This has been a relatively quiet year for Aloysius Nachreiner. Five years ago, when he turned 65, his phone wouldn’t stop ringing. He heard from USA Today and The New York Times. He’d always seen himself as a regular guy who worked at a Buffalo box factory, even if the second hand on a clock at the Sisters of Charity Hospital turned him into a symbol for a generation:
Nachreiner gained a measure of national celebrity as one of the very first babies - very possibly the first baby - born in the United States just after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, 1946. It was the year following the end of World War II, the year we still associate with a population surge that became a nation-changing demographic:
As we approach the Fourth of July, the Baby Boom generation is turning 70.
Just like in 1946, Nachreiner was there first.
“I’m getting older,” he said this week, although – in the same fashion as so many of his contemporaries – he finds ways to stay busy.
In honor of this ongoing milestone, we’re looking for your own Baby Boom stories. That generation witnessed and helped create sweeping change that would have seemed impossible in the late 1940s. If you've turned or will turn 70 this year – if you have a great 'Boom' memory about your parents or grandparents, or if you simply have a reflection on growing up in that era - you can share your thoughts as a comment at the end of this column or email them to email@example.com.
If we receive some memorable feedback, we’ll do a follow-up piece, built around those tales.
Nachreiner's story is not the standard Baby Boom saga: His father was in the military, but in a much earlier war. The elder Aloysius Nachreiner – different middle names kept them from being “senior” and “junior” – was a Marine who served in World War I. He didn’t marry Anna Schulte until he was in his 40s, which means he had children later in life.
He was 55 when young Aloysius was born at Sisters, an instant after midnight, in 1946.
The proud parents saw the significance in different ways. Anna did her best to hold off childbirth, wanting her newborn to achieve this mystical significance. “She never introduced me as her son,” Nachreiner said. “I was always her New Year’s baby.” The front page of the old Courier-Express greeted him as "Young Mr. 1946," accompanied by a photo of the infant and his mother.
Yet his father, more pragmatic, hoped Anna would give birth on New Year’s Eve, so they could claim the baby as an exemption at tax time the next year.
Destiny won. This week, when Nachreiner heard a caller mention the Baby Boom, he replied:
A poet named George Leonard, in San Francisco, wrote a poem not long ago contending Nachreiner represents the end of an era as much as the beginning of one, because the typical Baby Boom saga runs a little differently. Consider the story of Mike Conroy, who runs a Lake Ontario fishing charter business, based in the Oswego Harbor. His 70th birthday was this week, and the way his life began is absolutely emblematic of his generation.
Conroy’s dad, John Dennis Conroy, grew up in Syracuse. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The elder Conroy had the signature persona of his generation, a hard-working guy who returned from the war to raise a family and do his job. He spent much of his life working in a lab at the old Allied Chemical plant.
It wasn’t until he died, when his children were going through his things, that they discovered something their father never told them:
He’d been awarded a Bronze Star for helping to evacuate the wounded during heavy German shelling at the battle of the Kasserine Pass, in Tunisia.
“All those years, and he never said anything about it,” Conroy said.
As for his own birth, Conroy said, the story goes like this: His dad made it home from Europe late in 1945, although he remained in uniform, stationed in South Carolina. His fiancée, Patricia Brady, met him there. They were married and settled into a barracks set aside for military families. The following June, their first baby, Michael, was born.
They returned to Upstate New York six months later. They lived out the classic Baby Boom tale: They had nine children. They brought them up in Tipperary Hill, an Irish neighborhood in Syracuse of close-together wooden homes. For a long time, all those boys and girls lived in a single flat.
There was no McDonald’s, no fast-food, when the kids were little. Every Friday, Conroy and his siblings would carry a few precious dollars to Hewitt’s fish fry. The owner – a man his close friends, and only his close friends, knew as “Groucho” Hewitt – would always “load them up” with extra pieces of fish for the family, a kindness offered without words.
