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Retha Rene Rudloff was born on August 6, 1930 in Sikeston, MO to Anthony Charles Rudloff and Edra Mae (Hall) Rudloff. Because her father was a Baptist minister throughout Arkansas, Missouri and Florida she moved frequently as a child. She would often note that she had moved once a year and sometimes twice. For the first 10 years of her life she was an only child, but then the family grew rapidly with the additions of her brothers David and Randy and a sister Paula. She is survived by her brother Dr. David A.C. Rudloff and preceded in death by two beloved siblings, Randy Rudloff and Paula Gage.
Retha exhibited her intelligence and determination from a very young age. She was an excellent pianist and the story goes that her mother gave her a choice of becoming a piano teacher or a doctor. She was not at all fond of the piano teaching option therefore she pursued the medical path. While her father was serving as a Chaplin in the Philippines during WWII, Retha was accepted into the University of Chicago Lab school. She was 12 years of age. Her mother, recognizing the limits of educational opportunities in the small towns in southern Missouri, moved her 4 children to Chicago so that Retha could attend the combined high school and college program, thereby increasing her chances of attending medical school. When her father returned from the service, he was offered a position at the Baptist college in Walnut Ridge and the family moved to Arkansas. She continued her studies there, but ultimately received her college degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina at the age of 18. Retha later received her medical degree from Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston Salem, North Carolina graduating at age 22.
As one of only two women in her medical school class, she experienced first-hand what society would take three more decades to recognize, the strength and courage it took women to succeed in male dominated professions. While at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, she met and later married Robert John Schiess Jr in December of 1951. Retha finished her final year of medical school while pregnant with their first of 4 children: Robert John Schiess III MD (deceased), Karen Schiess Wagner PhD, Sandra Kay Schiess and Deborah Lynn Schiess. After her marriage of 24 years ended, she courageously reinvented herself as a woman and a physician. She juggled raising and educating four busy children with her medical career. Retha often commented on how proud she was that all four of her children had careers that improved the lives of others. Retha’s life as a person, physician, mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother was an inspiration.
Retha’s medical career spanned 7 decades. She continued her education and maintained her Medical License until her death at age 89. In fact, her last CEU credits were in an envelope ready to be mailed beside her bed when she passed away. She was Board certified in Neonatal Pediatrics, Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine. She practiced and volunteered her expertise at many places over the years, including but not limited to: Variety Children’s Hospital, Mercy Hospital, Head of Neonatal at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, children’s public health clinics in Miami Florida, the Student Health Center at University of Missouri, and emergency rooms in Columbia and Kansas City, MO and Ormond Beach and Brooksville FL. She advocated for children’s health. Her commonsense approach to medical treatment always amazed us. She started with the basics and worked through to the medical solution, almost always being right in her conclusion.
Retha is described by those who loved and knew her as caring, passionate, pioneering, strong willed, courageous, supportive, not willing to accept the status quo, patriotic and lest we leave out “strong Republican.” Her thirst for knowledge concerning her country’s history was insatiable. She constantly read about the challenges that made America the country it is today.
Retha’s zest for life led her to pursue many interests. At 16 years of age she gathered up her siblings and dog and took her first solo flight as a pilot. Her first two attempts to land were complicated by a cable caught in her seatbelt. After letting her siblings and dog out of the plane, she took off, circled again and made a perfect landing. Her favorite past time was sitting on the beach while enjoying the ocean. Her clown collection was second to none. Everyone always tried to find a new one to give her (preferably one with a smile) and see her light up and laugh. Retha loved her clowns! She shared adventures with family and friends like snow skiing, scuba diving, traveling to Tahiti, Hawaii and other places. Retha was well known for her voracious appetite for books of all kinds, jigsaw puzzles, ending family dinners with a lively game of scrabble, loud discussions on politics and coin collecting. She shared gifts of silver dollars, like her father before her, always having one to give her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews when she saw them. When she found out she could audit classes for free as a senior at the community college, she was all in. She enjoyed knowledge and learning!
Rene, as she was often called, left an impact on all those she encountered and a lifetime of memories for her family. She will be forever missed by those who knew and loved her. Her last days were spent visiting with family and those she touched. Surrounded by those who loved and admired her for all that she was and had accomplished, she passed peacefully after battling cancer on October 8, 2019.
Per her request there will be no service. She reassured us “this is just part of it, it’s ok”. Her loving desire was that everyone move on and live their lives to the fullest.