Reunion Founders

Founders of the Family Reunions

George Edward Ruffner and Lester Ward ‘Budge’ Ruffner

(1925 – 2002)
George, a son of Walter Ray Ruffner and Theta (Logan) Ruffner, was born September 27, 1925, in Union Township, Mason, Illinois in the home of his great grandfather, Harrison Ruffner. He and his parents lived there one year before moving to their own farm home. He had five siblings: Robert (Bob), Wanda, Rhea, Lawrence, and a half-sister, Pamela.

George attended East Union School for his elementary education; Mason High School for three years and then graduated from Effingham High School in 1942. He worked on a farm in northern Illinois and then in an ordinance plant in Joliet, Illinois until January 1943. George then entered the U.S. Army where he served for almost three years. For two years, he was in the South Pacific and was wounded in action on the island of Luzon on April 9, 1945. George was awarded the Purple Heart and received his discharge on October 24, 1945.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1945, he married Ruth Byers in Effingham, Illinois. They have six children: Marsha Kay, born November 6, 1946; son Mason on November 29, 1947; Rebekah on November 28, 1952, Janella Sue on January 25, 1955, Roger on July 9, 1960, and Douglas on October 19, 1962.

George worked in the oil fields until February 18, 1948, when he was appointed Postmaster in Mason, IL. He served in that position until June 15, 1953, when he transferred to a rural route carrier position. Due to health problems, he then transferred to Hurst and Bedford, Texas routes on June 15, 1965. He worked there until January 1,1972, but retired after having three back surgeries. After recovery, George went to work for Absolute Security Company as a security chief in Hurst, Texas.

In 1974, George moved his family to Niotaze, Kansas to serve with Cookson Hills Christian Children’s Home. He managed the ranch there. He and Ruth were aunt and uncle to some of the children, grandma and grandpa to others. After one year there, he was transferred to the main unit in Kansas, Oklahoma where he served as superintendent and Ruth worked in the office. They kept some of the children in their home for the next four years.

In 1979, the family moved to Miami, OK, where George served on the police force, with his daughter Janella, for the next nine years.    In January 1986, George began traveling with World Mission Builders (WMB) building churches and holding crusades, mainly in third world countries. This year (2001), WMB has traveled and built churches in Missouri, Arizona and North Carolina. The photo above shows George at Victoria Falls while on one of his many overseas missions to South Africa.

Most of the 28 years George spent working for the U.S. Postal Service, he also farmed, raised and showed American Saddle bred Palomino horses. He still enjoys trail riding and rides when he can find the time.

George writes, “The Lord has so richly blessed us with a wonderful family of six children, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. I count one of my blessings as seeing the Ruffner Family Reunion grow where it is today. It has been such a joy to meet all the cousins that I would never have known if it had not been for these reunions.”

George was also a member of the Ruffner Family Association Board of Directors and its Cemetery Preservation Committee.

In June 2002 George and Ruth Ruffner attended the annual Ruffner Family Association Board of Directors Meeting and the Booker T. Washington Family Reunion in Charleston/Malden, West Virginia.  On their way back to Oklahoma, George and Ruth attended the 2002 Illinois Ruffner Reunion in Effingham.

George Ruffner passed away on July 9, 2002, within a couple of weeks of his return home.  Those of us in the Ruffner family are indebted to the work he and Budge started in bringing the various Ruffner family branches together.   That “germ of an idea,” to which George responded, “how about this year,” has bloomed into a beautiful fully-branched family tree.

Budge RuffnerLester Ward “Budge” Ruffner (1918-1996)

Budge was born in Prescott, Arizona on March 17, 1918, into a pioneer Arizona family who had arrived in the territory in 1867.

His great-uncle, Morris Andrew Ruffner, filed the first copper claims near where Jerome now stands.

