On October 1, Betty Reid Soskin was told to go home. She was furloughed. The 92-year-old, the oldest full-time ranger in the National Park Service, collected her things, put an “on vacation” message on her phone and left the office.
First she went to the bank to switch her small savings account to her checking account and went home to wait and to “match missing socks.”
Soskin is still there, hoping for the call that will bring her back to her job as a guide at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
It is a park without boundaries within an urban area and honors not only the famous Rosie but also tells the story of the home front during WWII. The spunky nonagenarian splits her time between three days a week as a tour guide and two days in the administrative office. She is considered a living legend, the go-to source for wartime memories.
Dismayed by the tone and the rhetoric of the shutdown debate, plus the absurdity of sitting idle for more than a week, Soskin grumbles, “I can’t afford to be wasting my time.There’s no logic to the whole thing. It says there’s no one in charge. It sad to see where we are as nation.”
During the war, a 20-year-old Soskin went to work as a clerk for Boilermakers 136, an all-black union. She never considered herself a Rosie, because the term was usually applied to female shipyard workers, who were predominantly white. But she maintains her experiences during that period of segregation are invaluable to history and she is anxious to share them.
Over the years, she married twice, established a successful small business in the San Francisco Bay area, raised four children and became a well-known community and civil rights activist. Some of her work led her to the Park Service as a consultant in the development of Rosie the Riveter National Park.
Seven years ago, she signed on as a ranger. “I was very interested and it seemed very natural,” she says. Soskin views her role as an interpreter of the war years and as a tour guide as important. “Ken Burns and Tom Brokaw covered WWII very well,” she says, “but the back story, the real story of the home front—how America treated the African Americans and the American Japanese—is only beginning to be told,” she says.
She feels the same about Women’s Lib. “The women’s emancipation is a white woman’s story. There’s a lot left to say.”
Last month on her birthday she was up in a cherry picker examining a eucalyptus tree--an experience she wrote about on her blog, along with her thoughts on the perils and pitfalls of being out of work.
For now she is in limbo, like 800,000 other federal employees. She’s concerned about her future and worried about finances.
“The people in Washington better get their act together. How many ways can I say let me get back to work?”