At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about the National Parks Service career of Betty Soskin. She joined NPS in 2006 and has spent 15 years working at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
But a closer inspection shows the remarkable aspect of her career. Soskin joined the NPS at the age of 85. And she is being celebrated this week, as the service’s oldest ranger turns 100.
“People need heroes. Maybe I’m one of those,” Soskin told ABC News.
Soskin was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 22, 1921. Her family migrated to the West Coast, eventually settling in the East Bay in and around Oakland. It has been her home ever since.
Having already lived a long and productive life, Soskin was introduced to the NPS in 2000 after she attended a presentation on the formation of the park she now calls her work home. She convinced leaders to let her pursue stories about women of color who battled racism and discrimination while working during World War II.
That work was done with funding from a grant, which led to her taking a temporary position with the agency, and finally as a full-fledged park ranger.
She has quietly gone about her work, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2015, she was honored with a commemorative coin by President Obama at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and in 2016, her name and accomplishments were entered into the Congressional Record. She also received the silver service medallion from the National WWII Museum.
She also had a Bay Area middle school named after her, an honor she holds close to her heart.
“Having a school named for me is more than I ever thought of because it means that a number of children will go into the world knowing who I was and what I was doing here,” Soskin said, according to NPR. “Maybe it will make a difference.”
And now, as she turns 100, the NPS has created a limited-edition stamp in her honor.
“Over the past decade and a half, Ranger Betty has shared her experience as well as the efforts and sacrifices of women from diverse backgrounds living and working on the World War II home front,” the NPS said in an Instagram post marking her birthday.
Soskin has shown no signs of slowing down. She continues to work at the park and is usually in her ranger uniform when she goes out in public.
“When I’m on the streets or on an escalator or elevator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had,” Soskin told the Today show. “That’s important.”
It’s also important to Soskin that the stories she cares about continue to be told. These include her own experiences working as a file clerk during the war, and later as an activist and songwriter during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Though I am not a trained historian, my tours are necessarily a way to share my oral history with the public,” she said. “I tell the story of the African-American workers.”