Vineyard leap year baby Richie Walker, 59, turns 15 next week

Hamilton Walker (left) and his dad, Richard "Richie" Walker, of Vineyard Haven, both celebrate their 15th birthdays this year. — Photo by Tony Omer

Richard Walker of Vineyard Haven and his son, Hamilton, celebrate their 15th birthdays this year. Hamilton, a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School freshman, will celebrate on June 24. Richie, a Vineyard Haven carpenter, will turn, depending on how you look at it, either 15 or 60 on Wednesday, February 29.

Richie is a member of a select group known as leaplings, or leap year babies. Sadie Hawkins Day, leap year day, comes around once every 1,461 days. That means leap year babies are roughly 1 out of 1,461 or .07 percent of the population. That’s about 4.8 million world-wide or, statistically, about 10 on the Island.

If you were born any other day of the year you are one of about 20 million celebrating on your birthday, almost .3 percent of the population, maybe 50 each day on the Vineyard.

The Times spoke to several Island leaplings in addition to Richie. Fella Cecilio and Nelson Swartz Oliver, both of Oak Bluffs, turn 16, or 64, next week. Catie Coogan, an Oak Bluffs native who now lives in Virginia, will be 7, or 28.

These leap year kids may not have many birthdays, but they have learned how to handle it and they haven’t missed out on much.

Richie Walker said that when he was younger he used to try to catch his birthday in the second between February 28 and March 1 in non-leap years. When he was older he decided that he would celebrate the entire four years between birthdays. He declined to go into the details, but he insists that he has cleaned up his act since.

Mssrs. Cecilio and Swartz were classmates growing up on the Vineyard, played on the same football team, but didn’t learn of their shared birthdays until after their school years.

“I’m going to be 64 but I should only be 16,” said Mr. Cecilio, who owns Fella Caters. “I would always celebrate on the Saturday after my birthday. I never went without a cake.”

Mr. Swartz, a computer technician, said, “It’s funny: I had school teachers that up to this day, the ones who are still alive, send me birthday cards every 29th and friends from way back that the only time they text or send a card is on my birthday. Every four years they remember me.” He said that he used to celebrate twice, on the 28th and March 1st, except on leap years. “My wife won’t go with that now. She says once is enough. I hope I feel 16 again on this birthday.”

Ms. Coogan’s father, Oak Bluffs selectman and Tisbury school teacher Greg Coogan, said that when she was born there were a number of babies born at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital both the day before and the day after Catie, but that she was the only one born on the 29th.

Ms. Coogan grew up on the Vineyard and now teaches school in Richmond, Virginia. She comes back home for summers. She said she thinks her parents felt so bad that she missed so many birthdays that they would put on two-day celebrations. Greg recalls that Catie, her mother, and grandmother conspired to celebrate her birthdays for a week at a time since she had so few and they conveniently fell around school vacation week.

Ms. Coogan’s mother, Sharon Coogan said, “At first it was kind of neat, but now Catie says. ‘You don’t know what it’s like not having a birthday.'” But she added, “Catie really celebrates, quite a few days at a time because she has so few birthdays. This year there’s no telling how long she will celebrate.”