Oldest Living Ranger in the National Park Service Celebrates Her 100th Birthday

Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin has accomplished incredible things in her life. One of them has been her employment as the National Park Service’s oldest active ranger. But if that wasn’t extraordinary enough, she recently had a significant birthday—she turned 100!

Tour guide Soskin works in Richmond, California at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park. She’s become somewhat famous for her tours, which rapidly fill up with people eager to hear her speak.

Soskin was 85 years old when she joined the National Park Service, but she had lived a full life prior to that. Soskin, who was born in Detroit on September 22, 1921, subsequently moved to Northern California and worked as a file clerk in a segregated section of the historically all-white Boilermakers Union during World War II.

This occurred at a period when many women were leaving their homes to work, evoking the image of Rosie the Riveter. Soskin, on the other hand, was never associated with it. “That really is a white woman’s tale,” she added, referring to the fact that Black women had been forced to labor outside their homes owing to slavery.

Soskin’s life had numerous twists and turns in the years after WWII. During the Civil Rights Movement, she became a political and community activist, working with the Black Panthers and on anti-war campaigns.

She was working as a field representative for a California state politician in the year 2000, and she was entrusted with attending the park’s early planning meetings. She stated during the first meeting that she had a “love-hate relationship” with Rosie the Riveter since the symbol only conveyed one side of the tale.

“What is remembered depends on who is in the room doing the remembering,” Soskin often says, and she has continued to work with the National Park Service on relaying the memories of Black Americans throughout WWII.

She started as a community liaison, seasonal tour guide, and eventually full-time interpretive ranger, she worked her way up through the ranks. For her, it was an opportunity to “recover my own history” as a park ranger.

Soskin has been recognized for her contributions to the National Park Service. To commemorate her birthday, the park issued commemorative stamps (one of which is available virtually) and wrote about her contributions in an Instagram post: As a Ranger, Betty for over a decade and a half, has shared her insights as well as the dedication and sacrifices of women from many backgrounds who lived and worked on the WWII home front.

But, aside from the park’s honor, Soskin is leaving a legacy in another way: a Bay Area middle school has been christened Betty Reid Soskin Middle School. “At the end of the day, having a school named after me means that a large number of people will know who I am and what my work was all about”. Soskin says. “Perhaps it’ll make a difference.”

Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, who is 100 years old, is the National Park Service’s oldest active ranger.

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