America’s Oldest National Park Ranger Also a Singer-Songwriter, Now Has a Musical

At 100 years old, Betty Reid Soskin is finally getting to share her story through her work as a park ranger and a new musical including songs she wrote half a century ago.

Betty Reid Soskin is not just any centenarian — she is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Sept. 22, and when asked how she feels being 100 years old, she smiled and said: “The same way I felt at 99.”

Soskin is a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California where she often recounts her personal history with visitors in hopes that her firsthand account will resonate with others. “I think everyone’s story is very important. There is so much diversity,” Soskin said to The Washington Post. “It’s in that mix that the great secret of a democracy exists.”

Soskin first started working with the National Park Service as a consultant in 2003, and a park ranger in 2007 at the age of 85. She realized she was often the only Black person in the room while sitting in meetings with the National Park Service, so she realized she wanted to make a change. “The history, as I had lived it, was nowhere in sight — not one minute of it,” she said.

She has become known for saying: “What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering.” So, Soskin has made her room the park’s visitor center, where she has sat on a stool many times and shared her story with a room full of strangers.

Music has always been an important part of Soskin’s life — she enjoys listening to it as well as producing it. She began writing songs in the 1960s, “at a point in my life when I was having trouble trying to figure out where I was going,” she recalled. “I found that I could sing things that I couldn’t say.”

One of her most recent accomplishments is the creation of  her new musical based on anthems she wrote over a half a century ago, Sign My Name To Freedom: The Unheard Songs of Betty Reid Soskin.

While the musical releases Soskin’s songs back into the wild, the production also sheds light into the way her identity as a ranger has been enhanced by her previous life as an artist. The songs were shaping her life all along, even if no one else heard them until now.

Image source: The Washington Post