Stories of the year

Top news stories of 2021

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A woman who disrupted a Yukon Public School Board meeting in May is approached by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resouces Dr. Jason Brunk. (Photo by Robert Medley)

Editor’s Note:

This is part one of The Yukon Progress year in review. Part one also appears in today’s print edition. Subscribe today by calling 405-577-6208 to keep up with local news throughout the year. 

 By Robert Medley

Managing Editor

The stories of 2021 were about a return to normal, but many of the same challenges of 2020.

The stories of the year 2021 for Yukon and Canadian County can be reviewed in a look back from monthly news reports and features about the people who lived it all.

Tammy Kretchmar takes the helm

After 25 years of service to the City of Yukon, a new leader took the reins.

Tammy Kretchmar succeeded longtime Yukon City Manager Jim Crosby, who retired from the position effective Jan. 22 after nearly 22 years over two stints.

Yukon City Manager Tammy Kretchmar

Kretchmar, who had worked for the City of Yukon since 1996, became assistant city manager in 2010. She spent several months as interim city manager before Crosby returned in early 2016 after more than four years in Piedmont.

COVID-19 cancels daddy daughter dance

As COVID-19 continued to make news in the early days of 2021, a Yukon event was canceled.

Two more annual City of Yukon special events were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

The highly popular Yukon Chocolate Festival and Daddy-Daughter Dance were among latest victims of the devastating virus.

Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby shared the frustrating news at the end of the Jan. 5th Yukon City Council meeting.

Another well-attended event, the Ground Hog Dinner at Yukon’s First United Methodist Church, was also canceled.

“These are hard times that we live in,” Selby said at the time. “As we know, it’s a new year that’s here – 2021. We left 2020 behind gladly. There are so many things that we’ve gone through as a city and as a community.

“I hope there’s a few things that we kept. And one of those is our love for community, being together and relationships. And that we just take time to enjoy one another.”

Virus concerns prompted the cancellation of several large events in 2020, notably the annual Czech Festival heritage celebration and Rock the Route musical festival.

Many other special events were either postponed or scaled back due to COVID-19 protocols.

Christmas in the Park continues to draw huge numbers

Yukon’s Christmas lights spectacular saw strong attendance for its 25th anniversary year, but the six-week festival didn’t quite break a record.

The color-changing Christmas tree island at Mulvey’s Pond was the site of marriage proposals during the 2020 Christmas In the Park lights festival. Some 17 marriage proposals were recorded this holiday season. (Photo provided)

Long lines of vehicles were common during the 2020 edition of Christmas in the Park, which was open from Nov. 23 through the New Year’s weekend 2021 at the interconnecting Chisholm Trail Park, Yukon City Park and Freedom Trail Park.

Official traffic counts provided by the City of Yukon show 32,104 vehicles went through Freedom Trail Park, 41,772 vehicles through Chisholm Trail Park and 29,654 vehicles through Yukon City Park for the 2020 report.

Meanwhile, “Santa Express” train riders at Chisholm Trail Park totaled 24,512 for the season.

Traffic counts were “just under” the total in 2018, according to City of Yukon public information officer Jenna Roberson.

“Based off the enthusiasm and my own personal observation, I would have thought we’d easily broken the record,” Roberson said. “Even so, considering we were and still are in the middle of a pandemic, we couldn’t be happier with how many people stopped by to enjoy Christmas in the Park.”

It should be noted the counters at Freedom Trail Park and Yukon City Park were not working during the first 10 days so that impacted the official traffic counts.

INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital overflows

Yukon’s hospital was overflowing with patients as nurses continued to take on more cases during the COVID-19 crisis.

Teresa Gray, president of INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital at 1201 Health Center Parkway, updated the Yukon COVID-19 Task Force at its Jan. 20, 2021 meeting.

INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital President Teresa Gray

“We are at 105% capacity this morning,” Gray reported. “We are overflowing into our ER (emergency room). We have 22 positive COVID patients.”

Seven of eight intensive care unit beds and 14 of 16 intermediate care beds had COVID-19 positive patients.

One patient in labor/delivery also was positive.

Patient volume has remained generally consistent at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital.
“We’ve been full for the past few months,” Gray said.

