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Betty Reid Soskin had the distinction of being the oldest active National Park ranger in the country, until she retired last month at the age of 100. She led public programs at the Rosie the Riveter-WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California– a job she held for 16 years. Geoff Bennett recently caught up with Soskin.
Finally, tonight, our weekend spotlight, a couple of weeks ago in Richmond, California, a National Park Service Ranger finally hung up her flat hat. It was a retirement that came much later than most of her colleagues.
I recently spoke with 100-year-old Betty Reid Soskin about her life and her time as a park ranger.
Betty Reid Soskin had the distinction of being the oldest active national park ranger in the country until her retirement late last month at the age of 100.
She led public programs at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, a job she held for 16 years starting in her 80s.
Ranger Betty, you started working as a park ranger at the age of 84, which is remarkable in itself given that you started a new career in your 80s. What drew you to the job?
Betty Reid Soskin:
I was actually working for the State of California. I was working as a field representative for the California State Assembly, so I was already on site. So it was pretty easy for me to go from one meeting to another.
The park pays homage to Rosie the Riveter, the iconic symbol representing the civilian women who worked in shipyards and factories taking the vacated jobs of men during World War II.
Ranger Betty says she worked to make sure visitors understood that Rosie the Riveter is an important story, but not the only one worthy of attention.
The story was incomplete as it stood. The story would be the part of 120,000 Japanese who were interned during the war for three and a half, five years. It was also the story of Port Chicago, an explosion of two kinds of ships, which blew up and blew out the lives of 320 men, 200 of them were black. There was so many stories. I was really interested in seeing the park covered.
You have said that you have lived lots and lots of lives. You grew up in a Creole black family in Oakland, California. You later worked as a file clerk at a segregated union shop. You and your late husband founded one of the first black owned record shops, which was in existence for nearly 75 years. You're also a mother to four children. You are a songwriter. You're active in politics throughout your entire life. How has all of that shaped you?
I have never known how that happened. I know that had I grown up knowing what was ahead. I would never have been able to do it. But I grew up with a sense of surprise. And I also felt that I was jumping out of bed every morning, wondering what was life going to be like? I still am. I'm still jumping out of bed trying to figure out what life is like.
Since becoming a ranger, accolades have poured in, including honors from then President Barack Obama in 2015. And a California Middle School was recently renamed in her honor. So what's next for you? What are you going to do in retirement?
I have no idea. I don't even want to know. I want I want to go on being surprised.
Oh, Ranger buddy, thank you for your time. And thank you for your service to this country. I deeply appreciate it.
Thank you very much.
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Geoff Bennett is the chief Washington correspondent for PBS NewsHour and anchor of PBS News Weekend.
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