As I have come to assume, I am probably one of the younger members of this Welles community. I was a mere child of 5 at the time of Welles passing and in all honesty knew nothing of the man for half of my life, nor much of films in general.
You were still older than I was.
Honestly, I would love to add something substantial and pertinent to this, but my words would come off as mere malarkey of the highest (or lowest) order.
That having been said, I can still recall occasionally hearing about Welles during my youth. In fact, the earliest memory that I have of him, even if only tangentially relevant, is a magic show that was on TV. I have no idea whether I just have a stilted memory of it, but I think it took place not long after his passing, and I remember one of the opening titles from Citizen Kane being on the screen, with the magician announcing that he was going to communicate with him, using a phone.
A more substantial occurrence took place back when I was in junior high school (8th grade, actually). I had an English teacher named John Shea, the sort of fellow who was really too intelligent for his profession (though he thought that I was an intelligent person and good writer...hah!), and I recall one day that he mentioned Orson in passing (as he would occasionally do with certain figures), which I did find to be a bit striking, even if it was the somewhat typical depiction of Orson being a "brilliant man who wasted away his final years" (as true as that might be, to some small extent).
It was after that point that I really began to notice Orson's presence, whether it was in documentaries like The Man Who Saw Tomorrow or even in minor nods, like Pinky & The Brain (I have to admit that I still think it was a rather good show). I still didn't actively seek his films, though, because my main preoccupation during those years was music (well, it still is, actually, because [in my mind] there's very little in this world that can compare to Igor Stravinsky or Sun Ra).
That all changed when Citizen Kane was released on DVD. I'm not quite sure what I expected to see, but it was certainly different from everything that I knew, and even that I was led to believe about the film. I still think that it is an astounding film on many levels. Of course, as somebody with a dedicated love for sound, the soundtrack (meaning both Bernard Herrmann's fantastic score and the actual aural composition of the film as well) was particularly striking, and perhaps one of the things that I appreciate the most about his films, but so was the visual composition, which I felt had the stroke and balance of a great painter.
It belies me to go beyond this point, which would end in nonsensical blather that has been elucidated elsewhere by far more talented people.