The hospital implemented “crisis staffing” due to the virus as nurses take on much larger caseloads.

Because bed space was at a premium, the hospital staff continued to transfer patients regularly to other hospitals – even outside Oklahoma.

Hort named assistant city manager

Mitchell Hort, a City of Yukon employee for the past 24 years, was named assistant city manager.

Hort had been Yukon’s development services director.

Hort succeeded Tammy Kretchmar, who recently was promoted to become Yukon’s new city manager. Hort sees himself in a “supporting role,” offering his extensive experience in building trades and development.

Yukon Assistant City Manager Mitchell Hort

“Tammy is going to do very well,” he said. “She’s what we needed right now, definitely.”

The new assistant city manager referred to the need for continued orderly development inside Yukon’s city limits.

“I’m just one person; it takes a village,” Hort said. “We have a very knowledgeable planning commission and city council.
“We work very well together because we all see the need for development.”

YHS Cheer state academic champs

The Yukon High School Cheer team took state in academics.

“Congratulations to Yukon Cheer for being named Academic State Champions!” the district announced in a social media post.

Chelsea Grimes, 11th grade cheerleader said, “It was a great feeling because our hard work had a purpose and really paid off.”

Yukon Cheer has been named Academic All State.

“It meant so much to get recognized for our dedication to school so we can do the things we love,” Grimes said.

Yukon Cheer Coach Joy Bjerk prioritizes focus in the classroom first.

“I like to stress that cheer is a great sport, and they will enjoy it while in school but they also need the great education Yukon Public Schools provides to move toward successful futures,” Bjerk said.

Coulson appointed to school board

The Yukon School Board appointed Brian Coulson to the Office 4 seat on the board.

“We are very pleased to welcome you,” School Board Member Suzanne Cannon said at a regular meeting in Yukon.

Coulson filed to challenge incumbent Michele Hawthorne in an April 6 election. But Hawthorne withdrew her candidacy after she learned she did not live within the Seat 4 boundaries of the district.

Coulson automatically won the seat, according to the Canadian County Election Board.

Brian Coulson was appointed to the Yukon School Board. (Photo by Robert Medley)

A changing Yukon Main Street?

A Dallas, Texas commercial developer with ties to Yukon proposed an office park and apartments for Main Street downtown.
The development surrounds two historic buildings, Yukon’s Best Flour Mill and the MFC Farmers Co-Op Building along State Highway 66.
The plan for an office complex could change the look of Yukon’s historic Main Street. An online description from the David J. Jones Commercial Real Estate of Dallas states that the plan includes the land around the landmark flour mills.
The developer is in the early stages of the plan, a City of Yukon spokeswoman, Jenna Robertson said.
“There is not much that the city can say. There have not been any applications for permits we have received yet,” Robertson said. “It depends on what we receive before it would go to the planning commission and that process would take place as normal. Until then, there is not much we can release as a city,’ Robertson said.

A Main Street Yukon business park was proposed by a developer with Yukon ties in 2021.

The plans include a new, five-story, high end office park, apartment building, two multi-level parking garages, and a hotel and convention center on Main Street.
The developer of the project is David Jones, owner of David Jones Commercial Real Estate in Dallas. Jones is a graduate of Yukon High School and the University of Oklahoma.
Jones moved to Yukon in 1959 and graduated from Yukon High School in 1968. He graduated at OU in 1972.
He said the project would bring in excess of $100 million to Yukon.
Jones has had talks with the City of Yukon and with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. There are no plans reported to demolish the grain elevators.
Jones said the land is under contract and a deal could close in October, with construction in the spring of 2022. The project will take 12-15 months to build.
Jones has had discussions with the Yukon Economic Development team, Robertson said.
Jones said he is “very aware of the historical significance of the area and its place along Route 66.”
MFC Farmer’s Co-Op owns the grain elevator on the north side of State Highway 66, Main Street in Yukon.
A plan online shows a proposal for a Yukon Technology Center to be built at 219 W. Main with 144,000 to 300,000 square feet of office retail space.

