Is she turning 100, or is she really only 25?
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Irene Branca, who turns 100 today, is a “leap baby.”
Born on Feb. 29, her birthday comes only once every four years, in what is called a Leap Year.
In a Leap Year, an “intercalary” day is added to the end of February to keep calendars in line with Earth’s not entirely regular revolutions around the sun. So every fourth year is 366 days long, instead of 365.
So the question can be asked, is Irene Branca really 100 years old today, or is she a much more youthful 25, since the latter is the number of actual birthdays she has celebrated?
“Now I’m confused,” said the centenarian, during a somewhat halting interview with the Post Independent at her current home, the Heritage Park Care Center.
Branca has lost most of her hearing, so the interview was conducted with the help of two Heritage Park employees, recreation director Patrick Morden and his assistant, Melissa Jones.
A reporter would ask a question, which was then written down by Morden or Jones in handwriting legible to the birthday lady. Branca would answer with a few words, a shrug or merely a twinkle in her eye.
“So, I’m younger than I was?” Branca queried Morden during an exchange about the Leap Year phenomenon.
Following a bemused nod from Morden, Branca then declared, “I was born before I was born!” and laughed out loud.
Branca was born in Herrin, Ill., on Feb. 29, 1912, two years before her only sister, Regene, whom Irene outlived. Her parents were Pete and Anna Ulevich of Lithuania. She still has her father’s driver’s license and her parents’ wedding picture.
She grew up in Herrin, where she dropped out of school early to help out at her father’s grocery store. It was in Herrin that she met and married Angelo Branca.
The couple lived, apparently for a considerable period of time, in St. Louis, judging from letters and other mementos that she keeps in a cardboard box.
She and her husband were married for 50 years, Branca told the Heritage Park admissions staff when she checked in about six years ago.
It is in St. Louis, according to Heritage Park records, that Angelo Branca is buried, and where Irene expects to join him when her time comes.
At some point, Irene Branca began keeping a small notebook containing the names and circumstances of relatives, important dates and occurrences, and her secret to a marvelous complexion.
The secret is a recipe for homemade skin cream that calls for Vaseline, retin-A cream, vitamin E in a tube and several drops of carbolic acid, along with a few other ingredients.
Irene reported that she never took up the habit of drinking alcohol, and she only smoked “every now and then.” Her favorite food, she said, has always been chicken.
Following a scattered trail of pictures and letters in her collection, and Branca’s memories, it seems she came to Colorado in early 2006 to live with family members in Eagle County.
But a veritable avalanche of family troubles, again indicated by letters, led to the loss of her grandson’s house and, ultimately, her move to Heritage Park.
When Branca first came to Heritage Park, she was “a quite sophisticated lady, always dressed to the nines,” in the words of the care center’s social services director, Nancy Becker.
She kept small bottles of her skin treatment in the center’s refrigerator.
She was active in the center’s affairs, going out to dinners, attending musical performances, painting bird houses and doing bead work, Becker and others recalled.
“But not so much any more,” said Becker, although Branca can still be found beading and creating handcrafted jewelry.
A party is planned in her honor today at Heritage Park.
Throughout the interview, Branca’s gleeful anticipation was evident as she playfully asked Morden, more than once, “So, I’m 25 now?”
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