Rayner W. “Rusty” Hesse Jr., 64, of Bethany Beach, Del., passed away and entered into eternal life on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford, Del.
Hesse was born in Baltimore, Md., son of the late Rayner W. Hesse Sr. and Dorothy Sachs Hesse. He graduated from Dulaney High School and attended the University of Maryland, earning a bachelor’s degree in languages (Portuguese and Spanish). He then moved to New York City and used his gifts in foreign languages working for Reader’s Digest, running tours for foreign visitors during the U.S. Bicentennial and supervising study-abroad programs for foreign students. Hesse also was a talented singer and performed in off-Broadway musicals and plays and in the cabarets of Greenwich Village, NYC.
Called to the ministry, Hesse attended Union Theological Seminary in NYC and was ordained a deacon, then priest in the Episcopal Church. He spent his curacy at St. John’s Church (Getty Square) in Yonkers, N.Y., then served as rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Hartsdale, N.Y. For the next decade, he ministered to the congregation and served as chaplain to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery located next to the church, comforting grieving pet owners and officiating for the historic cemetery's annual pet blessing.
With an ongoing love for the stage, he founded a theater group called the Hartsdale Players. To enhance his ministry, he earned a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the General Theological Seminary in New York. Adding to his creative interests, he became a certified antiques appraiser and opened an antiques store in White Plains, N.Y., called Memory Lane.
In 1994, Hesse went to St. John’s Wilmot Church in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he ministered until his retirement in 2013. He was renowned for his dialogue preaching, loving pastoral care and commitment to social justice and outreach to those often ignored or rejected. He helped found the Westchester County Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless, and in 2000, the Westchester Civil Liberties Union presented him with the Myron Isaacs Community Service Award for his efforts in helping to create the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. In 2005, Hesse earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from the New York Theological Seminary, with a dissertation examining the language used for God.
Along the way, Hesse co-authored three books with his partner, Anthony Chiffolo. The first, a collection of blessings and prayers for family pets, drew upon Hesse’s experiences at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. The subsequent books, Cooking with the Bible: Recipes for Biblical Meals and Cooking with the Movies: Meals on Reels, revealed Hesse’s love for the culinary arts. Hesse also wrote a book on the history of jewelry-making.
Upon his retirement, Hesse and Anthony moved to Bethany Beach, where they became active in the Bethany Area Repertory Theatre. An avid genealogy researcher, Hesse was a member of the Caesar Rodney Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. In 2017, Hesse became minister at Bethany Beach Christian Church in Bethany Beach, until in 2019 illness prevented him from continuing.
Hesse is survived by his beloved partner/husband of 21 years, Anthony F. Chiffolo; his stepdaughter, Lisa Chiffolo of Kentucky; his sister, Debbie Mugno of North Carolina; his sister, Sally Bishop of Maryland; his brother, David Hesse; his nieces and nephews; and his many church congregants over the years.
A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Calvert County Historical Society; 70 Church St.; Prince Frederick, MD 20678; or to the Maryland Historical Society; 201 West Monument St.; Baltimore, MD 21201; or to the Jewish Museum of Maryland at the Herbert Bearman Campus; 15 Lloyd St.; Baltimore, MD 21202.