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Northwest Indiana leap year babies celebrate quadrennial occasion
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Northwest Indiana leap year babies celebrate quadrennial occasion

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Before turning 10, Leslie Malerich-Sylvester wanted to be sworn in as a police officer and purchase a Fiat 500. 

This Saturday, she'll be able to celebrate double digits with the Fiat in her driveway and a police badge on her chest. 

Though she's just celebrating her "10th" birthday, Malerich-Sylvester was born 40 years ago during a severe snowstorm at the Hammond hospital her mother worked at as a labor and delivery nurse. 

Malerich-Sylvester is one of around 205,000 Americans whose birthday falls on Feb. 29, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Feb. 29 occurs every four years, known as a leap year. 

During a normal year, Malerich-Sylvester said she celebrates on Feb. 28, but not everyone in her family agrees with her choice. 

“My dad refuses to acknowledge it on the 28th, and he goes by March 1,” she said, chuckling. 

Leslie Malerich-Sylvester

Leslie Malerich-Sylvester blows confetti on Thursday. Malerich-Sylvester, a Leap Year baby, will celebrate her 10th birthday on Saturday. 

Even if she’s working, Malerich-Sylvester makes sure to celebrate the leap year with a nice dinner. 

“If it’s the 29th, I don’t care if I’m working, I don’t care what’s going on — I make sure to celebrate my birthday that day,” she said.

Double digits 

Growing up, Malerich-Sylvester normally celebrated her birthday with her older brother, whose birthday is March 10. 

“We would usually have our birthdays combined, but if it was a leap year, I had my own birthday party, so I was always happy about that,” she said. 

When the quadrennial event did come around, Malerich-Sylvester recalls her mom making sure she brought her favorite treat to school — a giant Mrs. Fields cookie. 

4-year-old Leslie Malerich-Sylvester

Leslie Malerich-Sylvester blows out candles during her "first" birthday party. Malerich-Sylvester was born on Feb. 29, 1980.

This year is special, Malerich-Sylvester said, since she has finally made it to double digits — a milestone she plans to celebrate with her family and a steak dinner. 

“I have noticed with this being my first time getting into double digits ... I’m more excited,” she said. 

By the time she turns 44 — her "11th" birthday — Malerich-Sylvester said she wants to go watch the Cubs during spring training, visit the Cubs convention and return to Italy, where she also is a citizen, to visit teammates she played Olympic softball with. 

Like Malerich-Sylvester, Jamie Reinhart, 40, is celebrating her "10th" birthday, along with her son, Wyatt, who just turned 10.

"He's excited because he's finally older than me,” Reinhart said, adding the pair plan to celebrate with a steak dinner and baking a cake.

Normally, she celebrates her birthday on March 1. 

8-year-old Jamie Reinhart

Jamie Reinhart holds up one of her presents from her eighth birthday party. Reinhart was born on Feb. 29, 1980, a Leap Year. 

Though she typically celebrates her leap year birthday the same as every other year, she recalls her "fourth" birthday, when she turned 16, as a special occasion. 

"My mom had a surprise party for me, and my girlfriends all came and got me a card saying, 'Happy fourth birthday,'" she said. "It was kind of neat and unique because it was my sweet 16 and then on top of it, all of my friends ... they kind of played into leap year."

Reinhart said she, too, is excited to make it to double digits. By the time she turns 44, she hopes to have her own place and finish school.

This year, Barbara Alonzo will turn 80 and celebrate her 60th wedding anniversary with her husband, Al. 

Alonzo, who has lived in Highland since 1964, has often celebrated her leap year birthdays with other milestones. In 2004, she and her granddaughter Chelsea turned 16. She and her granddaughters, Alysha and Kelsie, celebrated their 18th birthdays in 2012 together. In 2016, her grandsons, Michael and Austin, turned 19, as did she. 

“It makes me feel very good,” Alonzo said, of celebrating her leap year birthday in step with family milestones. 

The Alonzos

From left, Al and Barbara Alonzo stand in their Highland home on Feb. 22. This year, Barbara, a leapling, will turn 80 on Saturday.

“Al and I got a great family. We got some great grandchildren and now we’re starting with the greats. It’s just been fantastic, really (a) fantastic life,” she added, tearing up. 

When it’s not a leap year, she celebrates on March 1. 

This year, Al is throwing her a birthday party with her family. 

The toddler years 

Gage Catlin, who turns 16 this year, has recently picked up piano and guitar and is looking forward to getting his drivers license. 

He said having a leap year birthday has been “interesting.”

“When people find out, they constantly ask me, ‘What’s your actual age?’ And then they’ll say something and it will be completely off,” Catlin said, adding people often think he’s older than he is. 

Gage Catlin

Gage Catlin plays guitar in his Hobart home on Thursday. Catlin, who is a leap year baby, will celebrate his "fourth" birthday on Saturday, when he turns 16. 

Every year, his family argues about when to celebrate the occasion, his dad, Dan, said. However, Gage said it doesn’t matter when he celebrates. 

“My family likes to argue with me because I say … the birthday isn’t until the day after the 28th, but they always yell at me saying it has to be in February,” Dan said. “Every year it’s an ongoing issue.”

Gage Catlin

Gage Catlin celebrates his "first" birthday four years after being born. He was born at 5:12 p.m. Feb. 29, 2004, at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart — the hospital's first and only leap day baby that year, his father said. 

This year, Gage plans to spend his birthday hanging out with friends. 

Like Gage, Isabella Steliga plans on celebrating her birthday with friends. Steliga, who will turn 12 on Saturday, said she typically celebrates her birthday on Feb. 28 and March 1. 

“One day I usually hang out with my family and maybe even one of my friends, and then the next day would probably be more dialed down, but it would still be my birthday.” 

Isabella Steliga

Isabella Steliga sits with her grandparents' dog, Nala, Friday in her St. John home. This year, Isabella celebrates her "third" birthday, when she turns 12.

This year, she plans on going to the Sugar Factory with her best friend. In the next four years, she wants to go to with her mom and see where the TV show "Friends" was filmed.

“She was really supposed to be a Valentine’s Day baby … we knew she was going to be special no matter what,” said Steliga's mom, Jen Steliga. “The fact that she’s born on such an unusual, once-every-four-years date is perfect for her personality and just the unique child she is.”

Famous Hoosiers throughout the years

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South Lake County Reporter

Mary Freda is the South Lake County reporter at The Times. She is a proud Ball State graduate, where she studied news journalism and Spanish. You can reach Mary at mary.freda@nwi.com or 219-853-2563.

Related to this story

  • Updated

"You're big for your age." Matt Virus of Hammond hears that a lot. Although he was born in 1992, the Purdue Calumet University sophomore is officially just 5 years old. A Leap Year baby, Virus is one of an estimated 200,000 Americans with Feb. 29 as a birth date.

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