Originally Published: September 21, 2008 9:44 p.m.
PRESCOTT - While the attention of other girls her age likely was veering toward pop-culture icons, a teenage Nancy Burgess was focusing on slightly more serious interests: Arizona pioneer Jack Swilling, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
Indeed, her first foray into historic endeavors was a high-school research paper on Swilling. And one of her first jobs was a volunteer stint in a museum.
"I was an art docent at the Phoenix Art Museum when I was 14," Burgess recalls. "And I was involved with Pioneer, Arizona, from its very start when I was in high school."
That early immersion into all things historic foreshadowed Burgess' later career passions. Since the early 1990s, she has served as historic preservation specialist for the City of Prescott.
And it also had much to do with the recent selection of Burgess to join an exclusive group of Arizonans for the annual Culturekeeper award.
Originating in 2002 with the selection of 10 initial Culturekeepers, the award adds 10 more recipients each year, with plans to culminate with a total of 100 honorees in 2012 for Arizona's centennial.
Local historian Elisabeth Ruffner, one of the original 10 Culturekeepers, said she nominated Burgess for the honor because of the Prescott official's widespread interest in local and statewide history.
"That is a really important part of Culturekeepers - the involvement all around the region," Ruffner said, referring to Burgess' interest in not only Prescott's history, but in outlying communities such as Mayer, Humboldt, Ash Fork, and Sedona as well.
And certainly, her work in Prescott has had far-reaching impacts. From the 33 bronze plaques that adorn historic sites in Prescott to the more than a dozen National Register historic districts, Burgess' touch is visible all over the community.
Because of that work, Ruffner said, Prescott has maintained many of the historic features that make it a unique community.
Prior to taking on the job of preservation specialist in Prescott, Burgess already had a full professional life - first as an interior design assistant, and then as a paralegal.
It was through her work with law firms that she first got involved with researching nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Soon, she was working on a contract basis for the city, and later became a permanent, part-time employee.
Once there, she worked to establish the city's preservation program - a task that she said generated "a lot of support, but also resistance."
And of the Culture-keeper award, Burgess said she glad to join the ranks of past recipients.
"I think it's nice, because it's a very mixed bag of people from all different kinds of areas of interest," she said. "It gives a broad spectrum of people."
Along with Elisabeth Ruffner, earlier Prescott selections to the Cul-turekeeper roster include local historian Melissa Ruffner, Hotel St. Michael owner Lex Krieger, and historical dramatist Jody Drake.
Burgess' own interests - while many relate to history - go far beyond her job with the city. Among her recent and current projects: authoring two history-oriented books, with two more in the works; postcard collecting; photography; and, with her husband Jim, restoring historic buildings.
"I guess I'm a mixed bag, too," Burgess said. "I've done so many different things and am doing so many different things (relating to) Arizona's history."
The Culturekeepers program is a project of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, in conjunction with the Barry Goldwater Center for the Southwest and State Historian Marshall Trimble. Burgess will receive the award on Sept. 28.
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