Prescott Chamber CEO, Sheri Heiney, stated that Prescott Historian, Melissa Ruffner is long overdue to be recognized and honored! Melissa’s great-great uncle, Marion Andrew Ruffner, arrived in Yavapai County in 1867 and was the first discoverer of copper claims where the billion dollar copper camp of Jerome was later established. Being a third generation Prescott native, Melissa and her family have participated in Prescott’s holiday traditions for decades. The family has enjoyed Prescott’s Courthouse Lighting and the Christmas Parade since both events began! It is a long-time Ruffner family tradition to attend the World’s Oldest Rodeo every year. Her great-uncle George Ruffner was one of five co-founders of the World’s Oldest Rodeo in 1888. He is often remembered for serving 5 non-contiguous terms as Yavapai County Sheriff and being the 1st Arizona man inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Her Father, Budge, wrote for Arizona Highways and was an outdoorsman as well as a western history enthusiast. Her Mother, Elisabeth, is a living legend, having been one of the first living women inducted into the ArizonaWomen’s Hall of Fame. She helped get the Peavine Trail established and pushed for bike lanes onPrescott’s streets. She is a feisty and determined lady who Melissa describes as “a tough act to follow”. Melissa’s son is a retired chemical engineer and his wife is a retired high school teacher, her oldest daughter works for Fidelity Title, her second daughter is a high-end estate jewelry sales manager and son-in-law works for the NPR station in Sacramento, CA. Her youngest daughter is a retired Marine Sergeant and son-in-law is a Navy Chief/Corpsman. Her sister founded Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and inherited their father’s love of fishing. Her brother is co-founder of EcoPlan, helping to save the environment, which is a cause near and dear to Melissa’s heart. Her sister-in- law, Eunice, is a pillar in our family as she is always available to the family. Melissa has 4 grand- children, 2 great-nieces and 1 great-grandson.
One very notable way that her love for animals has shown through was her major role as an early supporter of the Yavapai Humane Society. The group began by holding bake sales outside JCPenney to raise money for the organization. Before the fundraiser went beyond bake sales and became enough to truly support the animals, Melissa would often resort to some unconventional methods of helping these furry friends. She recalls many dogs she adopted who were maybe a bit too large for her living room, pets bailed out of kill shelters with her grocery money, cats she was allergic to, and one incredible story of an abandoned Shetland pony who managed to fit in the back of her station wagon.
Melissa Ruffner is a rare Arizona gem, having been born and raised in Prescott. Her parents fed her curiosity and fostered her love for learning. She started her education at Lincoln Elementary School, attended Prescott High School, and graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy. Hearing incredible tales about her famed great-uncle, Sheriff George Ruffner was bound to spark her love of history and adventure. As a Sheriff during the prohibition era, George would often attach a custom-made old horse trailer to his vehicle and drive it around the Courthouse Plaza a couple of times before going to look for bootleggers and speakeasies. The horse trailer was so loud on the street that it gave all the criminals time to hide their illicit activities. One very interesting story about her great-uncle George involves a mortician named Frank Nevins. Nevins owed George a debt for stabling his horses in Ruffner Plaza stables, so one night in 1903 while playing a card game together, Nevins and Ruffner decided to settle things once and for all. If Frank won, his debt to George would be forgiven, but ifGeorge won, he would own Frank’s funeral home. George must have had a good hand that nightbecause the Ruffner-Wakelin Funeral Home still is in business today. Melissa said that if her Great Uncle hadn’t won the card game that night, her parents would have never met and she wouldn’thave been born. You see, her father Budge traveled to Cincinnati to study mortuary science where her mother was a pre-med student. Their close fields of study explain how they met and the rest of that Ruffner story has become a part of Prescott’s history!
Another influential person in her life was her grandmother, Mary Ethlyn Ward Ruffner, who was Prescott’s first public school music teacher. A graduate of the Chicago Conservatory of Music, Mary came to Prescott in 1910 and performed vaudeville shows on the same stage in the Elk’s Theatre, where for 14 years, Melissa was the official storyteller for the Arizona Jamboree.
Her memories of Christmas include classic scenes of the Downtown Prescott. Her family would visit the festively lit bandstand (mistakenly referred to as the “gazebo”) on the decorated Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, while music played. She remembers standing on the corner of the Plaza as a child where she and other children lined up near the old Piggly Wiggly to wait for Santa Claus. The store employees would give the Santa their extra stock of oranges and ribbon candy, so when Santa came riding in on a big old fire truck, the children were all so excited that he had treats for them. As she grew older and had kids of her own, she would bring them around downtown and listen to the music every year Melissa’s children would choose one gift they received and took it to the Sheriff’s office for deputies to give kids whose families could not afford toys. These stories are part of what truly makes Prescott “Arizona’s Christmas City”.
Melissa has received the Prescott Western Heritage Foundation’s Heritage Keeper Award, the SharlotHall Award, and the Al Merito Award from the Arizona Historical Society. She serves on the ArizonaPioneer’s Home Foundation Board, she is the sole “ornery member” of the Prescott Regulators andtheir Shady Ladies. She also serves with the Elks Opera House Guild, Arizona Territorial Society, City of Prescott History Hunt Board, and 2018 Ernest A. Love Celebration committee. Her firstpublication of “Prescott: A Pictorial History” sponsored by the Prescott Chamber of Commerce,helped pay for the 1981 restoration of the Chamber building façade. Also in 1981, Melissa began giving historical walking tours while dressed in Victorian clothing. These walking tours continue to this day.
When asked her feelings about being the Christmas Parade Grand Marshal, Ruffner said, “I am honored and thrilled. There are many people here who deserve this honor”. She added with a smile, “My favorite reason for accepting this honor is that my great-niece, Everly, will know for a fact that I am Santa’s helper”. Melissa has been in just about every parade Prescott has to offer, but this will be her first time as Grand Marshal. Christmas has always been a huge celebration in her entire family, so this really is very special.
Please join us as and meet Melissa at the 2nd Annual Grand Marshal Gala will be held on Thursday, November 29, 2018 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Make your reservations to the Grand Marshal Gala at Prescott.org. This grand event, honoring Melissa Ruffner, will be held at the Plaza View Ballroom at 120 W. Gurley St., Prescott, AZ 86301.
The 36th Annual Chamber Christmas Parade will be in downtown Prescott on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. Parade applications are available at Prescott.org
The 64th Annual Christmas Courthouse Lighting will take place on the north side of the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome!
For more information about all Chamber events, please visit Prescott.org or call (928) 445-2000.
The mission of the Prescott Chamber of Commerce is to provide leadership and resources to create a vibrant business environment for Prescott.