America's Oldest National Park Ranger Turns 100 Today — Learn All About Her Legacy
America's oldest, and active, park ranger is celebrating her 100th birthday today and the National Park Service is reflecting on the incredible impact she's had.
Betty Reid Soskin has become somewhat of a national celebrity for her tours at Richmond, Calif.'s Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, which tend to fill up weeks, if not months in advance.
And even though she didn't join the National Park Service until she was 85 years old, her life before donning an NPS uniform was also filled with remarkable and inspiring roles. Born in Detroit in 1921, Soskin worked in a segregated union hall as a file clerk during World War II. From there, she became a political and community activist, working for the Black Panthers and Antiwar movements. Now a great-grandmother, she was also at one point a business owner, an accomplished musician, a blogger, and a political aide.
Now, people from across the country (and the world) come for Soskin's tours, not only to hear about the national park but her own remarkable history. She is the subject of a documentary, has been interviewed by Anderson Cooper, and was even introduced to President Obama before the White House tree lighting ceremony in 2015.
"When I became a ranger, I was taking back my own history," she told The New York Times in an interview published Monday to celebrate her birthday.
In 2000, she began to work with the National Park Service as a consultant on the formation of the Rosie the Riveter Park in Richmond, Calif. Soskin was the only person of color in the room and began voicing her "love and hate" relationship with the icon, who came to symbolize the experience of white women during the war. Soskin stayed aboard the project and helped diversify the stories told at the park.
"Without Betty's influence, we probably would not have told various previously marginalized stories in as much depth," Tom Leatherman, who has been park superintendent since 2010, told The New York Times.
Today, the park includes stories from Mexican American braceros, the Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps, and the boxcar "Indian Village" that housed newly arrived railway workers from New Mexico. And Soskin tells her own story alongside all these others.
"Betty has an amazing ability to share her own story in a really personal and vulnerable way — not so people know more about her, but so they understand that they too have a story," Leatherman told the newspaper. "We all have a history — and it's just as important as the history we learn in school."
Although Soskin is the country's oldest ranger, there are other centenarians involved in the National Park Service. In 2019, a 103-year-old woman became a junior park ranger at the Grand Canyon after visiting for the first time.