Cover photo for Russell "Rusty" Cheney's Obituary
Russell "Rusty" Cheney Profile Photo
1980 Russell 2015

Russell "Rusty" Cheney

July 27, 1980 — April 10, 2015

Russell Taylor Cheney: Larger Than Life

Russell “Rusty” Taylor Cheney wore size 13 shoes and had hands so big that he did not need a paddle to roll his kayak. His fire boots weighed five pounds each, and his rumbling baritone voice could clear out a bar. If not for his goofy laugh, he could be considered intimidating.  Rusty never did things by halves, never backed down from a challenge, and never turned away from someone in need. He died before his time in a backcountry plane crash into Loon Creek, within Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness on April 10, 2015. He was 34 years old.

It is impossible to capture of the spirit of this wondrous human being in just this short passage, but here goes:

Rusty was born to Lynn and Hugh Cheney on July 27, 1980. Rusty always said that being an awkward chubby kid taught him the value of kindness. He blossomed at age 12 when he took up kayaking. Rivers were a second home for him, transitioning this boy into a man of steady resolve and grace. He soon became a nationally ranked slalom kayak racer, and even racked up a few first descents. To others, he radiated a joyful patience in teaching them about the sport that he loved.

Rusty never let his dyslexia hold him back. He graduated from the Salisbury School sharing the Headmaster Medal for top scholar, Cum Laude, and the Founders Prize. He graduated from Dartmouth College where he honed his love of whitewater and the outdoors as an active member of the Ledyard Canoe and Kayak Club. At Dartmouth, he earned a degree in Engineering Modified by Studio Art, thus ensuring that any costume he made would be expertly crafted and involve at least a half dozen moving parts. He used his artistry to build wooden furniture, jewelry, sculptures, leather work, woodcuts, and stencils. Those who are lucky enough to own a piece of his fine furniture or leather work know the depths of his talent.

After college Rusty ventured west, chasing his grandfather’s ghost. Grandpa Frank Dexter Cheney worked on several ranches in the Wilson and Dubois areas in the 1930’s and 40’s. In 2004, Rusty worked one fire season on a BLM Engine Crew in Hood River, Oregon. Then he worked four years with the esteemed USFS  Idaho City Hotshots.  His fellow Hotshots may have been dubious that a fair skinned Ivy-League New Englander could keep up, but Rusty persevered, earning their respect and then their hearts. That fierce bond remains to this day. In the off seasons from fire, Rusty worked four years at Shepp Ranch as a ranch hand and mule packer on hunting trips throughout the Frank Church and Gospel Hump wilderness areas.

He officially met his wife Anna Trentadue in 2005 at his big sister Hope’s wedding in Cornwall, CT.  Anna and Hope had been college roommates. (Scandalous!) No joke - it was love at first sight. They moved from Boise to Driggs, Idaho in 2007 and were married in 2008 at the Linn Canyon Ranch at what many have described as “the best wedding ever.”

A true Teton Valley Renaissance Man, Rusty worked many diverse jobs: as a horse wrangler and guide at the Linn Canyon Ranch, as a cabinetmaker for Steve Griffin Woodworking, a project manager at Alta Enterprises, and most recently with Creative Energies where he was a solar energy design engineer. He also chaired the Teton County Democratic Committee during the 2014 fall elections and soothed adversarial relationships for a positive outcome for both parties.

Together, Anna and Rusty were passionate about running rivers in kayaks, canoes, and rafts. The Salmon River was their all-time favorite. Thus, they have a 2-year old son named Frank Church and a 7-week old daughter named Jesse Payette.  His wife takes comfort in the fact he passed without pain or suffering, his ashes drifting into Loon Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River, within the Frank Church Wilderness area. May we all be so lucky.

Rusty is survived by his beloved wife Anna and their children, Frank and Jesse. He also left behind his very tight knit family: parents Lynn and Hugh, big sister Hope, and his two younger brothers Ted and Tyler. His family and friends are utterly shattered by his untimely death because he was an uncommonly good man. Throughout his life, Rusty was instinctually and inherently kind. He was a gentle giant who never failed to lift up others with true selflessness. With his passing, many have remarked that Rusty always made them feel like they mattered - that he valued who they were. He was very bright and had an ability to thoughtfully resolve problems, be they mechanical, or those requiring his acute skills of sensitivity and empathy towards others. We are all diminished by his absence from this life. Our love for him is without measure, as was his love for his family and friends.

In honor of this wonderful man, there will be a celebratory KABOOM at the Linn Canyon Ranch on the afternoon of Saturday May 16, 2015. Everyone is invited, but the family asks that you please RSVP on Rusty’s memorial website: https://rustycheney.wordpress.com  More details about the service are provided there as well.

And finally, to honor Rusty’s memory, let us all greet each other with kindness and joy.


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