DECATUR — William “Lennie” Lourash was the first baby born on Feb. 29, 1964, and a man turned up at the hospital to present his mother with a 1964 silver dollar to commemorate the occasion. The man, whose name Lourash doesn’t know, made a tradition of it each Leap Year.
“Then I started doing it,” Lourash said. “I couldn’t do silver dollars because prices were outrageous, so I started giving 50-cent pieces. The nurses usually look at me like I’m some kind of weirdo.”
Leap Year babies will get to celebrate their birthdays on the actual day this year instead of March 1. Lourash usually chooses the weekend closest to the date his birthday would have been for his celebration.
When he turned 21, he couldn’t legally drink until March 1. He’s heard that there’s talk of doing away with Leap Year altogether.
“Then I’d really be the guy without a birthday,” he said.
Leap Year began to sync the Gregorian calendar with the actual rotation of the Earth around the sun and keep the seasons in their proper places. It takes the Earth about 365¼ days to make it around the sun, so three times every 400 years, Leap Year is skipped.
Lourash doesn’t have to worry about that because the next one’s not due for a long while.
As for the drinking age, each state decides for itself when the Leap Year baby’s birthday is during regular years, and it’s often March 1. About 187,000 people in the United States have a Leap Day birthday and 4 million worldwide.
Famous Leap Day babies include Pope Paul III (1468); Gioacchino Rossini (1792), Italian composer of “William Tell” and “The Barber of Seville”; singer and talk show host Dinah Shore (1916); and rapper Ja Rule (1976).
An old Irish tradition, mostly fallen by the wayside in these days of equality of the sexes, is that the ladies could do the proposing on Leap Day, so women who worried about being “left on the shelf,” as they phrased it, could ask the gentleman of their dreams to marry them on that day.
Legend has it that in the fifth century, St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait for men to propose, and he suggested the Leap Day departure as a solution. And if the gentleman so honored declined the offer, he was expected to give the lady a present to soothe the sting of refusal.
The day itself was a departure from tradition and had no legal standing under British law, so all traditions were tossed aside for that one day.
For Zakarria Lee, this Leap Year birthday will be only the third in her lifetime to fall on her “real” birthday. Tim Gilbert, a teacher at Robertson Charter School, where Zakarria is in sixth grade, teased that he doesn’t have to buy her a birthday present except every four years.
Zakarria plans a big birthday party this year to celebrate.
“We’re going to have it at the (Decatur Conference Center and Hotel),” she said. “And we’ll probably go out to eat.”
Science is her favorite subject in school. She likes to skate — her last Leap Year birthday party was a skating party — and she’s a cheerleader. In some ways, she said, she wishes she had a “real” birthday every year. In between Leap Years, the family celebrates on Feb. 28. On the other hand, having a big party for Leap Year is pretty cool, too.
Dare Patterson will be 13 on her Leap Year birthday this year. Well, at least this is her 13th “real” birthday.
One thing that was fun for her as a Leap Year baby was the years she was the same age as her daughters, if one counted only her official birthdays. Now, she said, she’s younger than both of them, because they have birthdays every year.
“This year, they’re way older,” she said. “They’re 19 and 22.”