“Betty! Betty! Betty!” Hundreds honor beloved park ranger at Rosie the Riveter museum
on April 16, 2022
The celebration began with a standing ovation and hundreds of people chanting in unison, “Betty! Betty! Betty! Betty,” as recently retired National Park Service ranger Betty Reid Soskin approached the stage Saturday at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond.
Soskin greeted the cheering crowd in her uniforrm: a forest green blazer, a brimmed hat and a smile across her face. Her family sat in the first row, supporting her many achievements. When Soskin retired last month from Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, she was the system’s oldest ranger, at 100.
Every seat was taken at the hourlong even honoring Soskin and an overflow of people were watching from the sidelines. The crowd was filled with fellow park rangers, people dressed like Rosie the Riveter and Soskin’s many fans. Speakers lauded her dedication to telling the full story of the home front, a history she witnessed and experienced.
“It’s amazing the amount of history in her lifetime and her ability to distill it into themes and convey that to all different ages from all different worlds,” said park ranger Tony Starling.
Soskin was honored for shaping the narrative at the Rosie the Riveter museum to include voices of people who initially weren’t part of the whitewashed history.
“She helped many people understand the role of African Americans during the war. Her themes are about unification and how it took many people, from diverse backgrounds, to really win this war,” said park ranger Lucian Sonder, who worked with Soskin for several years.
Soskin has been a source of inspiration for many people. Don Lau, who previously worked with the YMCA, spoke about Soskin’s involvement in Rosies’ Girls, a youth education program for female, non-binary and transgender high school students that focuses on STEAM education and workforce skills.
“Betty was obviously one of our key ‘sheroes’. She would always come and talk to the girls and be an inspiration to them about her life,” Lau said.
She was involved in developing the Park Service’s museum about women who went to work for the war effort. And at age 84, Soskin became a ranger there.
During World War II, she was a file clerk for the Boilermaker’s A-36 union in Oakland. And at the end of the war, she and her husband, Mel Reid, founded Reid’s Records in Berkeley, which operated for 75 years.
Soksin’s story, which represents many careers and decades, has had a profound impact on people of all generations.
“I’m 73 years of age and everything at this point seems behind me,” Juanita McCormick said. “But when I attended this event, and Betty being the age she is, it makes me know I still have a future, a big future.”
The history of World War II was largely shaped by who told the story. Soskin included her personal history as a Black woman to tell the story of World War II from the eyes of communities that were often left out of the general narrative, adding important context and providing a more accurate depiction.
Soskin received a plaque honoring her time as a park ranger, as well as a congressional record that acknowledged the work she’s accomplished. Soskin thanked the audience for the honor, then her retirement celebration ended the same way it started: with a roaring standing ovation.
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