By Kathy Chouteau
On the morning of her 102nd birthday, Betty Reid Soskin arrived with family members at her namesake Betty Reid Soskin Middle School to be greeted by a swarm of students, school and district leadership to celebrate her special day.
Welcoming Ms. Soskin to the outdoor school courtyard Friday morning were numerous hand-made “Happy Birthday” signs, joyful faces and well wishes from the students as her family directed her wheelchair inside the building, eventually settling in the library.
There, she was feted by balloons and more school students, as well as brief speakers including West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Board of Education Board President Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy, Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Chris Hurst—who presented Ms. Soskin with beautiful flowers—Diara Reid and other family members.
Betty’s daughter, Diara, shared with the crowd that she surprised her mother with news of the school visit this morning, noting that “these are the moments that matter” to her. She said that the school visits have meant so much to Ms. Soskin–more than her time as the oldest national park ranger in the country—and that it’s what she appreciates the most.
“Because she knows that you all are going to carry her into the future and that’s really her legacy,” said Diara to the students.
The school—formerly called Juan Crespi Middle School—was renamed in Ms. Soskin’s honor two years ago after students initiated it, according to school personnel.
Facing the crowd before the garland of green balloons and holding her flowers, Ms. Soskin confirmed that she was “surprised” about the school celebration and said, “I had no idea. Thank you very much.” Later, when asked how she was planning to celebrate her big day, she enthusiastically replied, “pizza!”
Following her time in the library, Ms. Soskin briefly visited Jared Heifetz’ 7th grade English class at the school and made herself available for questions. Upon leaving, she returned to the outdoor courtyard again, where she was welcomed by a large crowd of students wishing her a “Happy Birthday” again on her way out.
Superintendent Hurst shared with the Richmond Standard that prior to starting work at the WCCUSD a few years ago, he remembers reading about Betty Reid Soskin’s life and how she was a community activist, fought for Civil Rights and women’s rights and was instrumental in the development of the Rosie the Riveter World War II National Historical Park and recognizing women’s roles in the war.
“So whenever you have someone like that living in the community…I think she’s someone that every girl, every woman and man can look at her accomplishments and see that she is really purpose-driven and really lives out her purpose for people.” He underscored that Ms. Soskin’s model of living is what we want for our kids and it’s really important to share it with them.