East Bay icon “Ranger Betty” had the distinction of being the oldest active national park ranger in the U.S., until her retirement Thursday at the ripe, young age of 100.
It’s the end of an era at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. America’s oldest active park ranger Betty Reid Soskin, who turned 100 year old in September and now has a middle school named after her in El Sobrante, officially retired Thursday, according to the Bay Area News Group. The centenarian civil rights icon worked right up until her final day, and according to an NPS statement provided to KGO, “spent her last day providing an interpretive program to the public and visiting with coworkers.”
"To be a part of helping to mark the place where that dramatic trajectory of my own life, combined with others of my generation, will influence the future by the footprints we've left behind has been incredible," Soskin said in that statement.
Betty Reid Soskin was not a lifer at the National Park Service, in fact, she did not start working as a ranger until she was 84 years old. Her National Park Service biography recounts that she was born in 1921 as Betty Charbonnet in Detroit, Michigan in 1921, and moved to Oakland where she founded one of the Bay Area’s first Black-owned record stores in 1945. She worked as a file clerk in a segregated Union hall during World War II, and her stories of the Black experience on the homefront during the war gave her the perspectives to be a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter facility.
In 1995 she was named California Woman of the Year in 1995, and received a presidential coin from President Obama after lighting the White House’s National Christmas tree in 2015. She was made a full-time ranger in 2011.
"Though I am not a trained historian — my tours are necessarily a way to share my oral history with the public," told the Today show in 2015. "I tell the story of the African-American workers."
According to NBC Bay Area, “A free ceremony to recognize Soskin has been scheduled for Saturday, April 16 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Craneway Pavilion at 1414 Harbour Way South in Richmond. All ages are invited, and reservations are not required.”
Image: EL SOBRANTE, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest full-time National Park Service ranger in the United States, sits in front of a sign during a ceremony for the newly renamed Betty Reid Soskin Middle School on September 22, 2021 in El Sobrante, California. Soskin had the school renamed after her on her 100th birthday. She currently works at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park where she leads tours, speaks to groups and answers questions about living and working in the area during World War Two. Soskin worked as a clerk for the Boilermakers A-36 in Richmond, California during the war. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)