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Betty Reid Soskin, the National Park Service’s oldest active ranger, turns 100 today—just a few years younger than the park service itself. Soskin, who works at Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, in Richmond, California, has become an icon amongst park visitors and outdoor enthusiasts for her memorable historical talks and enduring stature.
Soskin’s home park educates visitors on the role American civilians played on the home front in World War II, and encompasses a shipyard alongside an assembly plant that manufactured combat vehicles, as well as a museum. Soskin has personal connection as well: During the war, she worked as a file clerk in a segregated unit of the Boilermakers Union.
Her involvement in the park service began by chance. Through a job working for a California state legislator, Soskin found herself in planning meetings with the National Park Service soon after Rosie the Riveter Park’s authorization by congress. Soskin, in those meetings, wondered who would tell the stories of Black Americans like herself, as well as of other neglected home front groups during World War II. As planning for the park continued, it became clear that it would be her.
In her mid-80s, Soskin became an NPS employee and has since led interpretive tours and discussions, all relating to her personal experiences during the war. Soskin returned to work at the park shortly after suffering a stroke in 2019, and she’s continued to offer virtual talks throughout the pandemic.
Prior to joining the park service, Soskin followed many career paths over the years, from founding one of the first Black-owned record stores in the country with her first husband, to playing music herself, to raising four children. In 2015, 12 years after she became a full-time ranger, Soskin participated in the Christmas tree lighting at the White House. She’s become well-known for her outspokenness and persistence, and even recently narrated a commercial for The North Face.
Backpacker wishes Ranger Betty Reid Soskin a happy 100th birthday.