 

Wintry weather hits Yukon

Temperatures dropped below zero, and wintry weather shut down many services and schools during a blast of Arctic air.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. officials announced “rolling blackouts” due the extreme temperatures Feb. 15, 2021, leaving many temporarily without power.

OG&E is implementing rolling blackouts after Southwest Power Pool announced an energy emergency for the region.

A City of Yukon sanitation truck driver was stuck in the snow while picking up trash. (Photo provided)

In the noon hour, more than 20,000 OG&E customers lost power in all parts of the service area, including more than 6,000 customers in Oklahoma City.

OG&E said this blackout lasted about an hour.

SPP declared an energy emergency alert level 3 shortly after utility companies in the Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas region would initiate controlled outages.

Less than three hours later, the rolling blackouts began in the Oklahoma area.

Power outages were reported in Yukon.

The snowfall in Yukon that came in on a wave of Siberian cold air caused some impassable drifts along streets and roadways.

Snowplows helped clear the streets for drivers.

The powder that fell did not have as much ice as previous events, but vehicles were stuck in places and slick spots remained.

Brewer Construction crews made their way through Yukon to help clear roadways, crew members said.

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The bitter cold was hard on the equipment. One heavy machine leaked antifreeze, and work had to halt along Cornwell Drive near E. Vandament while repairs were made. It was not an easy job when the wind chill in Yukon was minus 29 on a Monday morning and the actual temperature minus 4. The sun did return that day, but not much melting took place with another round of winter weather on the way and no immediate forecast calling for any above freezing temperatures.

The cost to clear City of Yukon streets from the snowstorms was reported by officials.

Brewer Construction contracted for street clearing and the cost was $50,160, a city spokeswoman reported.

The cost for work with two truckloads of road salt was $4,150.

Signal light in Yukon were restored.

At least one Yukon trash collection trucks had trouble in the snow on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2021, and pickup was moved to Saturday.

Hinton woman can’t remember fatal Canadian County crash

A Hinton woman who faced life in prison for causing a crash that killed a Yukon man says she can’t remember what happened, according to an Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ report.

Melissa May Seuffert, 34, had “shown remorse for her actions” in the fatal collision but has “no recollection of the traffic incident” and events that led to the death of victim Matthew Rousey, according to a pre-sentence investigation filed Feb. 9 in Canadian County District Court.

“To this day, (I) do not fully/at all remember the events that led to my incarceration,” Seuffert told state DOC investigators. “All I can say here is what I was told happened. I was west of El Reno on I-40 West and I was speeding and intoxicated.

“I apparently tried to pass Matthew Rousey and swiped the back of his truck and caused both of us to flip and then Matthew Rousey later died.”

Seuffert pleaded no contest in October 2020 to the felony charge of second-degree murder in Rousey’s death. She is due to be formally sentenced later this month.

“Again, I know it doesn’t make it right, but I CAN’T remember ANY of this,” according to Seuffert’s statement in the pre-sentence investigation report. “I did not ever set out to do this. I would never intentionally hurt a fly let alone kill a man. I am so, so sorry for my actions.”

Rousey was killed in a two-vehicle traffic collision May 11, 2020 on Interstate 40 eastbound near Heaston Road in El Reno.

Seuffert was driving a 2010 Nissan Altima “at a high rate of speed” when she struck the left rear of a Ford F-350 driven by Rousey, according to a probable cause affidavit signed by Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Matthew Conway.

Rousey was ejected from his pickup, which left the roadway and rolled multiple times. Rousey, of Yukon, was 35 when he died.

Was it a record?

Fair officials were not calling it a record, but the amount that came in at the 2021 Canadian County Junior Livestock Show and Sale certainly topped the previous year.

The gross receipts this year came in at $227,650, compared to $225,783 in 2020.

Canadian County Fair Board President, Kelly Beck said 2021 was the top show they have had in the county.

“This was the best of all the 49 Spring Livestock Shows and Sales this county has put on!   The emotional factor of this being our final sale at our home for the last 49-years, helped us achieve a jaw dropping success at this year’s sale.”

Lana Sherry, Yukon FFA, had the Grand Champion Heifer, a Limousin.

