America's Oldest Park Ranger Hopes to Inspire Women of Color

America's Oldest Park Ranger Hopes to Inspire Women of Color

At 93, Betty Soskin provides timeless history lessons.

Published May 20, 2015

If your first thought regarding park rangers resembles something close to a pesky bear and picnic baskets, you clearly haven’t met Betty Reid Soskin, America’s oldest living park ranger.

The nonagenarian, who’s been a member of the National Park Service since she was 85, says she's not sure that she ever really wanted to be a park ranger, but there’s no way she’s stopping now.

“I still love this uniform. Partly because there's a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street or in an elevator or on an escalator...that there's a career choice she may have never thought of,” Soskin said in a recent interview on The Today Show.

Starting her historic career as a file clerk for a segregated union auxiliary in 1942, Soskin then moved to a white neighborhood after World War II, where she received death threats for attempting to build a home there.

Eventually, she found her home among the tons of visitors at Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif., where she’s been since 2003.

A walking time capsule, Soskin has made a great joy out of recalling her life to anyone who is interested as she serves as tour guide for the park exhibit “Untold Stories and Lost Conversations,” about the history of wartime women laborers. 

She also shares her personal stories as both a political activist and a Black woman in the workforce.

'Since I’m working from memory, my work tends to be 'in the moment' and depends upon my ability to respond to questions out of a well that seems bottomless at times,” she said.

And she's not planning on retiring any time soon. She clocks in five days a week and says, “And as long as that's true, and as long as I'm developing new questions, then I'm going to go on living it.” 

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Written by By: George Chapman, Jr.

COMMENTS

Latest in news