Conroy served in Vietnam, where he was wounded in combat. He returned to Syracuse to become a police officer, assigned to a special detail that guarded visiting celebrities. They included fabled actor Paul Newman, the English pop singer Tom Jones and the absolute musical symbol of the postwar years, Elvis Presley.
Elvis was unfailingly pleasant, Conroy said, and he paid every bill and tab in the same way:
“All cash. Never a check.”
Conroy retired from the police to work for years at Syracuse University. He was one of the guys who took care of the Carrier Dome, an all-weather enclosed arena that could hold about 50,000 spectators for a football game, the kind of arena beyond imagination just after World War II ….
When Aloysius Nachreiner was going to Buffalo Bisons games, at the old Offermann Stadium. He'd cheer for Bison slugger Luke Easter and pay for a seat with little more than the change in his pocket.
Next week, one of his kids will take him to see a major league game in Cleveland. The price of each seat is more than $100.
Yes, the national flag bearer for the Baby Boom has seen some changes. All told, he spent 46 years working in box factories, retiring at 68 from the Designer Folding Box Co. He pitched fast-pitch softball in men’s leagues, a lost art, until he was 62 and his knees couldn’t take anymore.
His first car: A 1959 Oldsmobile that he absolutely loved, a car he called “a ticket getter.” He went to Burgard Vocational High School. His wife, Alice Kaler, went to Kensington. He met her at Pantelo’s Restaurant, on Walden Avenue. They had nine children; Alice was a widow, and seven of those boys and girls were from an earlier marriage. Nachreiner doesn't distinguish. He doesn't use the word “stepchildren.”
“They’re our kids,” he said. “That’s it.”
You hear that and you think: What a Buffalo guy.
In Alice's final years, until she died in 2008 of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, Nachreiner made her life as easy as he could. “A great woman,” he said. “That was her.”
He was born before there was a Thruway, before there was a Skyway, before the construction of the earliest Erie County shopping mall. The Buffalo Bills existed in 1946 – but they were the original Bills, a team about to play in the first season of the old All-America Football Conference.
The greatest change Nachreiner has seen, hands-down, is electronic technology: In the 1950s, how could you foresee that you'd get your own gas at digital pumps, or you'd stick a card into a machine in the wall to withdraw money from the bank, or how you'd be able to reach out to the world from your computer?
Nachreiner has one, but he doesn’t use it all that much. There is a quality he can’t stand about digital communication, a quality that runs against everything he is:
“People say things,” he said, “that they’d never have enough guts to say to someone’s face.”
It wasn’t that way, he remembers, when he was a kid. It wasn’t that way when a buddy accidentally hit him in the face with an iceball, blinding him in one eye. It wasn’t that way when he was playing baseball as a young guy at Schiller Park, the diamond so crowded you had to wait to wait your turn to use the field.
Now he drives past empty city ballparks. Weeds push up from base paths once worn to dust by many feet.
“You go by and nobody’s there,” he said. “It’s a shame.”
All told, he feels pretty lucky. He watches some TV in the East Side home where he has lived for decades; he particularly appreciates “MASH,” the great show from the 1970s, and he's a New York Yankees fan. He gets out to nurse his tomato plants in the garden, and he walks his dog Sophie, a Jack Russell terrier, and he has plenty of family to keep him busy:
He is a great-grandfather, “six or seven times” over.
The guy who led the Baby Boom into the world now makes his statement in the way he lived his life. He worked hard. He kept faith with his wife and kids. He is kind to his dog and loyal to his city. Ask him about a moment of beauty, and he’ll recall how he and Alice loved to watch the sunsets at Chautauqua Lake.
Aloysius Nachreiner simply did things the way it seemed you ought to do them. He never knew he had a role to play in history.
Still, put to that test, he did it well.
Sean Kirst, a contributing writer for The Buffalo News, is looking for your stories about the early Baby Boom. Do you know someone who just turned 70? Do you have a great story about your parents starting a family, just after World War II? Do you have a reflection on the changes witnessed by Baby Boomers, or on the childhood lifestyle they led? If so, share those thoughts here as a comment or email Kirst at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story topics: Sean Kirst