The oldest U.S. full-time park ranger, who made headlines when she complained that the national furlough was keeping her at home and off the job, was asked to light the national Christmas tree and introduce President Barack Obama.
"I was stunned," said Betty Reid Soskin, 94, who before the request was having a pretty off day last week at her job as an interpretive park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California. During World War II, Soskin worked as a clerk for the all-black Boilermakers A-36.
Soskin said that not only was she invited to attend the Dec. 3 tree lighting, she was asked to introduce the president of the United States. The National Park Service has not formally announced the full guest list yet. The event will be streamed online.
Folks in her hometown are thrilled. But not surprised.
They’re now used to the woman who grabbed headlines in 2013 when she told Congress to get its act together and end the government shutdown. She said at her age, she was running out of time and didn't want to waste any more of it sitting at home.
“Everyone loves her. Betty is the iconic face of the park,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said of Soskin on Wednesday morning. “And the publicity is good for our national park and our city.”
The honor came on a day when Soskin wasn’t feeling her finest. The nearly centenarian described what happened on her blog, “CBreaux Speaks….After More Than Nine Decades of Crowing the Sun Up.” Her Nov. 18 post is titled, “Whiplash! Out of total despair – into sublime joy.”
Soskin said she was supposed to be leading a tour of 55 advanced placement students from Vacaville, California. She was feeling old, that “someone far younger than I should be interacting with the teens…I felt so inadequate.” She was looking forward to her later presentation in the afternoon with adults.
As the curtains were drawn and she was ready to start her spiel, Soskin said a docent tapped her on the shoulder. He said there was an urgent call from the park superintendent and that she had to immediately leave to take it.
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in Washington, D.C. was on the line. Would she light the Christmas tree with the First Family on Christmas? Oh, and would she introduce the president?
Soskin did not specify what she told Jarvis.
But there’s little room to guess her answer. She takes off for the White House on Dec. 1.
“I'm not sure where my feet were, but somehow they fell into place beneath me and took me back into the theater where the film was still in progress,” she wrote, saying she blurted the news to her audience. “Surprisingly, after taking a few quieting breaths, I was able to pick up the next few sentences of my presentation, and allow the excitement to be quelled until the work was done. Time enough later to go out to the water's edge to stand quietly to let it all in.”