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Sun, Aug. 25

Two generations of Ruffners win prestigious Sharlot Hall Award

A Prescott mother and daughter recently garnered statewide awards for their work in preserving local and state history.

Elisabeth Ruffner was one of 10 winners of the Arizona Culturekeepers Award today, and her daughter Melissa Ruffner takes home the 2003 Sharlot Hall Award at a ceremony Saturday.

Elisabeth Ruffner also received the Sharlot Hall Award, in 1993, making herself and Melissa the first-ever mother and daughter winners of the award.

The Arizona Culturekeepers program "honors individuals who have made a positive impact on Arizona's history, culture, environment or economy."

Elisabeth received the award because she "has been a steward of Prescott's historic architecture for 40 years and has been pivotal in developing public awareness of the irreplaceable value of Prescott's territorial buildings," wrote Culturekeepers.

Today, almost 700 Prescott buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, in part, because of Elisabeth's determined efforts.

Sharlot Hall Museum chose Melissa for the Sharlot Hall Award for her teaching of the 'lore of her land' – the storytelling and tour guiding that has contributed to the understanding and awareness of Arizona History."

In its 19th year, the Sharlot Hall Award "honors a living Arizona woman who has contributed enormously and over a lifetime to preserving and educating topics of Arizona history," said museum director Richard Sims.

"Melissa epitomizes the spirit and letter of the award," he said. "She is tireless in her dedication to the work of keeping history alive."

Elisabeth found her love of history when she married into the Ruffner family and moved to Prescott from Cinncinati in 1940.

"The Ruffners were the history of Prescott," she said in a recent interview, noting that the Ruffners had been in Prescott since 1867.

Her husband, "Budge" Ruffner was an amateur historian "who felt a deep love for the town in which he was born and raised and that made me interested as well," Elisabeth said.

Next to her more than 60 years working with the Carnegie Library board, Elisabeth's volunteer career in historic preservation is longest.

"It's important to keep what we have, the human history, generations of memories, which reside in our historic homes," Elisabeth said, "to say nothing of … the great commercial value they are to this town."

The love of history came earlier for Melissa who was born into the historically significant Ruffner family.

Her first recollection of history was as a small tomboy with asthma whose father would tell her family stories to keep her from getting too rambunctious.

Those stories told that her family's early history was always intertwined with Prescott's and with Sharlot Hall Museum's: Her great-grandmother was the first public schoolteacher in the territory, her grandmother knew Sharlot Hall personally, her grandfather was involved in building the museum and was the overseeing mortician when mountain man Paulino Weaver's body arrived at the museum from San Francisco.

"History never seemed old and removed or non-essential to me. I was experiencing the people were the living history – it was part of my everyday life."

Melissa has traveled extensively to research both the Ruffner family and other early Prescott families.

Most notable of her publications is "Prescott: A Pictorial History."

Perhaps her greatest contribution is her 23-year work as a tour guide and owner/operator of Prescott Historical Tours, where, dressed in authentic Victorian costume, she gives walking tours of downtown Prescott complete with insights into the community's history.

She also travels throughout the Southwest region speaking about the history of Yavapai County.

Melissa has taught history with the Elderhostel program, Yavapai Learning Institute, Yavapai College and Sharlot Hall Museum.

For 12 years Melissa was a mainstay of the Arizona Jamboree where, as official storyteller, recounted stories of Prescott's colorful history.

Currently, she is establishing the Ruffner Family Foundation, which will provide scholarships for students of history.

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