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Baby boomers celebrate 50 with style

March 27, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

When JoNell VanNorman awoke on the morning of March 18, she heard the occasional honk of a car horn outside her Potomac Avenue house, but thought nothing of it.

Only later did she discover that the noise was directly connected to a milestone that she and many other baby boomers are hitting this year - her 50th birthday.

A 5-by-7-foot lighted sign on her front lawn asked motorists to: "HONK YOUR HORN CUZ 50 YEARS AGO MA WAS BORN."

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"I thought it was funny," said VanNorman, whose three children pulled the prank.

In years past, 40 traditionally has been considered the blow-out birthday that marks someone as over-the-hill, party planners say.

"Generally, 50s, they're a little bit older and into the twilight years," said Mike Huth, co-owner of PM Affairs in Frederick, Md. "They're not as rambunctious."

But that may be changing as the baby boomers put a new spin on getting older.

President Bill Clinton and Tom Brokaw hit the milestone age in the past year, along with 3.6 million other Americans.

"I can remember in my mom's generation when women didn't reveal their age," said Maureen Theriault of Hagerstown, who turned 50 in June.

Today, people are more open about their age.

They don't see 50 as the end to their youth, but rather as the beginning of a new phase of their lives.

"It's a celebration. The future holds a lot for people who are turning 50," said Theriault, who works at United Way of Washington County.

Now that Theriault's daughter has left for college, she has taken the time to re-evaluate her life, particularly her spiritual life.

She's still learning new things, including the Internet.

"It's a pretty interesting time. It's a really empowering time," Theriault said.

Sgt. Jack Hall of the Hagerstown City Police Department is celebrating his 50th year by getting married.

"Age is a state of mind and if you feel old you'll be old," said Hall, who plans to wed United Way Executive Director Kathleen Vogt in June. "I don't worry about age. Age comes naturally."

Police officers and others who work in higher-risk jobs tend to go for the gusto, he said.

"You gotta enjoy it while you're here," he said. "The reality is I'm here today but I might not be tomorrow."

Rick Wachtel, a City Council member in Martinsburg, W.Va., said his family keeps him young. His children were 7 and 12 when he turned 50 in January 1996.

"It was kind of low-key," he said of his birthday celebration, which consisted of a dinner out with his family.

Suellen Sease of Waynesboro, Pa., also had a quiet night out with her husband, Robert, when she turned 50 last March.

"To me it was just another year," she said.

But when Robert reached that milestone, it was anything but quiet.

Sease threw a party for him, and guests brought gag gifts. He got a cane, Preparation H, a bedpan and a coffin-shaped box filled with things like "aging pills" and "over-the-hill powder," she said.

Doug Wright Jr. of Hagerstown, whose 50th birthday was last Nov. 18, planned to get through the event peacefully.

But his father, who owns Advertising Inc., thought otherwise. He had his son's greeting painted on a billboard just down the street from Wright's Potomac Avenue house.

"It was kind of nice," Wright said. "I know I'm looked at as old by some. I don't feel old."

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