The iconic Betty Reid Soskin, 100, the National Park Service’s (NPS) oldest active ranger, retired today after 15 years of “sharing her personal experiences and the efforts of women from diverse backgrounds who worked on the World War II Home Front,” according to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
Soskin spent her final day on the job providing an interpretive program to the public and visiting with coworkers, park officials said. The public is invited to join NPS and Soskin for a free public recognition ceremony on Saturday, April 16 from 1-2 p.m. at Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South. The event is open to all ages and no reservations are required.
Soskin participated in scoping meetings with the City of Richmond and NPS to develop the general management plan for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which was established in 2000.
“She worked with the NPS on a grant funded by PG&E to uncover untold stories of African Americans on the Home Front during WWII, which led to a temporary position working with the NPS at the age of 84,” park officials said.
Soskin became a permanent NPS employee in 2011 and has been leading public programs and sharing her personal remembrances and observations at the park visitor center. Her interpretive programs have impacted the way the NPS conveys such history to audiences across the U.S.
“Being a primary source in the sharing of that history – my history – and giving shape to a new national park has been exciting and fulfilling,” Soskin said. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”
Soskin is known for wearing many hats during her life, as a civil rights activist, musician, author and businesswoman. She grew up in New Orleans until her family settled in Oakland following the “Great Flood” of 1927. She graduated from Oakland’s Castlemont High. She later worked in Boilermakers A-36, a segregated union hall in Richmond, as a file clerk during WWII. In 1945, she and her husband Mel Reid founded one of the first black-owned music stores, Reid’s Records in Berkeley, which closed in 2019. Soskin has also worked on staffs for several elected officials.
She gained national fame during the federal government shutdown in 2013, when the media wanted to know her thoughts of the situation as the oldest NPS ranger. That’s when the world took notice of the power of her storytelling abilities, and the deep, hard-earned wisdom that accompany her stories.
In 2015, she participated in the national tree-lighting ceremony at the White House, where she introduced President Barack Obama on national TV. Shortly thereafter, she made international news after battling a burglar, who assaulted her and stole items including the Presidential coin gifted to her by President Obama. The coin was subsequently replaced.
Soskin authored Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life, and was the subject of a 2019 documentary film produced by the Rosie the Riveter Trust, called “No Time To Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin,” which details her influence on telling untold stories that helped inspire and challenge current social norms.
In fall 2019, Soskin suffered a stroke but returned to work just before the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
For her 100th birthday, Soskin cut the ribbon on a West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) middle school that has been renamed in her honor. The former Juan Crespi Middle School is now called Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.
Throughout her career, she’s earned a number of prestigious national awards, including recognition as a Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year recipient in 2018, and has been featured in numerous interviews with national media outlets, including the Today Show, NPR and Newsweek.
“The National Park Service is grateful to Ranger Betty for sharing her thoughts and first-person accounts in ways that span across generations,” said Naomi Torres, acting superintendent of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. “She has used stories of her life on the Home Front, drawing meaning from those experiences in ways that make that history truly impactful for those of us living today.”
NPS Director Chuck Sams added that Soskin’s efforts “remind us that we must seek out and give space for all perspectives so that we can tell a more full and inclusive history of our nation. Congratulations, Betty!”