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First Baby Boomer, Now 50, Doesn’t Fit Generation’s Mold

January 9, 1996

NEW MELLE, Mo. (AP) _ James Otis Sickler Jr. graduated from high school in 1965 and immediately enlisted in the Navy. He never went to Vietnam. He never protested the war. And he never lived with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

``The closest I ever got to living in a commune was the barracks, and everyone there had the same haircut,″ Sickler says with a laugh.

Sickler was born a half-second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, and according to an Associated Press report at the time he was the year’s first baby, edging out two Los Angeles girls born a second past midnight.

Though no one knew it at the time, his arrival at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis launched what would become known as the Baby Boom _ the more than 76 million babies born between World War II and 1964.

They are the generation of the Beatles and Vietnam, raised on television. ``Never trust anyone over 30″ and ``Make love, not war″ were their mottos.

But Sickler, who lives in rural New Melle about 40 miles west of St. Louis, shares few of the traits attributed to the Baby Boom generation.

``I fit the Baby Boom generation, as far as dates go, but I never really thought of myself as a Baby Boomer,″ he says. ``I am more of a leftover from the previous generation.″

His brown hair, now showing traces of gray, falls just over the back of his collar. He grows it out once a year for his annual appearance as Simon Peter in the community Passion Play.

``This is the longest my hair has ever been,″ he says, laughing.

Most children where Sickler grew up lived in two-parent households. Academic achievement, church volunteerism and the common good of the community were highly valued.

His parents _ Julianna and James _ still recall with pride how their son lettered in track all four years of high school.

He married in 1978, but it lasted only four years. He met his second wife, Shirlee, in 1987. He is the stepfather of her four children and has five grandchildren.

He operates a hydropress at McDonnell Douglas Corp. and lives in a brick-front, ranch-style home on what once was his father’s farm. His parents live next door.

He took it as gospel that if you were willing to work hard and sacrifice, you would be successful. And he shuns the notion of buying more than he can afford.

``I’m 50 years old, and I own my house and everything in it,″ he says. ``And I only have a few more payments on my minivan, and then it will be paid for, too.″

Sickler is typical of the first wave of Baby Boomers who will turn 50 this year, says Rex Campbell, professor of rural sociology at University of Missouri-Columbia.

``He didn’t have the same competitive pressures that came with those born after 1950,″ Campbell says.

It’s difficult to lump people born as much as 19 years apart into one generation. Campbell calls 1946 the cusp, a transitional year between the old and the new. Those born in 1950 are more stereotypical Baby Boomers.

``They are the ones that really changed the world,″ Campbell says. ``The others were pushed ahead of it or behind it.″

Sickler admits to some stereotypes: He loves the Beatles and cherishes his original copy of the White Album. And he still has his baby blue Mustang Fastback, which he bought new in 1971.

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