- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

SIKESTON, Mo. (AP) - Luella Duncan celebrated her 25th birthday Monday, but in reality, the Sikeston woman is 100 years old.

That’s because Duncan was born on a leap day, which is Feb. 29 and happens every four years.

People born on leap day are known as “leaplings” because their birthday only comes around once every four years, according to “The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.”

Duncan said she didn’t like having a leap year birthday when she was a child, the Sikeston Standard Democrat (bit.ly/1LQxvdQ) reported.

“I wanted a real birthday every year,” Duncan said. “They didn’t celebrate it every year for me. They waited for my birthday; that part I didn’t like.” Duncan said she’s just always told people her birthday is the last day of the month.

“My mother usually made a birthday cake for me on that day,” she said of her leap year birthdays.

Her 12th birthday - third in leap years - is one Duncan said she remembers to this day.

“At school I told everybody: ‘It’s my birthday and I want you to come to my party tonight.’ Now, my mother didn’t know about this. Nobody knew about it. I just said it,” Duncan recalled.

When school let out, Duncan said she rushed home and told her mother some people were coming to their Puxico home that night.

“It was not 5 o’clock when the first people came. And there they came and, you know, there were no automobiles at that time,” Duncan said. “Here came the teams of horses and wagons - and hacks. They called a buggy that was enclosed a hack.”

The whole community was there, Duncan said.

“The word got around even though telephones were not popular at that time. We owned one but not everyone owned a telephone, but the word did get around,” Duncan said.

The children had gone home from school, telling their parents: “There’s a party,” Duncan said.

“My mother popped popcorn,” Duncan said. “She didn’t have anything else to serve so she began popping popcorn and making popcorn balls. That made it more festive because all mothers could not make good popcorn balls, but my mother could.”

Because leap years happen every four years, and not that many people are typically born in February, being a “leapling” is quite rare.

Jane Pearson of Matthews is another local “leapling.” When her birthday was a nonleap year, Pearson said her mother would celebrate Feb. 28.

“I think she wanted to keep my birthday in the same month,” Pearson said of celebrating her birthday on Feb. 28 instead of March 1. “On my first birthday - and there’s a newspaper clipping in the Standard - there’s a picture of me sitting in a little red rocking chair for my first birthday - and I was 4 years old.”

In leap years, Pearson said she’s 17.

“I usually celebrate my birthday with my kids, and this year, I’m going to my daughter’s and my sister is coming in from Texas,” Pearson said.

Overall, Pearson said she hasn’t experienced many issues with being a leapling. There have been occasional times over the years where Feb. 29 would be an invalid date when she would have to enter her birthday into a computer. Other than that, she said her leap day birthday hasn’t been an issue.

It was only until a few years ago, Pearson said, that she learned the science behind the reason for leap years.

The calendar has 365 days in it, but in fact the earth revolves around the sun in exactly 365 days and six hours. This means that the calendar falls behind by six hours every year, and over time, the seasons would get shifted so that - over a very long period of time - spring would begin in February and so on.

To correct this, the calendar created an extra day in February every four years. So during a leap year, February has 29 days.

According to the “The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies,” some believe being born on leap day is bad luck. However, Duncan said she doesn’t feel that way.

“My life has been pretty good,” Duncan said. “… I feel better now than I did when I was 50 years old.”

She also beat the odds when she was born two months early.

“In those early days, they didn’t know how to take care of a preemie and so when I was born at home, naturally, the doctor said: ‘Just put it over there in that box; it won’t live anyway,’” Duncan said.

Her mother was having problems, and the doctor was so busy trying to save her mother’s life, Duncan said. Her aunt took it upon herself to take care of Duncan because her mother couldn’t and her grandmother was busy with her mother.

“It just fell on her shoulders and she took care of the baby (me),” Duncan said of her aunt.

As her 100th birthday approaches, Duncan said she had just one piece of advice for others: “Give more love - to family and to friends.”

When asked if she had any advice for parents who have leap year children, Duncan said to acknowledge every birthday.

“Birthdays are so important to children and so parents (of leaplings) should designate a birthday for children such as the last day of the month and let it be special to them,” Duncan said.

Pearson shared the sentiment.

“Make sure you celebrate with your kids - when they’re little, especially,” Pearson said. “My mother always made birthdays special but especially the ones in leap years. She made sure I knew.”

___

Information from: Standard Democrat, https://www.standard-democrat.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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