Living Legacy: Ruffner to be one of first living inductees into Arizona Women's Hall
"Exceptional" barely begins to describe longtime Prescott resident Elisabeth Ruffner.
Ruffner, who has lived in Prescott since 1940, was a founder of the Heritage Foundation of Arizona and helped secure nominations for more than 700 historic Prescott buildings to the National Register of Historic Places, including the Hassayampa Inn.
She's also founding president of the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council, the Yavapai Heritage Foundation and Arizonans for Cultural development (now called Arizona Citizens for the Arts). In addition, she was one of the first Arizonans to become a Culturekeeper, a prestigious honor for those who have worked to preserve the state's history and culture.
Ruffner adds another achievement to the list in March, when she'll be inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame as one of the first two 2015 Living Legacies. The other is retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court's first female justice.
Living Legacies are "exceptional women who inspire and have reached the highest levels of professional accomplishment in their chosen endeavors," according to the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame website.
"It's such a distinct honor to be chosen as the first Living Legacy with Sandra Day O'Connor," Ruffner said during an interview in the Hassayampa Inn lobby. "It's an honor conferred on me by my peers, and that means the world to me."
Her late husband, Lester Ward "Budge" Ruffner, was on the original selection committee for the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in the 1980s. A controversy over the 1991 induction of Margaret Sanger Slee, who promoted birth control and helped establish the Planned Parenthood Federation, though she was inducted into the hall for her work building hospitals in Tucson, led to a decadelong hiatus in inductions.
Then, in 2002, Ruffner helped re-start the hall's nomination process. She serves on the executive committee, which is a committee of the secretary of state's office, to this day.
She counts her work on the restoration of the Elks Opera House as her most distinct achievement. She was founding secretary of the Elks Opera House Foundation and chaired the capital campaign for the 10-year restoration project.
Ruffner called the restored theater an asset to the community and a terrific educational institution, adding that the stage was designed to facilitate young students dancing.
She's proud to be part of a group supporting education and a community that values education, she said.
A fun detail: Her mother-in-law was the Arizona Territory's first public school music teacher.
Ruffner is a historian and writer, published bi-monthly in The Prescott Woman magazine. She is an acclaimed speaker and lecturer on topics such as history and historic preservation, open space, all the arts and many humanities.
The Arizona Women's Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Arizona Historical Society Museum, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe.
A 52-passenger bus will leave from the Highway 69 Walmart parking lot, near US Bank, at noon that day to make the trip to Tempe; those going should arrive by 11:45 a.m. Cost of the round-trip ticket is $30, to be paid in advance. Reserve a spot by calling the chamber office at 445-2000, Ext. 114.
Ruffner joins five Prescott women who have been inducted into the hall: Viola Jimulla, the first woman chief of an Indian tribe; Dr. Florence Yount, the first woman physician in Prescott; Frances Willard Munds, the first female senator in Arizona; Grace Sparkes, secretary of the Yavapai Chamber of Commerce; and Sharlot Hall, historian, author and poet.
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc.