Like many of his generation, James Fred Rust loved new experiences, family and friends say.
His thirst for knowledge and the desire to explore the human condition prompted him to leave his childhood home in Falcon Heights at 18 for unfamiliar surroundings.
He could talk to a cabbie in Cairo, a waiter in Turkey and erudite scholars just about anywhere with natural ease, said Holly Raab, his former wife and business associate from Minneapolis.
Rust — a theater set and light designer, actor, director, avid reader and Greek archaeology specialist — died June 24 of colon cancer. He was 54.
He thrived living in the moment, said longtime friend and business partner, Peg Boden, of Apple Valley.
His life was anything but dull, said his wife, Joanne Moyer Rust.
He worked on an archaeological survey in Mark Twain National Forest near Springfield, Mo., until early June, when the doctors detected his cancer. For months, he warded off pain using over-the-counter drugs to help him keep working at the cultural resource management company he started with his wife and two friends in 2002.
Family members say Rust's passion for classical Greece stemmed from reading Edith Hamilton's classic "Greek Mythology" at a young age. He managed to incorporate his love for classical art forms in set or light design in theater and photography, said David Krchelich of Schenevus, N.Y., a friend and fellow set designer who worked in theater in Minneapolis from 1975 to 1985.
After freelancing for several theater productions in Minneapolis and Boston in the '70s and reading Homer, Shakespeare, Beckett, T. S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell and Greek philosophers, Rust returned to academia full time. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Minnesota in 1985.
He then worked on a four-week project in Egypt to help with ground-site mapping at an archeological site dating to 1500 B.C. In 1988, he earned his master's in classical archaeology from the State University of New York in Albany. He later enrolled in a doctoral program at Boston University and worked as a research fellow at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
In 1994-95, Rust directed a survey of a Bronze Age citadel in northern Jordan (about 3000 to 1600 B.C.). But his heart was drawn to the Minoan civilization of Crete, which brought him time and again to the small island in Greece.
His knowledge of Greece drew the attention of Joanne Moyer, who is of Greek heritage and whom he knew from his theater days in Minneapolis. She became his wife following his divorce from Raab in 1993.
His sensitivity and intelligence garnered a lot of attention wherever he went, said his wife.
But he admired his father, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. He enjoyed drawing upon his father's experience as soil science expert for his cultural resource management projects, said Raab.
Rust also is survived by his parents, Richard and Laura Rust of Falcon Heights; sister Deanna Rust of Lincoln, Neb.; and brothers Richard Rust of Falcon Heights, Mark Rust of Hutchinson and Robert Rust of Willernie.