Beck said, “A heartfelt thank you goes out to our generous premium buyers and add-on bonus contributors who gave an astounding gross receipt of $227,650, exceeding last year’s gross of $225,783.  The breakdown of this year’s contributions were $110,450 in auction premium bids and $117,200 in add-on bonus.”

The sale of 78 4-H and FFA member’s livestock projects wrapped up last week’s Canadian County Spring Livestock Show.  Next year’s inaugural spring   Livestock Show at the new state of the art facility, southeast of El Reno at Hwy. 81 and
I-40.

Canadian County Fair Board Chairman Kelly Beck

Beck said, “The entire fair board would like to tip our hats to everyone who played a part supporting the youth of Canadian County.  We’re especially grateful to our premium auction buyers and those who added bonus money to each of the 78 animals sold at Tuesday evening’s auction.”

This year’s Grand Champion Market Steer was a Charolais steer exhibited by Madison Shout of El Reno 4-H.  Her 1,395-pound steer brought a total of $2,750.00 and was purchased by Navigation Energy.

Gavin Straka of Yukon FFA exhibited the Grand Champion barrow.  His 280-pound Crossbred barrow sold for $1,000.00 and was purchased by Yukon Ag Booster Club.

Next, the gavel dropped on a Grand Champion Market Lamb owned by Callen Minard of Yukon FFA.  His natural-colored lamb netted a total premium of $700.  The buyer of Callen’s lamb was Yukon Ag Booster Club.

Yukon police investigate shooting

Yukon police investigated a drive-by shooting that left damage to a home but no injuries to anyone who lived there, Maj. Matt Fairchild said.

A home in the 700 block of Eastridge Drive was hit by multiple rounds of gunfire. The case was being investigated as a shooting with intent to kill attempt.

It was reported to police about 10 a.m. Saturday, March 20.

Police talked to a number of witnesses about the shooting. The name of the person who lives at the house was not reported.

A police officer from Yukon was called to the home Saturday morning, March 20 about gunshots that had hit the front windows of the house on Eastridge Drive, according to a Yukon police report.

Police were told the gunfire erupted about 6 a.m., but it was not reported until 9:55 a.m., almost four hours later.

Merrick elected

As he prepared to take his seat in the Oklahoma State Senate, a Yukon conservative says voters made a strong statement in April.

Jake A. Merrick, 39, was elected by a 64.45% majority to fill the Senate District 22 vacancy.

“This was a statement from the people that this state – and this district – is still conservative,” said Merrick, a small business owner. “It was a message from the people that we’re still ‘red’ and we want to protect these values we believe in.”

A constitutional conservative, Merrick is a strong advocate for an individual’s rights to free speech, religion and to bear arms.

Merrick soundly defeated Edmond Democrat Molly Ooten, 31, to claim victory in the special election.

Senate District 22 is comprised of eastern Canadian County and northern Oklahoma County, including parts of Yukon, Piedmont, Edmond, and Deer Creek.

Sanders wins Yukon school board

Cody Sanders defeated incumbent Don Rowe in April in a race for a Yukon School Board seat, the State Election Board reports.

With 20 of 20 precincts reporting, Sanders had held on to beat Rowe. Rowe had 1,598 votes, 45%, and Sanders had 1,878 votes, 54%, the Oklahoma State Election Board’s unofficial results show.

Suzanne Cannon defeated Andrew Lewis.

Yanda citizen of the year

A dedicated small business owner and community servant, Donna Yanda was named Yukon’s Citizen of the Year – 17 years after her late husband Anton earned this distinction.

Yanda, a Yukon City Council member and owner/director of Yanda & Son Funeral Home, accepted the H.B. Frank Citizen of the Year award during the Friday, April 30, 2021 Yukon Chamber of Commerce gala.

Donna Yanda, owner/director of Yanda & Son Funeral Home in Yukon. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

“This means so much to me,” Yanda said. “Yukon is such a great place to live and have a business. There are so many people I could thank for making this honor possible.

“I am just so fortunate and grateful to be part of our outstanding community when has given me so much.”

The announcement came near the end of Friday night’s “Yukon’s Best Roundup” celebration in the Co-op parking lot, 221 W Main.

Yukon Chamber Board member April Bow nominated Yanda for H.B. Frank Citizen of Year.

“Donna Yanda has always represented Yukon with the utmost character and respect,” Bow said.

Besides her Yukon City Council service, Yanda is a member of Spanish Cove Retirement Village’s board of trustees and previously was on the Yukon Chamber’s board of directors.

“In each of these roles, she serves selflessly and in the best interests of the constituents she represents,” Bow wrote in her nomination letter.

Bow referred to Yanda and her family as “staunch supporters” of Yukon Public Schools and many of the district’s extracurricular programs.

A native of Sentinel, Yanda has been in the funeral business for 35 years. She started working at the Yukon funeral service in 1986 and has led Yanda & Son Funeral Home since husband Anton’s passing in 2005.

A former city council and school board member, Yukon High School graduate Anton “Corky” Yanda III won the H.B. Frank Citizen of the Year award in 2004.

Mask chaos

In a May Yukon School Board meeting interrupted by angry outbursts from anti-maskers Monday night, board members voted to keep the masks on students for the rest of the semester.

A woman who disrupted a Yukon Public School Board meeting in May is approached by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resouces Dr. Jason Brunk. (Photo by Robert Medley)

There was some flexibility for middle, intermediate and elementary school students, however, under a revised mandate, but the board kept the policy for the remainder of the school year.

More than 50 protestors of the Yukon district mask mandate for all students showed up, some with signs and others who spoke aloud and disrupted the meeting. The crowd of people in the board room erupted with shouts and applause as one woman charged the podium and grabbed the microphone to rail against masks.

“This is not about COVID! This is about control!” the woman screamed. Two Yukon police officers approached her, and she threw her hands behind her back and turned to the officers as if complying to be handcuffed. The officers did not arrest her, despite the disturbance.

Assistant Superintendent of Human resources Dr. Jason Brunk approached the woman when she returned to her seat. She did not leave the building, and remained mostly quiet through the rest of the meeting. She did not want to give her name to a reporter.

Board members voted 3-2 to require high schoolers to keep their masks on but to allow some of the younger students to take them off in some situations where social distancing is possible, but masks will remain in the classrooms. The district does not have buildings with space to allow for 6 feet of distancing in classrooms, Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth said.

Board member Cody Sanders, who was sworn in Monday, made a motion to remove masks for all students under high school age. However, Suzanne Cannon, Brian Coulson and Leonard Wells voted against it with only Chris Cunningham and Sanders in favor. With that motion failing, a second motion was approved by the board to allow the flexibility with the younger students, but to keep masks mandated for high schoolers. Sanders, Cannon and Cunningham voted in favor.

The board voted for elementary, intermediate and middle school levels to follow yellow category facial covering requirements to allow for flexibility in the classroom and other areas within the building. Facial coverings will remain required for high school for the duration of the school year.

The face coverings will be worn by all students and employees entering and exiting the building.  Face Coverings will be worn by all students and employees when they are not in the classroom.

Students and teachers are required to wear a face covering inside the classroom when social distancing is not possible. Examples include when students are engaged in small group work or when teachers need to work with small student groups at the elementary level.
Students are required to wear the face covering when approaching a teacher’s desk for assistance.
When in the classroom setting, when desks and other seating areas have been distanced as much as possible and students are seated, students and teachers are encouraged and allowed to wear Face Coverings but not required.
Face Coverings will not be required to be worn during PE, recess or other outdoor activities where air is circulating and informal social distancing is possible.

Kaity Carter of El Reno, was one of the anti-mask protestors who attended the meeting.

“I think it is ridiculous because the rate for kids for getting it is so much lower than adults So how about for those kids we don’t require masks and leave it for the children’s parents to decide. It’s entirely up to the parents. We elect the people who are charge of our kids,” Carter said.

Graduation ceremonies return

Some 557 Yukon High School seniors received their diplomas during an outdoor commencement.

The YHS Class of 2021 Graduation Ceremony was Friday, May 21 at Miller Stadium on the YHS campus, 1777 S Yukon Parkway.

