Rusty Van Hecke, 63, of Kansas City, Mo. passed away peacefully with family by his side on Wednesday, February 26, 2014.
Rusty was born October 1, 1950 in Kansas City, Mo., eldest son of Russell R. Hecke and M. Virginia Mason. He attended St. Francis Xavier Grade School, where he was well-known for his gregarious and mischievous spirit. This “spirit” carried on through his days at Rockhurst High School and De La Salle Academy, where he was a proud member of the class of 1968. He made friends wherever he traveled, due to his humble yet ornery sense of humor.
Never one to live in a dull moment, he continued onto the School of Hard Knocks, where he lived a brief yet memorable life of luxury with his best friend, Mike Bono in a small apartment above a liquor store. The year1 969 was plentiful – he was free to live his hippie lifestyle, thus refining his knack to survive on oatmeal rations supplied by All Night Sidney’s in Midtown. The boys learned that after midnight, the dive supplied an ample portion of affordable oats.
Expanding his never ending palate for the finer things in life, Rusty started his prosperous career in the liquor industry working for the DiGiovanni clan at Happy Hollow Liquors, starting in the damp, dark basement with his buddy, Ronnie. Beginning by filling endless orders in the early 70s for area restaurants, Rusty worked diligently to a promotion to the chain’s new Crown Center store. Charged with a newfound love of fine wine, Rusty catapulted his career and left Happy Hollow to work for General Standard. During the decade, he matured into head of the wine division. He created the first wine list at the Houlihan’s restaurant chain, an accomplishment he was very proud of all his life. This afforded him the opportunity to take a position at Kobrand, where he labored in the industry he adored as wine division manager for the state of Missouri. During this time, Rusty, as always, was reserved, passionate and showed tenacity in his career.
In 1983, Rusty left his hometown of Kansas City and moved to St. Louis, where he began to work for Major Brands. At his retirement in 2003, he had continued to work up the ladder and was fine wine director. His passion of the industry mixed with his infectious enthusiasm for all things “people” aided in the itch to own and operate his own restaurant. In 2004, he opened Rusty’s American Kitchen, specializing in pan-fried chicken and quirky pairings from his wines by-the-glass selection. His family was so proud of him for, as always, following his dream.
St. Louis adored Rusty, but Kansas City was jealous and wanted their buddy back. In 2009, after 25 years in St. Louis, Rusty set sail once more for his birthplace. After retirement number who-knows-and-who’s-counting, Rusty settled and enjoyed spending time with his friends, cooking extravagant breakfasts with family, critiquing restaurants in the area, sipping craftily saved bottles of vino, playing with his grandchildren and supporting them at various sporting events, competing against his sons at video games and hunting trips and aiding his daughter in a variety of home improvement projects.
His body was tired, but his spirit carries on. His personality was one of passion; he was never boastful (unless speaking of his children or grandchildren), yet was generous; he never understood the influence and presence he had over everyone whom was lucky to know him. Humble, supporting, unflappable and always straight-up, Rusty’s sincere demeanor mixed with sarcasm lit up every room. He was never one to judge and welcomed opportunities to spend time with those he loved and cherished.
Rusty is survived by his mother, M. Virginia Mason Hecke Waters, Kansas City, Mo.; daughter, Rachel Hecke True , Lee’s Summit, Mo.; sons Eric Van Hecke, Gunnison, Co, and Kyle (Abby) Van Hecke, Okinawa, Japan; siblings Helen Euston Van Hecke, Patrick (Teri) Van Hecke, Kris (Ken) Woddail, Emil Van (Tina) Hecke; stepbrothers Bob (Jan) Waters, Tim (Trish) Waters and stepsisters Cheryl (Chris) Bolin and Monica (Kirk) Waisner; and treasured grandchildren Anna James, Avery James, Aubrey True, Abigayle True and Ashlyn True, extended family and countless extended family and friends.
A mass of remembrance will be held at St. Thomas More, 11800 Holmes Road, Kansas City, Mo. at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 1st. In lieu of flowers, contributions to Kansas City Hospice House and the Mason Family Scholarship Fund at Rockhurst University are recommended.
The family would like to extend its deepest appreciation to the incredible staff at Kansas City Hospice House and to the Rockhurst Class of 1968 and De La Salle class of 1968. A future Celebration of Life highlighting Rusty’s uncompromising taste in fine food, wine and friends is being planned to continue the memory of this unmatched man.
Cheers to you, Rusty.
Assistance: Funeral Advocates, LLC