Betty Reid Soskin, the country’s oldest active ranger in the National Park Service, turned 100 years old Wednesday.
The century-old ranger leads tours and public programs, sharing her experiences and observations at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. Over the past decade and a half, Soskin has educated park visitors about the efforts and sacrifices of women from diverse backgrounds, who lived and worked in factories on the World War II home front.
In celebration of her milestone birthday, the Passport To Your National Parks program at Eastern National — a nonprofit that supports educational and scientific programs of the National Park Service — has created a special limited-edition ink stamp in her honor, available at the Richmond park’s visitor center.
Soskin marked her 100th birthday Wednesday at a ceremony for the newly renamed Betty Reid Soskin Middle School in El Sobrante, renamed after her on her 100th birthday.
Soskin grew up in a Cajun-Creole, African American family that settled in Oakland after a 1927 flood devastated New Orleans, according to her biography. Her family “followed the pattern set by the black railroad workers who discovered the West Coast while serving as sleeping car porters, waiters, and chefs for the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads: they settled at the western end of their run where life might be less impacted by southern hostility.”
In a 2015 interview with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Soskin said her great-grandmother was born into slavery in 1846 and lived to be 102.
During World War II, Soskin worked in a segregated union hall as a file clerk. In 1945, she and her husband, Mel Reid, founded one of the first Black-owned music stores, Reid’s Records, which closed in 2019.
Soskin has also held positions as staff to a Berkeley city council member and as a field representative serving West Contra Costa County for two members of the California State Assembly.
In the early 2000s, she participated in scoping meetings with the City of Richmond and the National Park Service to develop the general management plan for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. She worked with the park service on a grant funded by Pacific Gas & Electric to uncover untold stories of African Americans on the homefront during WWII, which led to a temporary position working with the service at the age of 84.
In 2011, Betty became a permanent National Park Service employee and has since been leading public programs and sharing her personal remembrances and observations at the park visitor center.
Later, in 2015, she was selected by the park service to participate in a national tree-lighting ceremony in at the White House and to introduce President Barack Obama in the nationwide telecast.
Soskin suffered a stroke in 2019 and spent months in physical therapy. She returned to work in 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She has been working intermittently throughout the pandemic and recently started weekly one-hour virtual visits.
Soskin says she hopes to return to regular programming at the visitor center when conditions permit.