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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘So overwhelmed with gratitude’: GoFundMe campaign started for owner of Rusty’s Produce in Spokane Valley as he battles medical condition

Rusty Keele sorts through his produce as he opens for business, April 16, 2013 at the corner of Sprague and Blake in Spokane Valley, Wash. Don Keele Jr., Rusty's brother, launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist Rusty with unforeseen medical expenses.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Rusty Keele sorts through his produce as he opens for business, April 16, 2013 at the corner of Sprague and Blake in Spokane Valley, Wash. Don Keele Jr., Rusty's brother, launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist Rusty with unforeseen medical expenses. (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Nearly every year, Rusty Keele is a fixture at Rusty’s Produce on Sprague Avenue in Spokane Valley, interacting with customers in search of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But this year is different.

The produce stand – which typically operates during the summer in the Opportunity Shopping Center at 13414 E. Sprague Ave. – is closed.

Keele, owner of the produce stand and a cancer survivor, is battling a medical condition that has paralyzed his legs and forced closure of the business.

After several weeks of hospitalization, the financial burdens are becoming overwhelming for Keele and his wife, Gina, who are finding there are many medical expenses not covered by insurance, said Don Keele Jr., who is Rusty’s brother.

Keele Jr. launched a GoFundMe campaign last week to help Rusty with medical expenses.

The GoFundMe campaign funds for Rusty will cover daily medical supplies, a quality wheelchair, a handicap accessible van, stair lifts, treatment through rehabilitation, equipment to make his home adaptable and other unforeseen costs, Keele Jr. said.

“When we started adding up the price tag for those types of things, it ran up to $100,000,” Keele Jr. said. “So, we started a GoFundMe to help them get those things to help Rusty get mobile again.”

Keele Jr. said Rusty is doing as well as expected under the circumstances .

“It’s a learning curve and an up-and-down mental game, but he’s a positive guy,” Keele Jr. said. “He’s facing this like he faces most stuff and that’s ‘We’ll figure out how to do this.’ ”

Keele opened Rusty’s Produce in 1989. The stand quickly gained a following for its fruits and vegetables from area farms and orchards, in addition to produce from surrounding states.

Keele Jr. describes Rusty as a “walking encyclopedia of produce,” who enjoys interacting with customers.

“He’s been there for over 30 years. He’s just grown his business through being super-friendly, helpful, and trying to get the best produce and best prices,” Keele Jr. said.

The GoFundMe campaign had raised $7,795 of its $100,000 goal with 47 backers as of Friday.

“(Rusty and Gina) are just so overwhelmed with gratitude for those who have already reached out and those who have donated,” Keele Jr. said. “They appreciate everyone’s love and concern.”

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