Thief punches 94-year-old ranger at home, steals coin given to her by Obama

Betty Reid Soskin. Photo: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park
Betty Reid Soskin. Photo: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Update July 2, 5:00 p.m. Betty Reid Soskin sent a message of thank you to all the people who donated to a Go Fund Me campaign set up in her name. People contributed $15,000 to the fund – only one of many that have been set up.

“Your gifts will help me re-establish my home on the planet and that I am grateful for, because I do not want to move. I am going to reclaim my space from the violation,” Soskin wrote. “I could not have done it without your help! There will be fresh paint, new carpeting, a restoration.

Original story: President Barack Obama has pledged to send a new commemorative coin to Betty Reid Soskin — who founded Reid’s Records on Berkeley’s Sacramento Street in 1945 and is the oldest full-time National Park ranger — after a burglar stole the one Obama gave her in December.

An intruder broke into Soskin’s second-floor apartment in Richmond around midnight Monday.


The Richmond Police Department said Soskin, who is 94, was asleep when she was woken up by an intruder in her bedroom.

“She tried to grab her cellphone to call for help but the suspect wrestled it away,” said Lt. Felix Tan of RPD. “The suspect then punched her several times in her face, causing her to fall to the floor.”

The man — described only as a man in his 20s with a thin to medium build — dragged her out of the bedroom and into the hallway where he punched her several more times.

“I fully expected he was going to kill me. He doubled up his fist and hit me a couple of times on the sides of my face with all his might,” Soskin told KTVU. Soskin’s face was badly bruised in the beating.

Soskin was able to crawl away and into her bathroom, where she locked herself inside. She called police around 1:45 a.m.


The burglar made off with Soskin’s iPad, laptop, cellphone, camera and jewelry. But most importantly, he stole the special coin President Obama had given her at a ceremony at Christmas. She kept it in her commemorative coin collection.

When the U.S. Interior Secretary informed Obama of the assault and theft, he said he would send Soskin a new coin.

Friends of Soskin’s have started a Go Fund Me campaign to help pay her expenses.

Reid's Records (courtesy)
Reid’s Records (courtesy)

Soskin has deep roots in Berkeley and has become a widely recognized figure for her work at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. At 94, Soskin is the oldest full-time working ranger in the National Park system, and she often gives talks about her life.

She has not returned to work at the park, where she gives tours five days a week, according to NBC Bay Area.


Her boss, Park Supt. Tom Leatherman, told NBC Bay Area on Thursday he was one of the first people Soskin called after the attack. Since then, he’s been over to see her every day.

“She’s part of our park service family. We’re all pretty emotional,” he said. “We go from disbelief to figuring out what we can to do help.”

Soskin and her first husband, Mel Reid, opened Reid’s Records at Sacramento St. in 1945. It specialized in Gospel Music. They divorced in 1972 and she then married William Soskin, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley. Soskin took over sole management of Reid’s Records in 1978 after her first husband’s health declined. Now David Reid, one of the couple’s four children, runs the store.

Soskin also became politically active. She worked as a field representative for Assemblywoman Dion Aroner and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock.

Soskin has talked widely about the role of African-American women. She frequently carries with her a photo of her great-grandmother, who was born into slavery, according to Nola. She brought the picture to Obama’s first inauguration, as well as the National Tree Lighting ceremony in Washington D.C. on Dec. 4, according to Nola. Soskin introduced Obama at that event and he gave her the commemorative coin.

“Here I was with my great-grandmother in my breast pocket and with the first African-American president of the United States,” Soskin told Nola. “It was sheer poetry. What could be more American than that?”

Police ask anyone with information to call Detective Florencio Rivera at 510-621-1755. Read more of the story on NBC Bay Area.

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