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Oldest National Park Service ranger in US turns 100 with sweet honor

Betty Reid Soskin's name will be remembered for generations to come.
/ Source: TODAY

America’s oldest park service ranger turned 100 Wednesday and received a birthday gift that will stand the test of time.

Betty Reid Soskin hit the century mark and was honored when a California school was renamed in her honor, reports NBC San Jose affiliate, KNTV.

Soskin, center, cuts a ribbon during a renaming ceremony for the newly named Betty Reid Soskin Middle School on Sept. 22, 2021 in El Sobrante, California.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The Juan Crespi Middle School, in El Sobrante, California, is now the Betty Reid Soskin Middle School, following a ceremony to pay tribute to Soskin.

Soskin, who now uses a wheelchair, continues to work as a park guide at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where she explains the contributions made during the war by women and Africans Americans.

Soskin sits outside the school named in her honor.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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"I don't know what one might do to justify a long life; I think that you have pretty much got it made," Soskin said after she cut the ribbon to officially mark the school’s new moniker.

Soskin helped plan the park, which was dedicated in 2000. She has a long history of working in civil rights and is the great-granddaughter of a slave who died when Soskin was 27. The park celebrates the women who worked in the area’s shipyards during World War II.

Wednesday’s ceremony brought out local officials who paid tribute to Soskin.

County supervisor John Gioia said Soskin was intent on letting people learn the history of stockyards during the war, including racism that existed that she herself endured.

"But Betty, as we know, doesn't stop at just telling the truth," he said. "It's been about changing that inequity and making it fair, and just, and equitable. So when you have someone that calls out the problems that other people don't want to talk about, then moves to change that situation for the better — whether in her own personal role as an activist in the East Bay or representing a state legislature and making policy — that's really the true sign of commitment. What's being recognized here is everything that Betty stood for."

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he hopes to name Soskin an ambassador and spokesperson for public education in California.

"It is probably difficult for Miss Betty Reid Soskin to be here and hear all these accolades showered upon here, one of the things I have been privileged to learn about Miss Betty Reid Soskin is she is a humble leader, a modest leader, whose actions speak louder than anyone's words," he said.

"We have a champion. We have someone who has fought for civil rights, for women's rights, for racial justice, and our children deserve to have someone to look up to," he added.

Soskin looks at her birthday cake during the school renaming ceremony.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

School principal Guthrie Fleischman said the idea to change the name was first suggested last November and quickly gained support.

"I can't think of another time when I've seen a community as inspired as this community is, by attaching themselves to your name," he told Soskin.

Soskin became a park ranger at the age of 85 and relished in the service she provided.

"I still love this uniform," she told TODAY in 2015. "Partly because there's a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street or in an elevator or on an escalator who suddenly has announced that there's a career choice she may have never thought of."