The oldest park ranger in America has decided to hang up her flat hat for a well-deserved retirement. For years, Betty Reid Soskin was the oldest active park ranger in the nation after she started working for the National Park Service at 84 years old. For over 15 years, Betty has led public programs at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
Betty Reid Soskin was born on September 22, 1921, in Detroit, Michigan. During the Second World War, Betty worked as a file clerk for the segregated Boilermakers Union A-36. She was primarily responsible for filing change of address cards for the workers.
In 1945, Betty and her husband, Mel Reid, founded one of the first black-owned music stores. Together they opened Reid’s Records in Berkley, California, which shut down in 2019. Betty and her family encountered awful racism and faced death threats after building their home in a white suburb.
Betty was also involved in the Civil Rights Movement, writing songs for the cause. She has since been recognized both at a national and local level for her role in the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout her career, Betty also held positions as staff to a Berkley city council member and as a field representative serving West Contra Costa County for former Assemblywoman Dion Aroner and Senator Loni Hancock.
In the early 2000s, Soskin began participating in meetings with the City of Richmond and the National Park Service (NPS) to develop the general management plan for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Soskin then began working with the NPS through a third-party grant where she helped highlight Black Americans’ experiences during the Second World War.
Rosie the Riveter might have been the face of female industrial work during the Second World War, but Soskin never saw herself as Rosie, despite being involved in the war effort. As Soskin explained in a 2014 interview, “that really is a white woman’s story.” She added that she never really had “any sense of what the greater picture was” during the Second World War. As such, Soskin ensured that each visitor to the park understood the broader context of the war effort against the backdrop of racism and segregation.
In 2011, when Betty was 84 years old, she accepted a permanent position with the National Park Service. For over 15 years, Betty led public programs and shared her own personal experiences and observations with park visitors.
Betty Reid Soskin has rightfully racked up several accolades during her illustrious life. In 1995, she was named California’s Woman of the Year. In 2016, she received the Silver Medallion Award at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Out of the past 30 recipients, Betty is one of two women to receive this award (the second being Elizabeth Dole). Soskin also had a middle school in California named after her. Additionally, she has also been honored with recognition in the Congressional Record.
In 2015, Soskin introduced President Barack Obama at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Washington D.C. She then received a commemorative presidential coin from Obama. Sadly, in 2016, she was awakened by a robber during a home invasion. Her commemorative coin, which was one of her most prized possessions, was stolen. The coin was later replaced.
I heard Betty Reid Soskin is retiring at 100, and want to congratulate her for more than a decade of service as a National Park Ranger.
Betty, I hope you realize just how many people appreciate everything you’ve done—myself included. pic.twitter.com/lElFYwxVMg
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 2, 2022
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When Barack Obama heard of Betty’s retirement, he posted a sweet message on his social media. The statement reads: “Betty, I hope you realize just how many people appreciate everything you’ve done – myself included.”
We are sad to see Betty retire, but we are certain she will continue to be a leader in her community and across America. We wish her a happy and healthy retirement!