A Passion for Story and Community: Betty Reid Soskin Looks Ahead to the Next Ten Years

By Biggar, Alison | Aging Today, January/February 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Passion for Story and Community: Betty Reid Soskin Looks Ahead to the Next Ten Years

Biggar, Alison, Aging Today

It's a gusty, overcast day as park ranger Betty Reid Soskin strides across the grass dressed in at least four layers - turtleneck, regulation gray Park Service shirt, sweater and green khaki work jacket - narrating the story of the Rosie the Riveter park and her place in it. Soskin is a ranger at Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. - a park that, as she is now telling curious visitors, is built on stories, not land.

Rosie the Riveter park consists of an evocative steel monument a full ship's length that juts into the water, with paragraphs of explanatory history carved into its cement pathway, and photos of women shipbuilders sunk into a frame in the ship's center.

Then Soskin guides visitors to several other sites - the Ford Assembly Building, where jeeps and tanks were made, and near it the location of the park's soon-to-be-opened (in Fall 201 1 ) Visitors Center.


But it is Soskin's interpreting of park history that really engages, as this 89year-old African American woman with cropped, slicked-back hair and a ready laugh embodies twin traits of hard-fought wisdom and forward-looking inspiration. Not someone who, as she said, "ever looked for a job," instead Soskin was offered this ranger position at age 85, following years as a field representative for California State Assemblywoman Dionne Aroner.

Attending park planning meetings as Aroner's community liaison, Soskin was struck by what was being left out of the discussion - the African American home-front story - spoke up about it and ended up with the ranger job. She now works five days a week, six hours a day, telling that story.

Soskin felt out of place when she first started, she says, because, "Rosie's story is a "white woman's story." But now she's made it more than that, adding insight from when she worked as a clerk in the black union office serving the shipyards of Richmond.

She explains how her interpretive ranger position is bigger than just Rosie the Riveter, too. "I consider that when I get up each morning and get into my uniform and flat hat, wherever I grj - on the street, into elevators and escalators, boardrooms and waiting rooms in my city - I'm announcing to every little girl of color a career choice that she might never have thought of entering. Everything else is built upon that."

According to Soskin, it can take up to 20 years to fully develop a national park, and she feels a great sense of privilege to be a part of that collaborative building process. Plus there's an even greater satisfaction in what her position represents to her community. "I can see the pride (particularly among people of color) in my work everywhere I turn. The community identifies with me and my role as a park ranger. When I think of retiring, I'm always aware that - until my replacement enters 'stage left,' I represent a federal response to their national park ambitions and concerns - and this is validation of the highest order.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Passion for Story and Community: Betty Reid Soskin Looks Ahead to the Next Ten Years


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?