Mary Ethelyn Ward Ruffner  (b. 1888, d. 1953)
Mary Ethelyn Ward Ruffner Elks Opera House
Mary Ethelyn Ward, a graduate of the Chicago Conservatory of Music, moved to Prescott in 1910 to teach in the Prescott Public School as the town's first music teacher. She married Lester Lee Ruffner in 1912 and gave birth to two children. She continued to bring music to the community by performing at the Elks Opera House in numerous minstrel and vaudeville shows during the 1910s and 1920s.

Region: North Central Arizona
Theme: Women in the Arts and Architechture

Mary Ward was born in 1888 in Benton, Illinois. Raised by her widowed mother, she was able to attend the Chicago Conservatory of Music because her mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins pooled funds for her training. They realized that her abilities as a pianist were far above average.

After two years of teaching music in Prescott, she married and left her position. During the early twentieth century, people commonly believed that wives and mothers should work only at home. Although she became a housewife, she was also an active performer. Her numerous performances at the Elks Opera House were unusual for a woman during the early twentieth century and illustrate her drive and talent. She also arranged music, directed plays and accompanied other performers by playing the piano. She was a guest artist on KTAR, a radio station in Phoenix, and served as accompanist for the Atwater Kent operatic auditions. Atwater Kent, the wealthy inventor of the Atwater Kent Radio, held annual auditions to find the next great opera star. In addition, she and other forward-looking women in Prescott founded the Community Concerts Association which brought excellent performers, organized through the Columbia Concerts Corporation, to their town. They began this program in the 1930s, and it later evolved into Friends in Concert at Yavapai College.

On the domestic front, Mary Ward Ruffner was very fond of restoring and redecorating her homes. The family owned several different homes in Prescott, all of which she enjoyed furnishing. She also loved to gamble, "the bigger the odds the better," according to her son, Lester "Budge" Ruffner.

The Elks Opera House, located at 117 E. Gurley, first opened in 1905. Boasting 900 seats and 8 dressing rooms, it became an important community gathering place which was also used for civic presentations, high school graduations, and balls. In 2001, the City of Prescott purchased the Elks from the Arizona Community Foundation. Through the Elks Opera House Foundation, founded by citizens of Prescott, the Elks Opera House has been restored to its former glory and is used for many performances today.


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