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Elisabeth Ruffner memorial celebrates a ‘somebody’ whose Prescott legacy is sacred

A crowd of more than 250 people gathered Sunday, May 26, 2019, to celebrate Elisabeth Ruffner at the Elks Theater in Prescott. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

A crowd of more than 250 people gathered Sunday, May 26, 2019, to celebrate Elisabeth Ruffner at the Elks Theater in Prescott. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Elisabeth Ruffner’s Prescott legacy is one of love – a love visible in family, friends and the beloved, adopted city she never stopped striving to enhance for the good of all.

Never one to sit on the sidelines, the 99-year-old anointed “grand dame” was a woman of action. Ruffner knew from her earliest days in this historic frontier town that she was the “somebody” Prescott could rely on to step in when it was time to make a difference.

Ruffner died on March 13.

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TOP: In this undated file photo, Elisabeth Ruffner at the Elks Opera House in downtown Prescott. RIGHT: Ruffner in May 2018. LEFT: Ruffner in February 2015. More than 250 people showed up to Ruffner’s memorial Sunday, May 26, 2019, at the Elks Theater. (Courier file photos)

“There’s a woman I know that just can’t sit still … If there’s a wrong she’ll make it right … Those Shady Ladies need health care, this town needs some books … A hospital, a library … people need culture .. Those beautiful buildings, who’s caring for them? This town needs an opera house …

“I find myself saying … Somebody should do something about that. Then I realized I am somebody.”

Those lyric excerpts penned and performed by Dennis “Doc” Garvey for Ruffner at a lifetime achievement tribute four years ago were repeated on Sunday afternoon. For the first rendition, the woman who hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio, was seated in a box seat right over the main stage in the Elks Opera House (now known as the Elks Theater and Performing Arts Center), a “community treasure” she is credited with enabling to be restored to its 1905 grandeur.

On Sunday, Ruffner was not seated in a box, yet her presence was alive and well in the more than 250 people who filled the theater’s velvet-covered seats for her community memorial.

“Elisabeth’s spirit is alive in these walls,” declared memorial speaker Maxine Dillahunty, a member of the Elks Opera House Guild.

Prescott native Alice Kring was one of many attenders who said they could not imagine missing the chance to say thank you to a “somebody” who inspired so much good.

“She was such a gracious person,” Kring said.

Speaker after speaker spoke of Ruffner’s ability to bring people together for a common purpose. All described Ruffner as a woman of intellect, vision and creativity who was determined to be a force for good even when it wasn’t easy.

With her unique style, grace, and a willingness to seek common ground with others, Ruffner was a “somebody” who inspired other “somebodies” to make life better for still more “somebodies.”

And Ruffner did not limit her reach to just Prescott.

Ruffner is credited with preserving some 1,200 historic buildings across the state.

Ruffner’s legacy of love for the city she came to love is one the speakers said they hope will stand as a “monument” to what Prescott and its people should be for one another. Ruffner’s “touch” was integral to the preservation of Prescott’s downtown character, they said.

Beyond the theater, Ruffner is credited with bringing together the people and the resources to preserve so many other landmarks: the Hassayampa Inn, The Yavapai County Courthouse Centennial Cornerstone, the Carnegie Library and the Octagon House.

“She is someone whose memory is sacred,” declared speaker Toni Denis.

Though the memorial service did not officially begin until 3 p.m., community members gathered outside the lobby doors an hour ahead so as to pay their personal tribute to the Prescott “icon,” a transplant from Cincinnati, Ohio after meeting her true “love” Lester “Budge” Ruffner of the Ruffner Funeral Home business.

Ruffner’s memorial tribute included video clips and photographs from her early days as a young bride to her elder years as a beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother. A particularly poignant moment is Ruffner’s 2015 induction as one of two “Living Legacy” inductees into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. The other inductee was retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

One of the early arrivals to the memorial was 23-year Prescott resident Kate Wilhelm.

Wilhelm and others described Ruffner as the “finest kind” of woman, beloved in multiple circles, be it friends of the performing arts, natural landmarks, historic preservation, or those simply in need of an example to follow.

Each said they want to be a “somebody” who carries forward her legacy.

“Prescott would not be Prescott without her,” Wilhelm said.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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