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N.J. woman enjoys celebrity of being 1st baby boomer

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Kathleen Casey-Kirschling says she's hardly a spokeswoman for her generation. But she has gotten used to being treated like one.

Kathy, as she prefers to be called, has become celebrated as the nation's first baby boomer -- born, as The Philadelphia Inquirer heralded at the time, a second past the stroke of midnight in Philadelphia on Jan. 1, 1946.

As her 60th birthday approaches this New Year's Day, she's juggling newspaper and magazine interviews and delighting her five grandchildren with appearances on network TV. She has already taped segments for NBC's Today show and the CBS Evening News, and she is scheduled to go live on CNN on New Year's Day.

"I had no idea turning 60 was going to be so big," says the Cherry Hill, N.J., resident. "I guess the baby boomers turning 60 is a big milestone."

Demographers cite her birthday as the start of the post-World War II baby boom generation, a society-changing cohort of 79 million Americans born from 1946 through 1964 that was half again the size of the generation it followed.

For the past quarter-century, since a writer declared her the first boomer and described her as representative of the nation's most documented generation, Casey-Kirschling has seen her life story recounted with each new milestone of the population wave she leads.

While perhaps not a spokeswoman, she is at the vanguard of her generation's progress through life. She has shared much of its joy as well as pain -- marriage, career, children, divorce, remarriage.

"I don't feel like I am a spokesman for the generation," she says. "But I have just a little part of every part of the generation in me. I am definitely a baby boomer, in the true sense of the word -- the good and the bad."

She has become accustomed to reflecting on the times in which she has lived -- the Vietnam War, assassinations, television, rock 'n' roll, drugs, the sexual revolution, Watergate, Iran, Enron, Iraq.

"I think our generation did many great things," she says. "And there are a lot of great people in our generation. They also did a lot of very negative and selfish things. We were self-absorbed. We had a lot of issues."

"I think we were lied to a lot along the way by our leaders," she says. "And something was happening all the time."

She doesn't have to be reminded that she shares a birth year with both President Bush and former president Bill Clinton, the first baby boomers to occupy the Oval Office and political bookends for their generation thus far.

She says she is neither a conservative nor a liberal but in the middle of American politics, a Democrat opposed to abortion who saw her first husband fight in Vietnam and who opposes the war in Iraq.

"I don't like the way the country's going right now," she says.

Casey-Kirschling never asked for the honor of representing her generation. The attention began with a book, Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, published in 1980. Author Landon Y. Jones, who found her after seeing old newspaper accounts of her birth as a New Year's Day baby, depicted her as the face of a social phenomenon.

"She was my ur-boomer," Jones says in an article in the January 2006 Smithsonian magazine. Both acknowledge there may be others who claim or share the distinction of first boomer.

Her 40th birthday was recounted in Money magazine. Since then, the cardinal anniversaries of her birth have been preceded by media calls. Her latest birthday also led to a retelling of her life story by her local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"For the nation, the baby boomers turning 60 is monumental because of all the issues of health care and Social Security and nursing homes," she says.

The attention this time around has been easier to handle, because she's experienced at it and because age has brought perspective.

"My children and grandchildren told me, "Please do this, Mom,'" she says of the television attention.

"I think they think that it's kind of a neat thing. And also it'll be documented, so they'll have it when I'm not around, and that's kind of nice," she says.

"When I was 40, it was overwhelming," she says. "Now I'm old enough to know I can control it, who I talk to and what I say. When you're 60, you don't care. It's kind of fun. It really is."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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