Former ranger Betty Reid Soskin, 102, honored with honorary doctorate

Beloved former park ranger and Bay Area icon Betty Reid Soskin was celebrated with an honorary degree at a graduation ceremony at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.

On Saturday, the 102-year-old Soskin was in cap and gown and in a wheelchair on stage as she received a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the university's College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.

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The honorary degree is given in recognition of an individual’s achievements in the humanities or for philanthropic work.

"Soskin is a distinguished civic leader whose contributions have enriched Cal State East Bay, the broader East Bay region, California and our nation," the university said in a news release as it congratulated the retired park ranger. 

Born in Detroit, Soskin was the great-grandaughter of a slave. Her family settled in New Orleans before moving West to California when she was 6 years old. She has spent most of her life-- 90 years--in the East Bay, attending high school in Oakland.

She later worked as a file clerk during World War II at the Richmond shipyards in a segregated union hall, the university noted.

"One of the few Black Americans hired, Ms. Soskin later observed that her office position was akin to attending college, given the options available at that time," Cal State East Bay officials said.

At the age of 84, Soskin famously joined the U.S. National Park Service, stationed at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Park in Richmond, first as a temporary employee.

The park service said in 2011, she secured a position as a permanent NPS employee "leading public programs and sharing her personal remembrances and observations at the park visitor center."

Soskin worked there until her retirement at the age of 100, leaving her mark in history as the National Park Service’s oldest active ranger.

Cal State East Bay paid tribute to Soskin’s work to advance civil rights and commended her for her influence as an educator and civic leader.  

"Soskin was deeply involved in the direction and creation of this distinctive urban national park," the university said, "including bringing to light stories about working in a time of segregation and racism."