Advertisement

She turns 100 on leap day, but it's only her 25th birthday. Meet Mary Lea Forsythe.

When Mary Lea Forsythe turned 16, she’d had only four birthdays.

Now that she’s turning 100, she’s getting ready for her 25th birthday celebration.

That's because the Sand Springs, Oklahoma, native is a "leapling," a term for people born on leap day (Feb. 29), which appears on the calendar only just about every four years.

Forsythe was born on Feb. 29, 1924. When people ask her how old she is, she usually replies with a short answer that leaves them scratching their heads.

“I've had 25 birthdays,” she told USA TODAY.

In honor of her 25th birthday and 100th year, Forsythe was honored this month by community organizations such as the Osage Hills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and Centenarians of Oklahoma.

Sand Springs Vice Mayor Beau Wilson has proclaimed Feb. 29 Mary Lea Rogers Forsythe Day, the Sand Springs Leader reported.

Mary Lea Forsythe at 4 years old.
Mary Lea Forsythe at 4 years old.

Her parents explained her birthday to her when she was a child, she said. They showed her a calendar, and her birthday, Feb. 29, wasn’t there.

But despite that, the beloved sisters she grew up with made sure she never felt left out and often took her out to lunch to celebrate on Feb. 27, Feb. 28 or March 1.

Forsythe also noted she isn’t the only one in her family who lived to be at least 100. Her aunt lived to be 107, she said.

A surprise ceremony for the centenarian

On Feb. 15, Forsythe went to a local library with plans to speak in front of the Osage Hills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The organization had something different planned for her, though.

“When I walked in, there were flashers going off and they were taking my picture as I came into the room,” she said. “There were dignitaries from the city and there was a proclamation read. My goodness, it was shocking. The room was full of people. … I never had been that surprised in my life.”

She even got a certificate from the Centenarians of Oklahoma.

How she met her husband of 68 years

Forsythe has lived a life full of love, worship and music.

She went to Sand Springs High School, where she met her soon-to-be husband, William Wayne Forsythe, also known as Bill. She saw William on school grounds and heard him laughing with friends.

She was intrigued and thought he was cute. She looked for him later but didn’t see him again until chorus class. He sat behind her because he was a bass and she was an alto.

“One day he was laughing and I said ‘That’s the guy,’” she said.

Mary Lea Forsythe with her husband, William Wayne Forsythe.
Mary Lea Forsythe with her husband, William Wayne Forsythe.

Forsythe and her husband shared a love for music, she said. He was the No. 1 bass singer in Oklahoma in high school. At one point, Forsythe competed in a contest and won third place, she said.

They eventually were married. They had their wedding at home. A friend played the organ and another friend sang the song “I Love You Truly,” she recalled.

The couple had two children 22 months apart, Martha and William. Their children inherited Forsythe’s curly hair, which she said runs on her side of the family.

She said her husband was a wonderful father. He was always willing to help anyone. They were married for 68 years. He died in 2011.

Work, church and music

After graduating from high school, Forsythe went to Draughon's Business College, a school for secretarial workers.

“I made sure that I got the speed that I needed in shorthand and typing,” she said. “Then I went into office work.”

She worked with local merchants and later, two law firms. She typed letters and greeted people, she said.

She retired in 1963. These days, she loves going to church and singing. She reflects fondly on the days when she’d travel, play the mandolin and perform with her husband.

“My husband played the harmonica,” she said. “He was a wonderful singer. I played the mandolin and we would sing.”

Mary Lea Forsythe, an Oklahoma woman who was born on a leap day on Feb. 29, 1924. She turns 100 on Feb. 29, 2024 but due to her birthday falling on a leap day, she has only had 25 birthdays in her lifetime so far.
Mary Lea Forsythe, an Oklahoma woman who was born on a leap day on Feb. 29, 1924. She turns 100 on Feb. 29, 2024 but due to her birthday falling on a leap day, she has only had 25 birthdays in her lifetime so far.

'It has been a wonderful life'

Forsythe was raised by Christian parents, she said. Her father would often call their children into the living room, and together they’d read the Bible. He’d pray for them all as well.

The man she eventually married, Bill, was also a Christian.

One memory in particular will forever tie her to her faith. She was 6 years old and sat at the front of the sanctuary at church. As she sat there, the preacher talked about how God loves and forgives everyone who asks him to enter their hearts, she said.

“So I went to the front and I knelt at the altar,” she said. “I asked Jesus to come into my heart … then I went back to my seat and sat down. I’ve never been sorry, I’ll tell you. It has been a wonderful life.”

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757. Follow her on Twitter at @SaleenMartin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Born on leap day: 25th birthday finally here for 100-year-old woman