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Elisabeth Ruffner

1919 - 2019

Elisabeth Friedrich Ruffner was the quintessential Renaissance woman, a writer, a radio and TV host, an advocate for the arts, a cultural historian, and a preservationist. She was born September 17, 1919 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati and in 1940 traveled to Arizona by train to meet the family of her fiancé, Lester “Budge” Ruffner. She married him shortly thereafter and fully embraced Arizona in general and Prescott in particular as her home. She was the mother of three.

Elisabeth was a dedicated supporter of Arizona’s heritage best known for her tireless efforts on behalf of the arts, historic preservation, Arizona’s libraries, and Arizona’s women. According to an interview with Karen Despain of the Prescott Daily Courier, Elisabeth’s advocacy for the arts and humanities became a passion because  they are “ the most telling expressions of humankind’s desire for perfection.” As a champion of historic preservation, Elisabeth was instrumental in establishing numerous historic districts. She worked to save more than 700 historic buildings in Arizona and helped secure each one a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Elisabeth was elected and appointed to leadership roles in numerous organizations. She demonstrated excellence, initiative, and imagination with every presidency and chairmanship she accepted. In the 1970s she chaired the Prescott Public Library Board and led the capital campaign to obtain funding for a new library building. She was one of the founders of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, an organization that works with local, state and national partners to promote and protect Arizona’s historical, archeological, architectural, and cultural resources. She also served as its first president.

She served as founding president of the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council and president of the Yavapai Heritage Foundation. She served as the Chairman of the City of Prescott Mayor’s Committee on Economic Development where she wrote and saw adopted the Prescott Historic Preservation Ordinance. She was Chair of the state’s Historic Sites Committee, served as an advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and received a Presidential appointment to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Services. She spearheaded the capital campaign for the  Elks Opera House in Prescott, raising over 1.7 million dollars for the successful renovation and preservation of this historic building.


Recognized nationally and locally, her awards are too numerous to list. To mention a few: in 1969 she received the Rosenzweig Award from the Arizona State Library Association for outstanding citizen participation; a Cultural Achievement Award in 1980 from the US Department of the Interior; an Arizona Governor’s award for Historic Preservation; the Individual Award at the 29th annual Governor’s Arts Awards and she was named History Maker by the Arizona Historical Society and a Culture Keeper, a program originated by philanthropist Katherine Herberger to honor individuals who have demonstrated a long-time commitment and passionate dedication to keeping Arizona’s culture alive.

Those who worked with Elisabeth knew that she was never one to sit by. If there was a need, she immediately set about to get something done and nearly always succeeded. She brought about change and influenced local, state, and national values through her initiative and leadership.

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