One of my hobbies is camping. I love it. There is something about being out in nature, enjoying the quiet and the smell of dinner cooking on the open campfire. I was really pulled into (I believe it was) a CNN piece on the oldest National Park Ranger (at that time 100 years old) serving in the United States, Betty Soskin. I wrote down her name in my notebook to remind myself of her for Women’s History Month.
In looking up items to add to this blog, I came across this Sep 2021 video of Betty in which she meets and introduces President Obama. Such an amazing piece.
Betty Reid Soskin (née Charbonnet; born September 22, 1921) is a ranger with the National Park Service, assigned to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, In February 2018, she released a memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom.
It was in an NPR article on her that I found out the NPS was giving out an ink (or virtual) stamp for our passport books in honor of her 100th birthday! The National Parks Service has created a “Passport” book for when you travel and visit one of their locations, just like with a regular passport book, you can have it stamped to show you visited/traveled to specific locations.
In this NPR article (https://www.npr.org/2021/09/22/1039721368/100-year-old-national-park-ranger-betty-soskin) it is noted:
As a ranger, Soskin continues to leave a lasting impact on those around her — being honored for her years of dedication and service.
To celebrate her birthday, the park announced it will be giving out limited edition ink and virtual stamps honoring Soskin.
“Over the past decade and a half, Ranger Betty has shared her experiences as well as the efforts and sacrifices of women from diverse backgrounds living and working on the World War II home front,” the National Park Service said in an Instagram post honoring her birthday.
She’s already received a presidential commemorative coin from then-President Barack Obama at the 2015 National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. A year later, she was honored with an entry in the Congressional Record.
But her achievements may have their most lasting impact at a Bay Area middle school renamed in her honor: the Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.
She was divorced from Mel Reid in 1972, and subsequently married William Soskin, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1978, after Mel Reid’s health and finances had declined, she took over management of the music store, which led to her becoming active in area civic matters and a prominent community activist. Reid’s Records is still in business as of May 10, 2018.
She later served as a field representative for California State Assemblywomen Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock, and in those positions became actively involved in the early planning stages and development of a park to memorialize the role of women on the Home Front during World War II. Those efforts came to fruition when Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was established in 2000, to provide a site where future generations could remember the contributions women made to the war effort.
Reflecting on her own role in planning for the park’s creation, and on how she brought her personal recollections of the conditions for African American women working in that still segregated environment to bear on the planning efforts, she has said that, often, she “was the only person in the room who had any reason to remember that … what gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.”
In 2003, she left her state job and became a consultant at the park she helped create before becoming a park ranger with the National Park Service in 2007 at the age of 85.
As of 2019, Soskin is still employed at the park as a park ranger and conducts park tours and serves as an interpreter, explaining the park’s purpose, history, various sites, and museum collections to park visitors. She has been celebrated as “a tireless voice for making sure the African-American wartime experience – both the positive steps toward integration and the presence of discrimination – has a prominent place in the Park’s history.
Park Ranger Soskin has said, commenting on her life in 2015 at the age of 93: “Wish I’d had [the] confidence when the young Betty needed it to navigate through the hazards of everyday life on the planet. But maybe I’m better able to benefit from having it now – when I have the maturity to value it and the audacity to wield it for those things held dear.”
Soskin suffered a stroke while working at the park in September 2019 and returned to work in a limited, informal capacity January 2020. Her recovery is ongoing.
In 2021, she is still considered an active park ranger and is the oldest serving U.S. park ranger. In celebration of her 100th birthday the West Contra Costa Unified School District renamed Juan Crespi Middle School to Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.
For Additional Reading on Betty Soskin, here are some links: