by Joni Astrup
Terry Toenjes got a Barbie doll cake the year she turned 52.
A friend gave Jessica Janas a My Little Pony when she celebrated her 28th birthday.
Kenneth “Jay” Dehn, 63, joked that if he lives long enough, he may be old enough to have a drink.
Joseph Larson will soon turn 24, but fully expects to get at least one birthday card for a 6 year old.
What do these do four have in common?
All were born on Feb. 29, that unusual date that comes around only every four years during a leap year.
“I think it’s great,” said Sarah Cooley, an Elk River native who was born on Feb. 29, 1980. “It’s just another fun fact you can tell people about yourself.”
Cooley teaches music at Otsego Elementary School. This year she turns 36, although it’s technically only her ninth birthday, which can be a mind bender for her students.
Cooley said every four years her birthday is always very special, including the one when she turned 3 (actual age, 12) and had a big slumber party. The last time her birthday came around was in 2012, but an 18-inch snowfall interrupted her plans. This year she plans to celebrate with a family dinner.
Joseph Larson, of Becker, is another leap year baby. He was born on Feb. 29, 1992.
This year he will turn 24, but it’s only his 6th birthday. He fully expects to get at least one birthday card for a 6 year old. That’s been a running joke on his birthday.
Larson, who runs his own deejay business called Rapid Fire Entertainment and works at Pawn America, said being a leap year baby is neither good nor bad.
“The only difference is it’s more of a unique conversation piece,” he said.
Lisa Griffin said a Feb. 29 birthday “makes life interesting.”
She was born on Leap Day in 1964 in Orange City, Iowa, but now lives in Elk River with her husband, Nick, and daughter, Madeleine.
One of her most memorable birthdays was her second one (actual age, 8), when her aunt and uncle threw a party at the Pizza Hut they owned in a neighboring town. Her school also made a big deal out of it, she said.
Her 10th birthday (actual age, 40) was another big one, as it happened to fall on a Sunday during a leap year. The pastor of the church where she is the music director, Augustana Lutheran in West St. Paul, announced her birthday to the congregation and when she got home, her family had arranged a surprise party.
Four years ago, she had a spa day planned but there was a snowstorm and no one could get to it, so she had to reschedule. It also was the birthday that she turned 12 (actual age, 48), kind of making her the same age as her daughter.
Terry Toenjes, 63, turns sweet 16 on Feb. 29 if you do leap year math. She has lost count of the number of teen girl gifts she’s received over the years — everything from diaries to training bras. When she turned 13 (actual age, 52) she got a Barbie doll cake.
“People really have an imagination,” she said.
Toenjes lives in Carlos near Alexandria, but has ties to Elk River through her daughter, Vicki Lehner Ray, who lives in the area. Granddaughter Bethany Lehner is a fourth grader at Elk River’s Parker Elementary.
Toenjes, who was born on Feb. 29, 1952, is a retired postal worker. She said although she seldom meets anyone born on Feb. 29, at one point she had two neighbors in Carlos who were Leap Day babies. She also has an aunt who was born on Feb. 29.
Toenjes said the only negative thing about it is not having an actual birth date during the non-leap years.
“Everybody likes to wake up and say, ‘Today is my birthday.’ You don’t get to do that,” she said.
She does, however, get some laughs out of her unusual birthday. Besides the gag gifts and kiddie cakes, it’s always good for ribbing her husband.
“I give my husband a bad time about robbing the cradle,” she said with a laugh.
Jessica Janas, who was born on Feb. 29, 1984, said when leap year rolls around and she can celebrate on Feb. 29, she has received children’s birthday cards and, sometimes, kids’ toys.
“I got an Easy Bake Oven one year and last leap year a friend gave me a My Little Pony,” said Janas, who works at First National Bank of Elk River.
Growing up in Anoka, Janas said her parents made every birthday a very special one for her but she would always get more excited when there was a leap year because she thought she would get more presents.
“We would also take family trips to Colorado around my birthday when it was a leap year,” she said. Her family all skied, and enjoyed going to Breckenridge.
Kenneth Dehn, Jr., better known as Jay, had not only an unusual Leap Day birth, but a memorable one. He was born on Feb. 29, 1952.
His parents lived on the Elk River in Elk River. When it was time for his mother to deliver him, she had to ski to meet his dad because a snowstorm had made the road impassable. His dad picked her up and took her to a hospital in Minneapolis, where Jay was born.
Between his dad, Kenneth Dehn, Sr., and himself, they owned and operated Dehn’s 4 Seasons, where they sold John Deere equipment and many other products, for over 42 years. He also served 31 years on the Elk River Fire Department.
Dehn now works for Dehn Oil Company, which is owned by his first cousin and was started in the 1930s by his grandfather, Pat Dehn.
In non-leap years, he said he has celebrated his birthday on both Feb 28 and March 1.
“We don’t make a big deal out of my birthday unless it’s on a leap year,” he said. Then they normally invite some friends to their house and have a party.
“This year will be my 16th birthday,” he said. “I joked with a friend a few weeks ago that if I live long enough I may get old enough to have a drink. “
Fast facts about Leap Day
•Feb. 29 is a date that usually occurs every four years, and is called Leap Day. This day is added to the calendar in leap years as a corrective measure, because the earth does not orbit around the sun in precisely 365 days.
•The next Leap Day is Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. The last Leap Day was on Feb. 29, 2012.
•The chances of having a birthday on Feb. 29 are one in 1,461.
•Norway’s three Henriksen siblings were born on three consecutive leap days: Heidi in 1960, Olav in 1964 and Leif-Martin in 1968, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
•Famous Leap Day birthdays include Pope Paul III (born 1468); Jimmy Dorsey, jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, trumpeter and big band leader (born 1904); and Dinah Shore, singer and actress (born 1916).
Sources: History.com, time and date.com, wikipedia.com