Monday, March 1, 2004

Leap Day birthday lady feels 'very celebrated'



By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WINTON PLACE - Mary Merrill can finally give herself a toast.

She turned 21 Sunday - something she's been waiting 84 years to do.

Born Feb. 29, 1920, a leap year, Merrill only gets to celebrate her birthday every four years. "Now I can buy alcohol and drink and do all those things legally that I've been doing illegally all these years," she said.

Merrill wasn't the only one celebrating Leap Day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of every 1,461 people was born Feb. 29 - about 200,000 Americans and 4.1 million people worldwide.

On Sunday, there were at least 30 more babies in the Tristate to add to that number.

In honor of her legitimate birthday, Merrill's friends and family gathered first with a party on Saturday, then at a brunch at New Jerusalem Community Church in Winton Place Sunday.

Leap year celebrations are special, Merrill said.

"We do celebrate my birthday every year, but we don't have any big thing," she said. "I feel very celebrated today."

Throughout her life, Merrill has been an active worker for women's rights, civil rights, Central American issues and peace.

"I've done my share of protesting and getting arrested," she said. "I've only been in jail, though, two times."

The great-grandmother is active in her Catholic church and serves as chair of the peace and justice committee.

Recently, Merrill returned from a trip to set up a "sister community" with a Catholic church in Guatemala. She also helped start an Archdiocese-wide project to encourage local Catholic churches to serve fair trade coffee from Guatemala.

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E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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