His parents were Mary Ethelyn (Ward) Ruffner, the first public school music teacher in the Arizona Territory, and Lester Lee Ruffner. Lester Lee operated the Ruffner Funeral Home, a business which his brother, George, won at the Palace Saloon on Whiskey Row in January of 1903. The wager that night centered around an unpaid livery bill owed by the undertaker, Frank Nevins, to Ruffner’s Plaza Stables. In the best tradition of the old west, the business changed hands at the turn of a card. The business continues and is today the only funeral home from territorial days still in operation.

Budge was an unremarkable student until he attended Brophy Prep in Phoenix, where strict Jesuit priests taught him to study to remember, read to think, and write to inform, persuade and amuse. He spent two mid-teen summers as a Model A Ford driver and camp cook for expeditions led by Barnard College anthropologist, Gladys Reichard, for field studies in Navajo land in and beyond northeastern Arizona. “She taught me,’ recalled Budge sixty years later, ‘to judge people by their standards and not my own.”

He attended Loyola University in Los Angeles and graduated from Cincinnati College of Embalming in 1939. Upon returning to Arizona, he entered the family business. In August of 1940, he married Elisabeth “Bette” (Friedrich) Ruffner of Cincinnati, Ohio, and they honeymooned in Arizona’s Indian country. Subsequently, Budge enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served until 1943.

A giver to his community and state, Budge organized the 20/30 Club in 1943 to facilitate the continuation of Prescott’s Frontier Days celebration and the World’s Oldest Rodeo, which his Uncle George had helped to organize in 1888. He was chairman of Prescott’s Centennial Commission and was chosen “Man of the Year” for 1965-66.

In 1964, he became a columnist for the Prescott Courier, penning stories of the Southwest, which he loved so much. Over the years, he wrote articles and reviews for Arizona Highways magazine, New Mexico magazine, Arizona Attorney magazine, Southwest Art, Western Folklorist, Poems Southwest and Arizona Anthem.

Budge was also the author of three books, All Hell Needs Is Water (1972), Shot In The Ass With Pesos: A Collection of Frontier Tales (1979), and Ruff Country: Tales West by Southwest (1994). With his daughter, Melissa, he co-authored the Arizona Territorial Sampler: Food and Lifestyles of a Frontier (1982, and now in its 3rd edition).    His long list of community and state involvement includes charter member of the Prescott Corral of Westerners in 1962, and acting as its president in 1964. He was a charter member of the Arizona Historical Foundation, at the invitation of his lifetime friend, the late Senator Barry Goldwater. He served two terms as its president and was recipient of its coveted Al Merito award. Budge introduced Barry Goldwater on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse for every announcement the Senator made for national office (including his presidential bid), save his last senatorial race.

Budge was a member of the Indian Commission of the State of Arizona and a member & chairman of the Arizona Lottery Commission, appointed by then Governor Bruce Babbitt.    Budge also taught as adjunct professor of Southwestern history and literature at both Yavapai College and Prescott College.

In 1994, Don Dedera, his longtime friend and colleague at Arizona Highways magazine wrote:    “Then what are we to do with this huge, western-dressed hombre with a laugh loud enough to fell ponderosa pines? Who lurches through social gatherings, shamelessly bragging about his honored historian wife, Elisabeth, their three children and eight grandchildren, one-of-a-kind cronies, his sassy and sometimes snooty hometown, its surrounding countryside, and the hosts of Indians, Jews, Mexicans, Slavs, Blacks – ministers, murderers, politicians, priests, lawmen, sainted and painted ladies – fools, leaders, connivers, gamblers and achievers – that he met in the flesh or encountered in history?”   “What to do with this minstrel who into his eighth decade continues to commit to paper his discoveries and ideas? At least, he is a living treasure of Yavapai County. Probably of Arizona. Possibly of the nation.”

“Why…let us ENJOY him!”

On May 14, 1996, Budge Ruffner, this treasured man, passed away, leaving us with a legacy of stories, memories and the realization of his vision – the reunification of Peter and Mary (Steinman) Ruffner’s descendants.

These bios were first printed in the May 2001 issue of the Ruffner Roots and Ramblings