Chamber Christmas parade: Prescott historian with frontier roots selected as 2018 grand marshal
Prescott historian Melissa Ruffner is a “rare Arizona gem,” a woman who comes from a family with frontier roots and commitment to caring for their community and protecting its natural environment.
She has an enduring passion for her hometown, be it telling stories of its founders and little unknown facts about city landmarks or donning Victoria dress for her downtown walking tours.
For all she has done, and will continue to do, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce has bestowed on her the honor as the business organization’s 2018 Grand Marshal. She will serve in that role for the Chamber’s 36th annual Christmas Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1.
Ruffner will be feted as the selected nominee at the Chamber’s Grand Marshal Gala, which is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 29. The gala will be held at the Plaza View Ballroom, 120 W. Gurley St., from 6 to 9 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made at www.Prescott.org.
“I am honored and thrilled. There are many people here who deserve this honor,” said the mother of four adult children and has four grandchildren, two great-nieces and one great grandson.
Christmas has always been part of her family’s holiday must-do celebrations, with Ruffner in just about every parade. This, though, will be her first time as the grand marshal.
“My favorite reason for accepting this honor is that my great-niece, Everly, will know for a fact that I am Santa’s helper.”
Ruffner’s memories of Christmas harken back to classic scenes of downtown Prescott.
Ruffner’s family each year visited the bandstand on the courthouse plaza, both ornately decorated and lighted for the season. They reveled in the lights, the music and the very spirit of Arizona’s “Christmas City.”
One of Ruffner’s memories is of standing in line at the Piggy Wiggly store to wait for Santa Claus. Store employees would stock Santa with extra oranges and ribbon candy so when Santa came into town on the back of the fire truck children were eager for the treats he would dispense.
As she got older, and then had children of her own, Ruffner said they would again come downtown to listen to the music and wait for the appearance of the Jolly Old Elf.
In the spirit of caring for others in the community, Ruffner’s children each year would select one of the gifts they received for Christmas and take it to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. They would then be donated to children whose families could not afford to buy them toys.
Ruffner’s connections to the Chamber also run deep.
Her first publication of “Prescott: A Pictorial History,” sponsored by the Chamber, helped the business organization pay for the 1981 restoration of the façade on the Chamber’s historic building on the corner of Goodwin and South Montezuma streets.
Ruffner’s affinity for all-things Prescott is in her gene pool.
Her great-great uncle, Marion Andrew Ruffner, arrived in Prescott in 1867. He is credited with the first discovery of copper claims in the “billion dollar cooper camp” where Jerome was later established.
As a third-generation Prescott native, Ruffner is a lover of tradition, be it attending with her immediate or extended family the annual Christmas festivities, the “World’s Oldest Rodeo,” or events at the Elks Theatre and Performing Arts Center.
Her mother, Elisabeth, considered an Arizona “living legend” and one of the first living women to be inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame, was instrumental in efforts to refurbish the theatrical landmark to its historic beauty. Ruffner’s late father, Budge, was in the family mortuary business.
Ruffner’s collection of awards is plentiful. She was presented with the Prescott Western Heritage Foundation’s Heritage Keeper Award, the Sharlot Hall Award and the Arizona Historical Society’s Al Merito Award. She is a self-avowed “ornery member” of the Prescott Regulators and Shady Ladies and member of the Arizona Pioneer’s Home Foundation Board.
She, too, serves with the Elks Opera House Guild, the Arizona Territorial Society, and was part of the 2018 Ernest A. Love Celebration Committee. She is the co-founder of the ElderHostel program at Yavapai College and coordinates Road Scholar programs for Northern Arizona University.
An early love of animals led her to be an early supporter of the Yavapai Humane Society; the precursor to those efforts saw Ruffner spending her grocery money to rescue pets from kill shelters, even cats to whom she was allergic and a Shetland pony she managed to fit in the back of her station wagon.
Ruffner was the official storyteller for the Arizona Jamboree, performing on the very same stage in the Elk’s Theatre where her grandmother, Mary Ethlyn Ward Ruffner — who came to the city in 1910 and was its first public school music teacher — performed vaudeville shows.
One of her continuing passions is to dress up for historical re-enactments. She can often be found greeting guests at the Elk’s Theatre. At this year’s Whiskey Row Shootout, Ruffner won first prize for her portrayal of her ancestor Edith Ruffner, the first woman elected as county recorder.
Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sheri Heiney said Ruffner is “long overdue to be honored and recognized.”
Information and photo provided by the Prescott Chamber of Commerce; edited by Courier staff writer Nanci Hutson.