School named after country’s oldest National Park ranger on her 100th birthday

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 2:49 PM EDT
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EL SOBRANTE, Calif. (KGO) – Betty Reid Soskin has a lot to celebrate.

Along with being the country’s oldest National Park ranger, she’s also an author, a musician, and a civil rights activist.

On Wednesday, she claimed two more big accomplishments: having a school renamed in her honor, and turning 100.

When asked how she feels at 100 years old, Soskin said: “I don’t know how I feel. I feel sometimes 100, and sometimes 8, and sometimes 50.”

That youthful energy is what’s kept Soskin working for more than a decade, first in person, and now on Zoom, at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Park Museum.

There, she shares her own experience as a Black woman working during the war as a file clerk in a segregated union hall.

On the eve of her centennial birthday this week, Soskin was asked what her secret was to such a long life.

“I’m not sure that there is a secret,” she said.

Is it a glass of wine a day?

“No,” Soskin answered.

A glass of whiskey?


Maybe a little bit of chocolate?

“Yes!” Soskin said.

It turns out, she does have a sweet tooth, but the real answer might simply be genetics.

Her mother lived to be 101. Her grandmother, who was born a slave in 1856, lived to be 102.

Soskin was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Sept. 22, 1921.

Since then, she’s lived through more than a dozen U.S. presidents. But for her, just one stands out above the rest: President Barack Obama, who she introduced during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at the White House in 2015.

“Standing with Obama on the stage in Washington, D.C. ... I had in my hand a little evening bag,” Soskin said. “In that bag was a picture of my great-grandmother. And I was holding it as I was introducing the president of the United States, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, in the shadow of the White House that was built by slaves. The whole meaning of that has really captured me.

“I would never have guessed that my life would have contained such vignettes.”

The latest vignette was a moment Wednesday at the newly renamed Betty Reid Soskin Middle School in El Sobrante, when she was brought to tears, overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

“Having a school named for me is more than I could ever have thought of,” she said. “Because it means that a number of children will go into the world knowing who I was, and what I was doing here. And maybe it will make a difference … I think maybe it will make a difference.”

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