Betty Reid Soskin could have considered retiring when she turned 85 — instead, she started a new career as a full-time park ranger. Now, more than 10 years later, she still works five hours a day, five days a week giving tours and presentations at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. And at 96, she’s the oldest National Park ranger serving in the United States, and she doesn’t expect to retire at all. “I’m going to go straight from the park to the cemetery,” she said.
Her tenacity to keep moving forward partly comes from the fact that she’s lost her sense of future. “I have outlived all of my peers, so I’m living in uncharted territory right now,” she said on Tuesday at the MAKERS Conference. “I don’t have any idea what tomorrow’s going to be like because there are no models left for me. I have to make it up as I go along.”
And she’s OK with that because she’s still having experiences for the first time. “I never know what the day is going to hold,” she said. While she never knows when she’ll be taking on something for the first time, she’s consistently confronted with these welcome challenges. “We’re in a stage here in history where there are such constant and regular changes happening that we used to count generations in generations and now they’re in five-year cycles.” Because of this shifted sense of time, opportunities are always emerging — like blogging about her family history or becoming a published author (her first book, Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life, was just released).
All of her accomplishments are undeniably extraordinary — so does she consider herself to be that way? No, not until she had reached a certain age and found her friends, parents, and child had all passed away. “I know that life has become so precious now, not just in the months and the days but the hours — and I wouldn’t have it any other way because every single hour has so much more meaning than it ever has had,” she said. “That along with advanced age, fear of dying begins to diminish. There’s a rightness to mortality, and I think that to the extent that I’ve arrived at this age with my senses in tact, without dementia, that I can appreciate this, that that is what makes me exceptional, that I am here and can share that, that’s an amazing thing.”
One other thing that lets her know how incredible she is: her nickname. “Because on the street, I’m known as Notorious B.R.S.,” she laughed.
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