01/08/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
AS YOU CAN SEE FROM THIS WEEK'S cover story (page 80), the original postwar baby boomers of 1946—including some still sexy celebrities—will officially sail past the half-century mark this year. That's a milestone for this magazine as well. Founded in 1974, PEOPLE grew up with the boomers—that once tie-dyed, now buttoned-down, always headstrong cohort of 76 million men and women born between 1946 and 1964. Our masthead today still shows quite a few boomers on our staff, mixed in with a fast-growing contingent of talented generation Xers.
This generational coming-of-middle-age is especially meaningful for one particular boomer. Kathleen Casey was born in Philadelphia just one second past midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, which makes her arguably the firstborn member of the generation that so dramatically influenced the past five decades.
I first wrote about Kathleen in a book published in 1980, Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation. Later, while editing our sister publication MONEY in 1985, I heard from Kathleen herself, by then leading her generation across the chasm of 40. This first baby boomer also turned out to be a prototypical boomer: She had two daughters (Beth and Jennifer), was in the middle of a divorce, drove a BMW, and was changing careers.
So a decade later, we wanted to check in again with Kathleen to ask how she feels now about turning 50. "I don't worry about it," she replies with a laugh. "I couldn't care less about wrinkles." Indeed, her life continues to mirror the experience of her generation. Remarried (she's now Kathleen Casey-Kirschling), she lives in a colonial home in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J., works out daily on her Jane Fonda Treadmill, drives a 1989 Acura, and has made a move away from her restless, private-sector careers (she has worked as an X-ray technician, food-service manager and dietician) to pursue a social concern: teaching health education at Howard Phifer Middle School near Camden, N.J.
"Looking back, I think part of me, like most boomers, was self-indulgent," she says. Kathleen still dips regularly into her seemingly inexhaustible supply of baby boomer memories. "I had a hot-pink Hula Hoop, which I loved," she recalls. "I also wore mohair sweaters, wore my hair teased up in a bubble, and I thought about joining the Peace Corps." She and Patti Biehler, now 49 and still her best friend, danced on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and swooned over Frankie Avalon.
Kathleen still remembers sitting in Sister Pacelli's math class during junior year at her Catholic high school in Pennsauken, N.J., when the principal announced over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy had been shot. "I remember looking at the clock," she says. "It was 2:08, and we were all horrified. We prayed and cried a lot that day." Then there was Vietnam. Married to a doctor who spent a year with a medical unit in Vietnam's Central Highlands, she found herself at odds with her war-protester friends.
Kathleen's parents have passed away (her Navy-veteran father, Matthew, died after a heart attack just last summer), and she admits that, at 50, "I can see our mortality. But I don't worry about it. Because, guess what? We're all getting older. I'm not as self-absorbed as I used to be. And I'm enjoying life a lot more now than when I was 40."