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Watsontown leapster turns 23

WATSONTOWN — Ninety-two-year-old Shirley Lorah will happily tell you she is actually 23 years old.

Born and raised in Watsontown, not far from where she still resides with her husband of 69 years, Dick, and two cats, Shirley is one the few people who can call Feb. 29th their birthday. This year, like every four years, is a leap year, which means Lorah and the other 187,000 people in this country born on Feb. 29th, can celebrate their birthday on the day they were born instead of having to choose between Feb. 28th and March 1st. Leap year babies are also called leaplings, leapers, leapsters, according to the Daily Mail.

Why do we even have a leap year?

We can thank Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII. Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 45 B.C., which was a 365-day, 12-month calendar with an extra day at the end of February every fourth year. This extra day accounts for the time it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun, which is 365.2421 days. Caesar’s Julian calendar added a day every four years. Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian calendar in 1582 corrected an eleven minute annual surplus of the Julian calendar, according to History.com. The Gregorian calendar remains in use today.

Celebrating on March 1

The odds on having a leap year birthday are 1 in 1,461. according to BBC News. The worldwide total people who share this birthday are 4 million, to which Shirley added, “there will be some more born at the end of this month.”

Shirley always celebrates her birthday on March 1st on the non-leap years. “They still give me a birthday card,” she said with a smile. “Mom always said that I wasn’t here yet on the 28th,” Shirley recalled.

“At school they always wondered why I was the only one that didn’t have a birthday all the time,” said Lorah with a laugh.

“They couldn’t understand why I only had one birthday every four years and neither could I,” Shirley shared, talking about her younger elementary school years.

Her birthdays were celebrated by her mom, Hazel, lovingly making her a homemade cake, “She was a gem,” Shirley said of her mother. Every four years Shirley would also be mentioned in the local paper.

Birthday twins

A lifelong penpal, Shirley has had many friends to exchange letters with over the years, at one time as many as 200. She still keeps in contact with about nine penpals now, including what she calls her “birthday twin.”

Fellow leap-year baby Betty Nelson, of South Carolina, and Shirley have been exchanging letters and phone calls for 69 years.

During a recent phone call Betty remarked about their upcoming birthdays, “You know Shirl, we’re gonna have another.” Lorah laughed. “It’s funny, we look alike and have the exact same birthday, I was so happy to hear from her,” Lorah shared.

A challenging leap

The milestone birthdays on non-leap years can prove to be a challenge for those leap-year babies. When are you old enough to drive a car, vote or buy your first drink?

Laws can vary from country to country but in the United States, according to Reuters, the default date is March 1st, unless the state has a statue that says otherwise.

Famous leap-day babies include speaker Tony Robbins, actors Antonio Sabato Jr. and Dennis Farina, Dinah Shore, Pope Paul III and comic book hero Superman, according to leapyearday.com.

There also is an Honor Society of Leap Year Babies online which boasts over 11,000 members.

Lorah stays active, walking two miles a day and has played cards with the same group of ladies since she was 24 years old. This year for her birthday, Lorah went out to eat at her favorite restaurant, Perkins, with her son, Kim.

“It’s just another day,” Lorah said with a smile about her birthday.

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