Born on Leap Day in Webster City, Iowa, Alto moved to Dunsmuir in 1952, which was also a Leap Year. At that time, according to Alto, Dunsmuir was the largest town in Siskiyou County.

Harriet Alto was born in 1932, but this Saturday, Feb. 29, she’ll be celebrating her birthday for only the 22nd time.

Born on Leap Day in Webster City, Iowa, Alto moved to Dunsmuir in 1952, which was also a Leap Year. At that time, according to Alto, Dunsmuir was the largest town in Siskiyou County.

Reflecting on what it was like growing up as a Leap Year baby, Alto said, “Actually, I rather enjoyed it, because it was special, and I felt special because of that.”

Alto, who will turn 88 on Saturday, attended school in Roseville where she graduated from high school, then continued her education at Sacramento State College. After college, she moved to Dunsmuir where she first started teaching fifth grade at Dunsmuir Elementary School when she was 21 years old.

Alto ended up making a considerable impact in the community as a career educator, teaching the youngsters of Dunsmuir for more than four decades. She taught 41 years at DES and a couple of years at Castle Rock School.

Following her retirement from the classroom, Alto continued to be involved in the field of local education by serving on the Siskiyou County Board of Education where she represented Dunsmuir and McCloud for 17 years.

Alto attended her final board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19, and has officially retired from her board duties.

“Education was my passion, said Alto. “I followed in the steps of my mother and my grandfather.”

One thing Alto’s students learned from the teacher with the Leap Year birthday was the fact that every year consists of 365 days, with the exception of every fourth year, which has 366 days. The reason: it actually takes the earth 365 days and 6 hours to orbit the sun. That’s why, every four years, we have a Leap Year, with a bonus 29th day in February. this accommodates that accumulated extra 24 hours, thus keeping us on a consistent western calendar schedule.

Many of her former students still remember that Mrs. Alto only gets a birthday once every four years. When 62-year old Jim Alameda was informed that this year is a Leap Year, his immediate comment was, “Mrs. Alto can have a birthday this year.”

Having spent nearly her entire adult life in the elementary classroom, it isn’t surprising that one of Alto’s favorite birthday memories is school related. She recounted a story about one February, when her fifth grade students were asking questions about her birthday. Alto said she explained that she wouldn’t have a birthday that year because it wasn’t a Leap Year. Concerned about her unfortunate situation, they asked Alto, “Then when do you celebrate your birthday?”

She told the children, “I guess right at midnight.” Alto recalled how one student, a 10-year old girl named Shelly, asserted that she was going to call her teacher at midnight. Alto confirmed that, as promised, on the night of Feb. 28, her phone rang right at midnight.

On the other end of the line, a little girl’s voice politely said, “Happy Birthday! I told you I was going to call you, Mrs. Alto.”

“Mrs. Alto,” who is known as “Nana” to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be celebrating her 22nd Leap Year birthday this year with visiting family. In addition to her involvement with education, Alto is one of the founders of the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens, and was instrumental in starting the “Tribute to the Trees.” She is an avid supporter of the arts and is well known for her involvement in the Dunsmuir community.

Anyone who would like to wish her a happy birthday may address cards to: Harriet Alto, General Delivery, Dunsmuir Post Office, Dunsmuir, CA 96025.