Nation’s Oldest Park Ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, Retires From National Park Service at 100

by TK Sanders

The country’s oldest national parks ranger is stepping away from the job she loves at the age of 100. Betty Reid Soskin retired Thursday with only 15 years tenure in the National Parks Service; but a lifetime of public service under her belt.

According to the Associated Press, Soskin spent her final day at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, leading an interpretive program for visitors, and then saying goodbye to coworkers.

A bit of quick math reveals that Soskin actually lived and worked through the female, wartime factory era of Rosie the Riveter. She even 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. Many decades later, Soskin made a living giving tours of those same halls she once walked; hoping to honor the women who worked in factories and remind the public what life was like as an African-American woman of the era.

“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,” Soskin said in the NPS statement. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”

Beyond being the nation’s oldest park ranger, Soskin lived a life of service and distinction

Soskin earned a temporary Park Service position sixteen years ago at the age of 84. She became a permanent Park Service employee in 2011. Last September, she turned 100 while still on the job.

“Betty has made a profound impact on the National Park Service; and the way we carry out our mission,” Director Chuck Sams said. “Her efforts remind us that we must seek out and give space for all perspectives. This allows us to tell a more full and inclusive history of our nation.”

Over 100 years ago, the Charbonnet family from Detroit welcomed a baby named Betty. After living in New Orleans for a time (Soskin vaguely recalls surviving the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927), her family moved west to Oakland; and she would remain in the Bay Area for life.

In 1945, she and her first husband founded one of the first black-owned record stores in the area, according to her NPS biography. She also participated in the civil rights movement; contributed to many local organizations; and received many honors of distinction throughout her life, including being named California’s Woman of the Year in 1995. The U.S. House of Representatives even honored Soskin years later with an official entry into the Congressional Record.

In 2015, Soskin lit the national Christmas tree for Barack Obama at the White House. She received a presidential coin for her efforts, too.