020, at Lake Regional Hospital.
He was born in St. Louis, April 16, 1968 and was loved and adopted as an infant by Jim and Audrey Spieler. Throughout his youth from age 8-18, he was a competitive swimmer and traveled to swim meets throughout Missouri and Kansas, swam on the Hickman High team, and made a friendship exchange to Leicester, England with the Columbia Swim Club.
He loved to learn and was a good student, graduating from Hickman High School, the University of Missouri, The University of Kansas School of Medicine, and did an Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics, Columbia. He began his internal medicine practice in 1999 associated with the Audrain Medical Center, Mexico. Following that he became a Hospitalist for the rest of his career starting with St. Johns Hospital, Springfield. In 2004 he initiated the Hospitalist program at Boone Hospital, Columbia. In 2010 he moved to Kauai and joined the staff at Kauai Medical Center. Following the death of his father in 2014 he joined the staff of Lake Regional Hospital. He loved working there with an excellent staff including specialists. This was Rusty’s ideal work setting where there was adequate time and specialists if needed to serve his patients. Everywhere he served he was praised and appreciated by patients, staff and administration. He was a Board Certified internal medicine physician with a license in both Missouri and Hawaii.
Rusty’s move to Kauai in 2010 was to court his life mate, Dr. Melinda Menezes. They both grew up in Columbia, went to the same elementary school, swam on the same swim team, and did their residency trainings at the same hospital. The summer before Rusty left for college, they briefly dated. In retrospect, they realized that the big feelings they had as teenagers were those of soul mates. Rusty, Melinda, and her two boys created a happy life together walking and playing on the beautiful beaches, enjoying the delightful live Hawaiian shows, and sampling island cuisine. They also loved gardening and created a beautiful tropical landscape surrounding Melinda’s home. They both enjoyed cooking though Rusty maintained that Melinda was the superior cook. Rusty enjoyed being a friend and father to Melinda’s sons Victor and Tomás. Following his Father’s passing, Rusty commuted from Kauai to work at Lake Regional Hospital the first 14 days of each month. He thrived on being able to see his Missouri family for a meal plus overnight in his home on both sides of this work schedule.
In addition to swimming, biking, camping, hiking, and fishing, Rusty enjoyed oil painting, landscape gardening, and cooking. For those who were fortunate enough to cross paths with him socially or professionally, they found him to be quiet, thoughtful, intelligent, and well informed. It felt wonderful to see him smile and laugh. He was a gentle, kind soul and spent much time and personal resources lifting up those who needed his amazing compassion.
He is survived by his mother, Audrey “Schalk” Spieler; his sister, Leslie Spieler-Winn and her husband Rick Winn; his nephews, Jackson Winn and Cotter Clinkingbeard; his significant other, Dr. Melinda Menezes, and her two sons, Victor and Tomás Sánchez.
Since February, the Covid-19 virus blocked Rusty from flying to Kauai each month and he could not get back to see Melinda, the love of his life. That added to the enormous stress he was unable to overcome. Dr. Chris Elliott who worked with Rusty for 10 years wrote in his tribute… “When we look back at Rusty’s life of service and commitment to others, we should remember that how Rusty lived is more important than how he died, and is the reason I believe him to be in Heaven getting the happy ending he deserves.”
A Zoom Celebration of Rusty’s life is hoped to be aired around the third week in August. The time of the Zoom video will be announced at a later date and on Audrey’s Facebook page. His memorials will be focused on acts of kindness on a website and will also be announced at that time.
Online condolences may be shared at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.