She survived the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, opened one of the Bay Area’s first black-owned record stores in Oakland in 1945 and was named the California Woman of the Year award in 1995.
President Barack Obama gave her a silver coin with the Presidential seal when he invited her to a national Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
But on Saturday, it was the public who celebrated Betty Reid Soskin, 100, the nation’s oldest active park ranger. She had served more than 15 years at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond before retiring last month.
Organizers of the ceremony were left scrambling to find seats for hundreds of well wishers who gathered at the Craneway Pavilion next door to the park’s Visitor Education Center to honor the Bay Area’s beloved ranger.
Retired National Park Service deputy regional director Martha Lee shared memories of hiring Reid Soskin, recalling how she was initially reluctant to wear the ranger’s uniform.
That didn’t last long.
Reid Soskin led tours at the park and museum honoring women who worked in factories during wartime and shared her own experience as a Black woman during the conflict. She worked for the U.S. Air Force in 1942 but quit after learning that “she was employed only because her superiors believed she was white,” according to a Park Service biography.
When she was done speaking, Lee asked those who knew Reid Soskin, including her family, to stand. Then she asked her NPS work colleagues to stand, her friends at the Rosie the Riveter trust and finally, anyone who had “been inspired in any way by Betty’s life experience and stories.”
No one remained seated.
Director of the National Park Service Chuck Sams presented Reid Soskin with one of the NPS’s iconic, arrow-head shaped plaques, signed by dozens of her former colleagues. She accepted it graciously, holding it close to her chest with both hands before thanking everyone for their support and for “putting the wind under my wings.”
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