Last year, she suffered a stroke and even though it has changed a few things, she still continues to work.
At the age where most people are well-settled into their retirement life, Betty Reid Soskin had something new to add to her CV. She became a park ranger at the age of when she was in her 80s and nearly two decades into the job, she still loves it. In September 2020, Betty turned 99 years old and has shown no signs of retiring from the job. She continues to work with the National Park Service as a park ranger for the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
Speaking about her "rather remarkable" experience of working as a park ranger at such a ripe age, Betty told USA TODAY, "I have worked for 16 or 17 years, I suppose. I went to work at 85, which was already kind of an odd thing. My work has consisted mostly of getting together with people who are of interest and doing shows that lasted for an hour."
There were only staff members when Betty joined the park but now, there are 40 other employees. Along with the growing staff, Betty said, "my role became more and more involved as the park began to grow," in her article for Newsweek.
"The park is located in scattered sites throughout the city, and it became impossible as the story grew to cover it without getting a bus," Betty explained. "I began to ride around on the bus going to the various sites in the stories, including the sites of the four Kaiser shipyards, the staging area where the Japanese prisoners were collected and taken on to be interned, and Atchison Village which was built as homes for the Kaiser Shipyard workers."
To reserve a spot on Betty's bus, people often had to book a couple of months in advance. Eventually, she stopped doing the bus tours but still continued telling people her story. She started working at the park theatre and said, "people have been surprised after the tours or my talks because they often didn't realize how much there was to the story. People have been astounded that there is so much history that they weren't aware of. But my popularity has been the surprise of my life, I have no idea how it came about!"
Having lived for as long as she has, Betty has done so much and seen so much, that her early life after being born in Detroit seems like forever ago. Well, to be fair, it was 1921 which is almost a century ago. In her long life, this remarkable woman has done a bit of songwriting, co-founded Reid’s Records in Berkeley, had a date with Jackie Robinson, worked for the government for several years, did some blogging, and even wrote a memoir called Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life.
One thing she still finds hard to accept is the popularity she has gained. A number of people want to hear what she has to say and the talks that she gives at the park museum's small theatre often has a full house, according to Berkeleyside.
When asked about the moments she is proud of, she told USA TODAY, "I met with the Obamas in Washington, which was probably the high point of my life. It was absolutely unbelievable. I was invited to participate in the tree lighting ceremony and was brought back to Washington with my two granddaughters and participated in that. I look at it now and it seems almost unreal. I think that the first time I sang one of my songs at the Oakland Symphony was more than I would have ever dreamed possible."
In 2019, Betty suffered a stroke and revealed that it has affected what she can and cannot do.
"I'm fine," she said, as quoted by NBC Bay Area. "I'm not quite the person that I was."
She continues to work as the oldest active park ranger in America and the staff at the park are happy to have Betty for as long as they can. "We'll take as much Betty as we can get, but we're never going to jeopardize her health in terms of wanting her to be here," said Kelli English with the National Park Service.
While speaking to Newsweek, Betty said her advice to people would to be to "stay involved. To do anything less than that is to not measure up to one's potential. Because you never know when you throw the spaghetti against the wall, what's going to stick. When you're making history you have no idea that's what's happening. You don't realize until later."
Continue to do what you love doing as long as you can. That’s what the nation’s oldest park ranger Betty Reid Soskin advised today after she returned to work at the Rosie the Riveter Museum. The 98 year old suffered a stroke in September. #RosietheRiveter pic.twitter.com/SXQyoEsv20— Jodi Hernandez (@JodiHernandezTV) January 15, 2020
Although the stroke changed things for her, Betty still looks forward to what life might have in store for her. She said about the future, "I do feel I have done it all and that there is no rock that has not been turned over. So at this stage, I'm not quite sure what life will bring. All I can say is that I think I'll be ready."