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Karen Ann Beeman Rusk Hartman | 1949-2010

Karen Rusk Hartman, metaphysical minister and massage therapist, dies at 60

FOREST HILLS — Dale Hartman remembered the date and the location of a concert, back in the 1990s, but he couldn't recall the name of the band.

He didn't listen much to the music. He and his blind date, a woman named Karen Rusk, sat in the back area of Skipper's Smokehouse, as far away from the stage as possible, and talked the night away.

They were both in their 40s, both previously married, but they fell instantly in love.

"She called me and said she was just head-over-heels for this guy she met," said Alex Hamel, Mrs. Hartman's sister.

Dale Hartman was instantly smitten too. The longer they dated, the more he realized how special his new girlfriend was.

"When I met her friends and family, someone would invariably take me aside and threaten me with physical violence if I didn't treat her wonderfully, because that was what she deserved," he said. "And when she met my friends, someone would pull her aside and ask her if she was crazy, because they couldn't understand why someone like her was with me."

Her friends kept telling Hartman that the woman he was dating was the kindest, most giving person they had ever met. Her calendar was packed with names and birth dates of acquaintances, hundreds of them. She would never fail to send them cards every year, even if she barely knew them and hadn't seen them in decades.

The couple married a few years after that first date and remained together until June 6, when Karen Rusk Hartman died of cancer at age 60.

Mrs. Hartman was born in Cleveland, but she grew up in San Francisco and moved to Tampa with her family when she was a teenager. She graduated from Plant High School, became a medical lab technician and worked in that field for 17 years, much of which she spent at Humana Women's Hospital.

She thrived in that career and was named Humana's Outstanding Employee for the Southeastern United States.

Eventually she felt the need for a career change and became a licensed massage therapist. She worked for a Carrollwood chiropractor.

Her husband-to-be was also a massage therapist and ran a school where he trained aspiring massage therapists. Clients who knew each other arranged that blind date.

It turned out though, they had met years before, when Mrs. Hartman was considering studying at Mr. Hartman's school.

"She remembered meeting me, but she said there was no spark," he said. She was so unimpressed she went to another massage school. Her husband has only a vague recollection of meeting her.

Mrs. Hartman had never been religious, but as she approached middle age she became more interested in spirituality and became an ordained metaphysical minister.

Her cancer battle started in 2003. She seemed to have beaten it and was pronounced a cancer survivor five years later. But within weeks the cancer reappeared, and she never recovered. Even as the cancer invaded her body, she never let it conquer her spirit.

"She was just so other-focused," said Hamel, her sister. "Even when she was deathly ill and people were coming to visit her, she was focused on them and their needs. I don't know, but I think if I were deathly ill I'd be thinking a little more about myself. But that just wasn't her."

Besides her husband and her sister, Mrs. Hartman is survived by her son David Hartman and three granddaughters.

Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Karen Rusk Hartman, metaphysical minister and massage therapist, dies at 60 06/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 1:38pm]
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