Ruffner-Wakelin Funeral Homes, in Prescott, Now has New Owners

Todd Noecker C.F.S.P. and his wife Melinda have acquired Ruffner-Wakelin Funeral Homes in Prescott, Arizona and Ruffner-Wakelin Funeral Home in Prescott Valley, Arizona, as well as Bradshaw Crematory in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Ruffner-Wakelin was founded in 1903 and is the Oldest Funeral Home in Arizona as well as the longest established business in Prescott, Arizona. Todd and his wife Melinda operate the Funeral Homes under Noecker Family Funeral Homes, LLC. and are assisted by a Staff of 13. Kelly Fitzpatrick Manages the Prescott location and Dave Casto Manages the Prescott Valley location.

When the Territory of Arizona attained statehood in 1912, the Ruffner Funeral Home had been serving the people of central Arizona for nine years.

George C. Ruffner, the revered pioneer sheriff of Yavapai County, acquired the establishment in a rather unorthodox manner. On the night of January 3, 1903, George Ruffner chose to spend the snowy evening playing faro at the Palace Saloon. (Gambling was legal in territorial times.) Among the participants in the game was the local undertaker, Mr. Nevins, who frequently rented various types of livery from the Ruffner Stable for use in his business.

Near the end of the evening, they were the only two left in the game. When required to bet, Nevins had little money left on the table. He did, however, owe the Ruffner Livery Stable a sizable past-due account for services.

Nevins suggested a “double or nothing” bet. If Nevins had the winning hand, Ruffner agreed to mark the bill paid in full. If Ruffner proved the winner, the undertaking parlor would be owned by George Ruffner.

The name of today’s establishment gives ample evidence of the outcome. Ruffner obtained a mortician’s license from the Territory of Arizona. George’s younger brother, Lester Lee, after attending the Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago, took formal possession of the firm on New Year’s Eve 1906.

For the next forty years, Lester Ruffner devoted his life to the business, moving to the present location in 1927 when he purchased the Edmund W. Wells home built in 1878.

The building, excellently maintained over the years, is a classic example of Victorian Italianate influence. The style predates High Victorian Gothic, which later became so popular. Judge Wells, a respected citizen of early Prescott, was a former Yavapai County Attorney, Assistant U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Attorney General of the Territory, Candidate for Governor, and in 1910, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Judge Wells supervised construction of his home and obtained the lumber from the Thumb Butte sawmill of Virgil and Wyatt Earp, later of Tombstone fame. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Historic House Association of America.

Lester Lee’s son, Lester “Budge” Ward Ruffner, after completing his education, joined the firm in 1940 and, with the exception of four years of service in the United States Air Force, remained active in the family business until 1978. He became a well known writer and teacher of the American West.

Todd and Melinda are looking forward to continuing the long Heritage of family ownership. Todd is a Fourth Generation Funeral Director from Wyoming and Melinda has been involved in the Funeral Industry for over 22 years.