Yukon High School Principal Melissa Barlow (center) with senior class officers were ready for the Friday, May 21 graduation ceremony at Miller Stadium, 1777 S Yukon Parkway: From left, Secretary Camdyn Terry, Vice President Adrian Charquero, President Cade Pope, and Treasurer Wendy Pina. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

It marked the second straight year the annual event will be outside on the football field.

Graduation for the YHS Class of 2020, held last July, was revised due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our feedback last year from the students was very, very positive,” YHS Principal Melissa Barlow said.

In previous years, the YHS commencement had been at the State Fair Park Arena in Oklahoma City followed by the overnight Yukon Project Graduation at Redlands Community College.

In 2021, the YHS Graduation Ceremony was outside in Yukon and a scaled-back Project Graduation celebration followed graduation rehearsal the night before (Thursday, May 20) at Miller Stadium.

Southwest Covenant’s Class of 2021, 26 members strong, had a ceremony Friday, May 21 inside the Covenant Community Church sanctuary, 2250 S Yukon Parkway.

The 2021 graduating class is the largest in the private Christian school’s history, which stretches back to the early ‘80s.

No change on the turnpike

Yukon motorists who normally pay tolls using cash noticed a big change starting July 25 on the John Kilpatrick Turnpike.

A new cashless system called PlatePay will take a picture of the license plate on any vehicle without a PIKEPASS. An invoice will then be sent to the vehicle’s registered owner.

“We are transitioning away from a cash-collection system,” OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said. “We’ll start with the Kilpatrick Turnpike. Over the next four to five years, we will convert the rest of the turnpike system across the state.”

OTA officials chose the Kilpatrick Turnpike – which has several exits in the Yukon area – to begin the changeover to the cashless PlatePay system.

More than 90% of Kilpatrick Turnpike travelers use PIKEPASS to pay their tolls with the rest paying by cash at toll booths.

“It’s a high-commuter traffic turnpike,” Damrill explained. “With that much traffic, this will allow us to ‘get our feet wet’ in a cashless system and make sure we have all the bugs worked out.”

Oklahoma is one of the last states to transition from a cash to a cashless turnpike toll system.

Yukon outdoor hunting store, a local staple, closes doors

A Saturday in early July was a bittersweet day for Gerald Hillman.

Hillman’s Taxidermy, 343 N 5th, closed after 48 years in downtown Yukon. And it “all must go” during a July 10th auction sale.

Yukon’s Gerald Hillman works on his last “official” project at his downtown Yukon taxidermy studio, mounting a “monster” deer head for a loyal customer. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

The owner reflected fondly on more than 60 years as a professional taxidermist.

“I appreciate all the customers I’ve had,” Hillman said. “I can’t say I’ve had any bad ones. Everybody’s been real understanding.

“It’s been a good business. We have really, really worked at it to keep the shop operating. And there were times we didn’t think we were going to make it. I feel real blessed we made it 48 years.”

The building was sold and everything inside liquidated.

“I opened my business here in 1973,” Hillman said. “When I started out, I had a shop in the backyard of our home in Yukon.”

Auctioneer Kenneth Hauk had an auction of all the unclaimed taxidermy mounts and fish, business equipment personal items.

Photos of auction items were viewed at mclintockauction.com

“Everything goes, including my trophies,” Hillman noted.

Hillman’s Taxidermy had combined expertise with the best materials to provide superior service to customers for all their taxidermy needs – whether they bring in a deer, elk, antelope, lion, raccoon, coyote, bear, bobcat, fox, turkey, fish, or something else.

“I think we’ve done all the species that anyone would want in their trophy room,” Hillman said.

He was asked why he’s decided to finally shut the business.

“Arthritis isn’t going to let me make it to 50 years,” he said. “I’m 84 years old.

“I don’t know if it’s time to end it or not. But I’ve got to end it sometime. I’ve kind of run over my retirement time.”

“I appreciate all the customers I’ve had,” Hillman said. “I can’t say I’ve had any bad ones. Everybody’s been real understanding.

“It’s been a good business. We have really, really worked at it to keep the shop operating. And there were times we didn’t think we were going to make it. I feel real blessed we made it 48 years.”

 

Read part two of The Yukon Progress year in review for 2021 next week and follow yukonprogress.com for updates to local news and events. To subscribe call 405-577-6208.

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