By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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For those with Feb. 29 birthdays, 'Every four years is special'

James Glover II / Star staff The Star sought Feb. 29 babies. They are, from left (with ages in leap years): Martha Slife, 11, Malorie Lanthier, 10, Laura Ratliff, 9, Michael Frank, 3, Rick Hager, 12, Constance Ruddell, 13, Emily Thompson, 2, Grace Myers, 1, Lio Alvarado, 14, Maryanne Reynolds, 19, Sydney Mitchell, 5, Matthew Marzec, 4, twins Jasmine and Jamee Jacquez, 3.

Ventura County Star

At 96 years old and a great-grandmother of seven, Ethel Mortell gets a kick out of telling people she's celebrating her 24th birthday this year.

"Most people look at me in a very strange way; it is very unusual, and I really like that," said Mortell of Camarillo, a leap year baby who turns 24 today.

Her favorite birthday was at age 64, when she received a surprise party for her "Sweet 16" — the same age as her nephew.

"Every four years is special," she said. "I'm looking forward to having my 25th birthday."

Mortell, as well as several dozen "leaplings" throughout Ventura County, have a true birthday just once every four years — on Feb. 29.

Leap years are necessary for the calendar to be in alignment with the Earth's motion around the sun, so a leap year has one extra day in February — 29 days as opposed to the normal 28 days.

And here's a twist on the "every four years" rule that not everyone knows. According to, a leap year is every year that is divisible by four, unless those years can be divided by 100; then it is not a leap year. Except, if it is divisible by 400, then it is a leap year.

That means that years 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are NOT leap years, while year 2000 and 2400 ARE leap years.

Associated with age-old traditions, superstitions and folklore, leap day also is recognized as a day of observances and celebrated as a birthday for those born Feb. 29.

One tradition introduced centuries ago allowed women to propose to men during a leap year; in some areas, that rule was limited to leap day.

These days, while most calendars and agencies are equipped to recognize a Feb. 29 birthday, many are not. According to, some members of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies do not have the Feb. 29 birth date on their driver's licenses. Their government agencies gave them a choice of only Feb. 28 or March 1 as their license expiration date.

Mostly good

Beyond the potential inconveniences, for the most part, folks with this rarest of birthdays are proud of that fact.

"I truly cannot think of anything bad about having my birthday on such a special day," Mortell said.

Laura Ratliff of Camarillo, born in 1972, agrees; among other things, she said, she can still get into the movies for the child's price.

"Since I am under 12 years old, who can argue with me?" said Ratliff, a mother of two who works as an analyst for the California Department of Public Health in Oxnard.

She has learned to make the best of the "off years" with two chances to celebrate her birthday on Feb. 28 and March 1.

"If Feb. 28 doesn't turn out to be totally great, I get to try again the next day," Ratliff said.

The only bad thing she has found "is that the Social Security Administration doesn't seem to send me a statement three out of four years. I hope they are calculating my future benefits properly."

Robert Fielding of Thousand Oaks, born in 1988, recalls when he tried to get into Disneyland for the 2-year-old price when he was 8.

One downside

"I tried to explain that I had really only had two birthdays, but they wouldn't go for it," recalled the college student and personal trainer, who celebrates his "fifth" birthday today.

Fielding also found one downside of being a leap day baby: "I can't file my taxes online this year because I keep getting rejected because their system isn't set up to handle leap year birthdays."

Today is the first leap birthday for Grace Aubrey Myers of Camarillo, who was born in 2004.

"My birthday is special because I am a leap girl," said the 4-year-old.

Before Grace was born, her mother, Kiersa, told her friends and family, "As long as she isn't born on Feb. 29, all will be good. But my water broke in the middle of the night on the 29th so I knew she was going to be born that day."

They have since started a froggy collection for Grace.

"After she was born, I knew she was special because of this very special birthday of hers," her mom said.

Before her birthday this year, 20-year-old Melanie Alvarez really enjoyed "telling people that my fifth birthday is coming up," said the Santa Paula native. "Their reactions are priceless."

A sophomore at University of Arizona, she is expecting a 5-year-old birthday party this year.

"I'm sure that will be a lot of fun."

Constance Ruddell, born in 1956, said her favorite leap day memory was when she was 8.

"The city of Pico Rivera, Calif., declared that day Constance Mae Hall Day and took my picture and gave me a key to the city," recalled the Ojai resident.

Years later, "I went to an Angels game to get a raincoat they passed out to all the children, knowing I was too old, but took my birth certificate, and they gave me the raincoat."

Sometimes overlooked

As a child, Malorie Lanthier had no control over how her birthday was celebrated.

"Not having a certain day meant that it was often overlooked," said the Santa Rosa Valley resident, who was born in 1960. "As an adult, if there is no 29th, I celebrate on whichever day is most convenient. Every leap year I have a huge party.

"I enjoy having a unique birthday," she said. "It always is a topic of conversation."

Michelle Akkerman of Camarillo, born in 1988, is excited about turning 6 today.

"My parents always did something special for my actual birthday; this year I am excited to spend my birthday with my fiancé and our three dogs," said Akkerman, who received a bunch of baby bottles when she turned 3 to celebrate being a "big baby."

Jenn Campbell's favorite leap day birthday was at age 24.

"My mom threw a party for me like a 6-year-old party; we even had a piñata," recalled the Channel Islands Beach resident, who was born in 1972.

"I received toys and my very first Cabbage Patch doll from my best friends," she said. "I was so excited, you would have thought I was really turning 6 years old."

As a child, Campbell said, it was hard for her to understand a birthday that only comes once every four years.

"I remember thinking, Why isn't my birthday on the calendar sometimes?'" she said. "But now I love it. I can tell people I am younger than my real age and I am really not lying. Happy ninth birthday to me this year!"

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