A Leap of Fate

In honor of “Leap Day,”  I thought I’d run this column, which was originally published eight years ago in 2004 in The Daily Times (Ottawa, Ill.) and later that year in my book, “Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory” …

A Leap of Fate


Feb. 23, 2004

Mary Lu Conness of Ottawa is married, has three children …

And come this Sunday, she’ll turn 12 years old.

Now, before you go jumping to any conclusions, try something else.

Leap to them, instead.

“I hear it all the time, all the time,” Conness said with a chuckle about the good-natured ribbing always associated with hers, the most peculiar of birthdays.

That being, Feb. 29.

Leap Day.

Since a normal year is actually more than 365 days — 365.242190, to be exact — every fourth year an extra day is tacked on to the month of February to round things out in an astronomical sort of way. So, like presidential elections, the Summer Olympics and high school graduation, Conness gets to enjoy her actual birthday only once every four years.

And, naturally, when the big day does roll around, it’s a big to-do.

“Ever since I went to grade school (in Chicago), kids would say ‘You’re turning 2 or you’re turning 4,’ ” said Conness, who will actually be turning 48 on Sunday. “There was always a surprise birthday party when I was growing up. The kids would always get into it, and even the teachers.”

Yes, with a birthday such as hers, you could say that Mary Lu Conness is one in a million.

Except, that she isn’t.

Instead, she’s one in 10 — million, that is.

“The really ironic thing is that my dad was born on Feb. 29 also,” Conness said about her late father, Edward Hughes of Chicago, with whom she took an enormous leap of fate. “There’s a 1 in 10 million chance — that’s what they put in the (Chicago) Tribune a few years ago — that a father and a child will both be born on Leap Year.”

Yep, when Mary Lu entered the world on Feb. 29, 1956, remarkably her father was blowing out the candles for birthday, as well.

His ninth birthday.

“He was born in 1920,” Conness said with a laugh about her dad. “So, yeah, he was 9 when he had me.

“He was a young father.”

Based on the latest figures, only about 200,000 people in the United States and approximately 4.1 million around the world were born Feb. 29.

And when Conness was born in ’56, those numbers were likely even lower, meaning that her family probably had the market pretty much cornered on Leap Year Babies in the Windy City during those days.

As a result, she and her father’s quantum leap made for some fun celebrations.

“He’d always receive phone calls,” Conness said about her father and the buzz surrounding their colossally coincidental birthday. “Guys from home, guys from college … And we’d always talk about who would come out on top with phone calls and cards that day … My father has now passed away, but my mom still feels that the 29th is such a big deal.”

She’s not the only one.

“My kids get a real charge out of it too,” Conness said about her three children, John, 16, Patrick, 15, and, especially, Mary Kate.

Who’s 12.

The same age that her mother will be this weekend.

“(On Sunday) I’ll be the same age as my daughter,” Conness said. “She’s excited, telling me ‘Mom, we’ll be the same age!’ But then she says, ‘I’ll be 13 in April, so then I’ll be older than you. But for a couple months we’ll be the same age.’ “