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Oldest Full-Time Park Ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, Furloughed
"This is my last decade, and I can't afford to have anyone waste my time," she told NBC Bay Area.
By Lisa Fernandez and Cheryl Hurd
| Monday, Oct 7, 2013 | Updated 1:55 PM PDT
Betty Reid Soskin, 92, of San Pablo is the oldest National Park Service Ranger in the country, and she says she is "thoroughly confused" about why she is furloughed. Oct. 7, 2013
Many federal workers furloughed because of the government shutdown are upset about the regular paychecks they haven't been getting.
But Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin is disgusted for a different reason: She says she's running out of time.
At 92, the San Francisco Bay Area woman is the nation's oldest full-time national park ranger. On Monday, she told NBC Bay Area that she is "thoroughly confused" as to why she has had to leave her job and remain "idle" at home.
Understanding that Republicans are demanding to defund "Obamacare" in exchange for essential federal funding -- a deal the White House and Democrats refused -- just irks Soskin more.
"At this stage of my career, I have a sense of urgency," Soskin said from her home in San Pablo, Calif., about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco. "This is my last decade, and I can't afford to have anyone waste my time."
RAW VIDEO: Oldest National Park Service Ranger Talks About Furlough
Soskin was among the roughly 800,000 federal workers furloughed on Oct. 1 at midnight when the government partially shut down. For the last seven years, she has worked three days a week giving tours at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif., and two days a week at park administrative offices. During her birthday week last month when she turned 92, Soskin was up in a cherry picker, checking out the peeling bark of a giant eucalyptus, something she wrote about on her blog.
The park service confirmed she is the country's oldest full-time ranger, though there is a 93-year-old ranger at Glacier National Park in Kintla Lake, Mont., who is a seasonal employee.
But Soskin is more than just a tour guide. She is living history, and considers herself a "primary source" of information for the exhibit.
During World War II, Soskin worked as a clerk for the all-black Boilermakers A-36. In the true sense of the word, she is not a "Rosie," because that title is typically held for female wartime shipyard workers who were white. Still, Soskin feels her views -- and experiences as an African-American woman during World War II -- are invaluable to the country's collective wartime memory.
What she's also upset about is the possible postponement of an event planned for Saturday, when the Richmond center is supposed to be part of the annual Chamber of Commerce Home Front Festival. The festival will still go on at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond with a full array of planned activities, according to Rosie the Riveter Trust executive director Marsha Mather-Thrift. But it's quite likely that the park's visitor center and exhibit will be shuttered.
Like her, Soskin said, the aging Rosies know this is their last decade of life, and being held up by government is certainly not on their bucket list.
"All these Rosies are coming in for the reunion," Soskin said. "And these women are between 85 and 95."
So, Soskin said, the folks in Washington, D.C., better hurry up and get their acts together.
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Richmond), agrees. In a statement, he said he has known Soskin for 40 years, and thinks it's a shame she isn't working.
Soskin "is an icon to the National Park Service," Miller said. "She’s a historian, a spokeswoman, a role model, a teacher, and an embodiment of the spirit of Rosie the Riveter. Only something as wrongheaded and misguided as this government shutdown could keep her off the job.“
For her part, Soskin wants to get back to work. The clock is ticking.
"I've only got a finite amount of time," she said, "to make my contribution."
Haven Daley from the Associated Press contributed to this report.