Ranger Betty became a park ranger at age 85.
Many of us hope to make it to our 85th birthday in good enough health to be active. Betty Reid Soskin did far more than that when she became a park ranger for the National Park Service the year she turned 85. And for the past 15 years, she has served as a ranger at Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, sharing forgotten histories of the homefront war effort.
On March 31, the National Park Service announced that Soskin was retiring—at age 100.
Go ahead and say it with me: Wow.
However, Soskin indicated years ago that such longevity shouldn't surprise us. Her mother lived until 101, her great-grandmother lived until 102 and her great-aunt lived to 107—and they all stayed busy until their passing.
In 2020, at age 98, Soskin told KTVU "I can't believe I've reached this age. Inside is 19-year-old Betty." At that point, she had cut back from giving interpretive talks from five days to one day a week after suffering a stroke five months before, but still she kept going in her service as a park ranger. She said there was something she was still meant to do.
"I haven't any idea what it is," she said. "I have no idea, except that it's there. It's something that I am to accomplish and I haven't done it yet."
Soskin has taken her work as a ranger seriously, and countless people have enjoyed hearing her unique perspective. She became a park ranger at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park because she was driven to broaden people's understanding of the context of the war effort, including the backdrop of racism and segregation in the U.S., according to NPR.
Soskin herself was a young woman during World War II and worked as a shipyard clerk for an all-Black auxiliary lodge of the Boilermakers union. (As a Black American, she was not allowed to join as a regular member.) Her great-grandmother had been born into slavery and was still alive at that time.
"Being a primary source in the sharing of that history – my history – and giving shape to a new national park has been exciting and fulfilling,” said Soskin. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”
Soskin has been honored multiple times over the years, earning the title of Woman of the Year in 1995 from the California Legislature and being given the honor of introducing President Obama at a tree-lighting ceremony. She has a California middle school named after her, and she is well aware of the importance of her role in sharing stories that history has too often overlooked.
"What gets remembered is a function of who's in the room doing the remembering," Soskin has said, according to NPR.
Soskin—or "Ranger Betty," as she's been known for the past decade and a half—spent her final day as a ranger providing an interpretive program to the public and visiting with friends. The National Park Service shared a message announcing her retirement and wishing her well.
“The National Park Service is grateful to Ranger Betty for sharing her thoughts and first-person accounts in ways that span across generations,” said Naomi Torres, acting superintendent of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. “She has used stories of her life on the Home Front, drawing meaning from those experiences in ways that make that history truly impactful for those of us living today.”
If you want to enjoy one of Soskin's talks, here you go. She is, in a word, riveting. May we all live as long and as well as Ranger Betty.
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