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February 21, 2020

Wells Chapel Baptist Church is located on State Road 41 in eastern North Carolina, west of the town of Wallace in Duplin County. In the church cemetery is the grave of a woman who died at exactly forty years of age, although she celebrated only ten birthdays.


Mattie C. Ramsey

Birth:   Feb. 29, 1880

Death:   Feb. 29, 1920


What are the odds? Someone figured out that the probability of a person’s birth and death occurring on Leap Year Day is one in 2,134,521 people. Three people on my Facebook Friends List were born February 29. By that reckoning, I should expect to have well over a million friends. I am sure they would all qualify as close friends.

In the Gregorian calendar, most years that are divisible by four are Leap Years. The month of February has twenty-nine days instead of twenty-eight. Adding an extra day to the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a solar year is almost six hours longer than 365 days.

Anthony is a town that straddles the border between two states; southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico. Also called Silver City, the town is the site of the Worldwide Leap Year Festival, an event that has grown in popularity. This year marks the tenth year of the festival, making Anthony the Leap Year Capital of the World.

Since the first celebration in 1988, the event has attracted thousands of 29ers, or Leapers, as those born on February 29 call themselves. The festival now draws national media attention, celebrities, and thousands of Leap Year fans.

Twelve years ago, the Parade Marshal was Josephine Concho Abeita, born February 29, 1908, four years before New Mexico became a state. At the time, this Laguna Indian and mother of nine had celebrated her birthday only twenty-five times in 100 years.

In 1960, Heidi Henriksen was born on Leap Day. Four years later, to the day, Heidi’s brother Olav was born. Exactly four years later, on February 29, 1968, their brother Leif came into the world. All three siblings were born on consecutive Leap Days.

On February 29,1904, Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorft was born in Germany. Having the longest name on record – beginning with every letter of the alphabet – he shortened it to Mr. Wolfe Plus 585, Senior.

Was there a Junior?

A few of the more prominent people born on Leap Day include

1468    Pope Paul III – Renaissance Pope

1692    John Byron – English poet

1736    Ann Lee – Founder of the Shaker movement

1792    Gioachino Rossini – Italian composer

1864    Alice Davenport – American silent screen actress

1904    John “Pepper” Martin – Baseball player

1904    Jimmy Dorsey – Saxophonist, conductor, composer

1908    Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) – French-Polish painter

1908    Masahiro Makino – Japanese film director

1908    Dee A. Brown II – author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

1912    Mary McAdoo – American actress

1916    Leonard S. Shoen – Founder of U-Haul

1916    Dinah Shore – Actress, singer, talk show host

1924    Al Rosen – Baseball player

1928    Tempest Storm (Annie Blanche Banks) – American actress

1936    Jack Lousma – Astronaut

1940    Billy Turner – Thoroughbred horse trainer

1944    John Niland – Football player

1952    Randy Jackson – Rock musician

1968    Chucky Brown – Basketball player

1984    Cam Ward – Canadian hockey player

Centuries ago, when the rules of courtship were more rigid, women were allowed to propose marriage only one day every four years on February 29. This tradition is believed to have started in fifth-century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait too long for a man to pop the question. According to legend, St. Patrick decreed that females longing to be married could suggest an engagement on the last day of February during a Leap Year.

Scotland passed a law to that effect in 1288, allowing women to offer marriage to the man of their choice in a Leap Year. The law provided that any man who declined a proposal must pay a fine, which ranged from offering the woman a kiss all the way to offering her a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

A few towns and colleges throughout the United States still celebrate the folk event known as Sadie Hawkins Day on February 29. Named for a character in Al Capp’s cartoon strip “Li’l Abner,” Sadie was a female desperate for a husband. This day gives women the opportunity to pursue men, usually by inviting them on a date. This custom is quaint but outdated.

What does your Leap Year hold?

Occasions that only come along once every four years are cause for celebration (the Olympics, presidential elections, property tax appraisals). This is why February 29 is important.

Some families celebrate the day by teaching their children and grandchildren how to play leapfrog. Some have parties with a frog theme. It might be a good day to jump rope or simply to jump up and down a few times.

So beyond trivial facts and figures about 2/29, may I call your attention to The Leap Year Project. This online community is inspiring people to spend this year (not just this day) doing something great – something that changes the world.

The idea was initiated by a young Chicago student, Victor Saad. He decided that Leap Year was the perfect time to expand his horizons. He even wrote a book, The Leap Year Project: Learning to Risk & Risking to Learn.

Here is a description from a publisher’s review of the book.

This adventure started with a single deep-seated desire to make a difference. It was this desire that hooked Victor Saad on pursuing a business degree around social enterprise. Yet as he researched MBA options, he wondered if business school was the most effective way to learn. Believing there had to be a better way, Victor decided to take the biggest leap of his life, quitting his job to design and pursue a self-made education; 12 experiences in 12 months, all centered around design, business development, and social innovation. Along the way, Victor realized he didn’t want to leap alone, and began challenging others with one driving question, “What risk would you take to change your life, your community, or your world for the better?”

Imagine the possibilities! What might we do with an extra day? The National Parent Teachers Organization has some suggestions. “What better way to spend an extra day than helping others? Or helping the planet? Organize a community service project around Leap Day.” We might consider activities as a clothing drive, food pantry collection, or a community cleanup.

However you decide to spend the day, keep this in mind. This extra day is a gift. It is beyond simple math, more than a day to adjust the calendar so that our calendars are synchronized with the planetary physics of the universe. Scientists of various stripes – astronomers, physicists, mathematicians – agree that we need this four-year realignment.

Maybe the best approach to Leap Day is to recall the words of an ancient teaching in scripture.

This is the day the Lord has made;

We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

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