Director Ready for Retirement
January 21, 2005
It's the end of one era and the beginning of another: Judy Hart, superintendent of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond since its founding in 2001, will retire Feb. 3.
There's no policy dispute or personality conflict. "I'm just worn out," says Hart, who plans to move to Santa Fe, N.M.
The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park is unique. Unlike other parks, the National Park Service does not own the major buildings, such as the Ford Assembly Plant, the Kaiser hospital, and Shipyard No. 3. They are the property of two separate governmental entities -- the city of Richmond and Contra Costa County -- and private owners.
"Trying to get everyone on the same page has been a superhuman task, but Judy, with her tact and vision, somehow managed to accomplish it," said county Supervisor John Gioia, a board member of the Rosie the Riveter Trust.
"She had two advantages coming in," said Betty Reid Soskin of Richmond, a Rosie who worked in the union hall at the Kaiser shipyard during the war.
"First, she came in with an outsider's perspective that we badly needed. Here on the West Coast we have no sense of history, and we tear down things that they revere back East. She halted that destruction.
"Second, she understood that the real story isn't the buildings, it's the people. And that's reflected in not only all the oral histories she's been collecting, but in all the trail markers that tell the stories of the people who worked here."
Many Rosies credit Hart for helping them gain a new sense of themselves.
"We never thought we were anything special," said Marianne Sousa of El Sobrante, who worked in Shipyard No. 2. "We were just 18- and 19-year-old kids doing what we could to get the war over as soon as possible. But now that we have our own national park, we're starting to think maybe what we did was special."
After years of urging by local officials, most notably former Richmond Councilwoman Donna Powers, Congress authorized the historic park in October 2000. Hart was sent out from Washington the following January to make it a reality.
She was already a veteran of several significant projects, including the Manzanar National Historic Site, the site of a World War II internment camp for Japanese-Americans, and the Boston African-American National Historic Site, the site of the first free-black community in the country.
She also was founding superintendent of the Women's Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., not only suggesting the idea but also working on the study, drafting the legislation, and guiding the park through its first six years of existence.
In June, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park held the ribbon-cutting for the visitor center in Richmond City Hall. Guests of honor included scores of Rosies from all over the Bay Area and beyond.
Over the last four years, more than 9,000 Rosies have shared their stories. More than 100 have videotaped oral histories; more than 2,000 have written their memoirs, in one case 55 typed pages long. Another 2,000 have donated mementos they treasured for more than 50 years.
One Rosie donated a workshirt with all of her teammates' signatures, with each name embroidered over by different colors of thread.
Another donated the statue of a Rosie she made, holding a child and the hand of a toddler, going off to leave her children with a worried look on her face.
Two Rosies donated the tests that allowed them to get their riveting jobs: placing a rivet on each intersection of a crosshatch on a piece of metal.
The park includes the Rosie the Riveter Memorial sculpture, the Ford Assembly Plant, Kaiser Shipyard No. 3, and the Red Oak Victory Liberty Ship.
Still to come is the opening of the permanent visitors' center in the Ford plant in 2009, acquisition of a luxury cruise ship as a floating hotel, and other major events stretching over the next 20 years.
"My biggest regret is missing those ribbon cuttings," says Hart. "But since we're about to move to a new stage, it's a good time to leave and let my successor get in on the ground floor."
That successor has not been named yet, but all agree Hart will be a hard act to follow.
"When I think of what Judy has accomplished, I think of an iceberg," said Richmond Councilman Tom Butt. "There's not much visible above the water, but there's a whole lot underneath. She's built the foundation; now it's time for the rest of us to step up to the plate."
Reach Martin Snapp at 510-262-2787 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.