Mountainfilm’s Moving Mountains Features Oldest Living Park Ranger

Mountainfilm’s Moving Mountains Features Oldest Living Park Ranger

“National Parks are the Declaration of Independence expressed on the landscape,” Ken Burns’ partner Dayton Duncan says. “We were the first nation in the history of mankind to say that the most special places should be set aside not for royalty, not for the rich, not for the well-connected, but for everyone and for all time.”

Full schedule here. 

Please scroll down to the bottom of this story to hear Betty Reid Soskin’s podcast.

Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest working park ranger in the National Park Service, credit, NPS.

Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest working park ranger in the National Park Service, credit, NPS.

She missed the birth by a few short years.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100.

The centennial kicks off a second century of stewardship of America’s national parks, engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs celebrating what award-winning filmmaker (and honorary Telluride resident) Ken Burns famously described as “America’s Best Idea.”

It is a story of people, per PBS, (which screened Burn’s iconic six-episode 2003 series):

…from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.

It is the story that kicks off the 38th Telluride Mountainfilm, Friday, Memorial Weekend, Friday, May 27, 9 a.m. at High Camp or the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village at the 2016 Moving Mountains Symposium.

Cheryl Strayed, the award winning author of “Wild” and a previous Mountainfilm guest, leads the program as emcee.

Panelists include the award-winning author, professor and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley; climber, guide, book author, and park ranger Michael Gauthier; writer, staffer of Tompkins Conservation; filmmaker Peter McBride and author Kevin Fedarko; Santa Monica Mountains NRA Los Angeles district supervisor Vanessa Torres; wildlife biologist turned photojournalist Joe Riis; World Press Photo Award-winning photojournalist David Guttenfelder; and writer David Quammen (“Spillover,” “The Song of the Dodo”).

Betty Soskin on the job at Rosie the Riveter National Park.

Betty Soskin on the job at Rosie the Riveter National Park.

The 12-year-old Navajo singer, Tonisha Draper, will participate in the morning program.

At age 94, Betty Reid Soskin will be there too.

Born in 1921, Soskin is the oldest full-time park ranger with the National Park Service. Employed since 2007, at Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, she is assigned to civic engagement and community outreach. At the Symposium, Soskin will share her perspective on national history and national parks history, informed by her own life and work,  including her unique view of the history of the Home Front during WWII through her work with the National Park Service.

Soskin first made national headlines when, in 2013, she  very publicly urged Congress to get its act together and end the forced federal furloughs: at her age, she had no time to waste sitting around at home when she would rather be doing what she loves, teaching visitors about her slice of history.

Her next 15 minutes of fame came on December 3, 2015, when Soskin lit the national Christmas Tree and introduced President Obama in the nationwide telecast on the annual PBS special. At the time she was carrying a special photo in her pocket, a picture of her great-grandmother, born into slavery in 1846 and died at age 102, having taught her granddaughter all the ugly bits of the U.S. history she witnessed from a front row seat.

Soskin received that invitation while working at her full-time job, giving tours at the Rosie the Riveter Historical Park.

Not that Soskin hadn’t had some other great invitations. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, she was a guest of now-retired U.S. Rep. George Miller to witness the first African-American president be sworn into office. She carried the same photo in her pocket then too.

Betty Soskin (nee Charbonnet) was born in Detroit, but grew up in a Cajun/Creole African-American family that settled in the East Bay in California after the historic floods that devastated the City of New Orleans in 1927.

Betty refers to this image as "2Betty's Hat.” She is 20 years old in April 1942.

Betty refers to this image as “2Betty’s Hat.” She is 20 years old in April 1942.

Her parents joined her maternal grandfather, George Allen, who had resettled in Oakland at the end of World War I.  The Allen family followed the pattern set by the black railroad workers who discovered the West Coast while serving as sleeping car porters, waiters, and chefs for Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads – finding homes for their families at the western end of their run where life might be less impacted by southern hostility.

Soskin attended local schools, graduating from Castlemont High School during the World’s Fair at Treasure Island. She can still recall ferry boat crossings at a time that precedes the construction of the bridges that span the Bay; and at a time when the Oakland International Airport consisted of two small hangars. She remembers Amelia Earhart’s departure and tragic loss as if it happened yesterday. She remembers the explosion at Port Chicago on July 17, 1944 and subsequent mutiny trials.

During World War II, Soskin worked in a segregated Union hall, Boilermaker’s A-36,as a file clerk.

In 1945, she and her young husband, Mel Reid, founded a still-existing small Berkeley music store, Reid’s Records.

Soskin has since held positions as staff to a Berkeley city council member and as a field representative serving West Contra Costa County for two members of the California State Assembly: former Assemblywoman Dion Aroner and Senator Loni Hancock.

In 1995, Soskin was named a “Woman of the Year” by the California State Legislature.

In 2005 , she was named one of the nation’s 10 outstanding women, “Builders of communities and dreams” by the National Women’s History Project in ceremonies in both Griffiths Park in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C.

On June 10, 2016 Ms. Soskin will receive the Silver Medallion Award at the World War II Museum in New Orleans in a special ceremony. It should be noted that there are but two women among 30 past recipients; the other is Elizabeth Dole.

Betty Reid Soskin,. A park ranger who almost always wears her uniform.

Betty Reid Soskin,. A park ranger who almost always wears her uniform.

To learn more, listen to Betty Reid Soskin’s podcast.

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