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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 31, 2006
Free spirit who lived life on the edge
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALTAMONT A dull gray sky spit rain on Fredendall Funeral Home Friday morning. Inside, somber rows of mourners hugged each other and wept.
The most vibrant thing in the packed room was the rakish smile on the boy in the framed picture in front.
He was Alexander Edgar Tolmie. He had died on Aug. 21 of injuries he received after the motorcycle he was riding crashed. He was 19.
"It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance," sang the recorded music at the start of the funeral. "It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live."
Each of those who spoke at Alexs funeral attested to the way he had lived his short life to the fullest.
"In every respect, Alex was a free spirit," said Sister Mary Lou Liptak, a nun who presided over the ceremony. "Fun, friends, work play...In just a few 19 years, he had it all.
"He enjoyed life fishing, hiking, and even winning the first prize for eating 23 slushies at the camp store," she said as a faint ripple of laughter showed the mourners agreed.
"That’s living life to the fullest," Sister Mary Lou went on. "He wasn’t afraid to risk."
She said Alex was a Life Scout. The 2004 graduate of Guilderland High School had completed a certificate in auto mechanics at Hudson Valley Community College and worked as a mechanic at Northeast Accura in Latham.
He excelled in BMX biking, said Sister Mary Lou.
"Perhaps he knew in some way his life would be short...Alex tried to do it all in such a short time," she said. "Our love for Alex will be our strength in lifting us up in the days ahead...Let us not forget his fun-loving spirit...Let us share his stories."
She concluded, "If Alex could give us a message today, it would be: Live richly, live fully, live abundantly. Life is short."
"Thank you for my son"
Alex’s father, Edgar Tolmie, stepped to the lectern next. Taking off his glasses, he quietly offered a prayer: "God...Thank you for my son, Alex."
He prayed on behalf of his wife, Susan, and his sons, Zach and Abe, and family and friends.
He spoke with great care, softly, so softly, pausing between the phrases: "Please love my son gently and help us...Amen," he said.
After a long and reverent silence, Patti Percoski, who knew Alex since he was a child, spoke. He had enjoyed tormenting her daughter in school, she quipped.
She described some things that had puzzled her on Alexs website.
"I love hiking, camping, BMXing...I’m interesting and I’m fun...Some call me an asshole. Some call me adorable," she reported it said. "I like video games. I like women. I like cars a lot."
Percoski knew for sure it was Alexs website when she came to the part that described his heroes. The first was Johnny Depp, of course, she reported. Then, her voice cracked with emotion as she reported it listed these heroes in bold print: My Mom, my Dad, my brothers.
A young man wearing a dark suit spoke next, describing himself as a customer of Alex. As Alex served him pizza, they would talk.
"He always had plans, goals. I admired that," he said. He ended with "a salutation we had in the shop," he said.
Forming his right hand into a fist, he pounded it soundly over his heart twice.
Matt Vicalvi said he had known Alex since pre-school; the two boys grew up together.
"Me and Alex were inseparable," he said.
He went on to describe a hiking trip he had taken with Alex. "At the time...I couldn’t comprehend walking up, leaning forward," he said.
He paused a long time, overcome with emotion. "We stuck it out," he said, his voice trailing off.
Edgar Tolmie, Alexs father, stepped to the front and put his arm around his sons friend, comforting him.
Alex’s father took up the story where his friend had left off. "We were hiking up a hill," he explained. "Matt tried to walk up the hill like this," he said, leaning back in an exaggerated posture. "I stayed behind Matt and leaned against him."
The story told, the two men hugged each other
Then a woman who had been gently rocking a child in her lap, wiped her tears and spoke next. She described living in an apartment house as a young mother and spotting another young mother Susan Tolmie.
"I was kind of lonely...I wanted to get to know her," she recalled.
One day, at the playground she heard this comment: "Hey, Mom, look at the big kid; he’s wearing a diaper."
Their sons became fast friends and spent many happy times together, she said.
"Those were good times," she concluded. "Those were the times I’ll try to remember the most."
"A wonderful madness"
Last to speak was a Boy Scout leader, William Root, looking crisp in his khaki uniform. He recalled taking his son to Scout meetings and seeing Alex: "There was this kid in a sort of a uniform on his bike, bouncing around on his back tire...All the kids were just watching with their mouths open."
He remembered that beneath Alex’s cut-offs, "all he had was scars on his legs."
A number of young Boy Scouts honored Alex after the service in a ceremony outside the funeral home as doves were released, soaring skyward.
The Scoutmaster at the lectern went on, "Alex didn’t seem to fit in. He was already teaching me how to widen my horizons...I was thinking, Scouts are regimented, they wear uniforms and are on time."
Not Alex. But, Mr. Root went on, "He was a superlative....He was always in there for the food collections and other things. He was always dragging along another kid."
On camping trips, said the leader, "He was out there sledding on a jacket, making do."
He concluded, "It was a wonderful madness. I don’t know how else to describe it...He taught me to think outside the box...Here’s to you, Alex."
From Portland to Buffalo
Johsnton bikes America for summertime fling
By Jarrett Carroll
GUILDERLAND Warm sun shining down with the wind to your back while riding across wide-open country through various parks and little towns that dot the landscape all the while meeting friendly locals who offer food, shelter, and a good story along the way.
Sounds like the great American adventure, right"
For Altamont native Emily Johnston, it was all that and more, rolled into one summer trip.
Johnston rode her bicycle from Portland, Ore., to Buffalo, N.Y., in just under two months on her first-ever bike trip. After hearing story after story of her boyfriend Anders Gunnersens trip across the United States two years ago, Johnston decided to make the trek herself.
"We both didn’t have any plans so we figured we could have an adventure," Johnston said of the trip she made with Gunnersen. They flew out from Buffalo and landed in Portland, then from June 22 to Aug. 18, they peddled back to Buffalo where it all began.
"I’ve only been cycling since the trip; I never really rode before," Johnston told The Enterprise. "When you’re riding, bugs just stick to your sweat."
Johnston is a 2001 Guilderland High School graduate and a 2005 University of Buffalo graduate with a dual major in anthropology and psychology.
The couple rode north from Portland towards Seattle before heading back east along the Northern Tier.
"We had a fantastic time. At first we worried we’d get sick of each other from spending every day together"but we had so much fun," Johnston said. "I liked eating anything that I wanted lots of fast food, anything greasy."
Only carrying the essentials and camping most of the way, Johnston and Gunnersen kept their costs down.
"We actually traveled very light. We saw a lot of other bikers who seemed to have a lot more gear than us," said Johnston. "We were scrimping pretty much the whole way. We saved $2,000 each before the trip, but we only ended up spending about $1,200"It’s a cheap way to travel."
Johnston said she fell in love with the biker-friendly Oregon State Parks, with their picturesque views, well-maintained trails, and low-cost campsites, affording an occasional shower or two along the way.
"I actually have a sticker on my bike now that says, ‘I heart Oregon State Park,’ because it was just so nice," said Johnston.
The trip east had its ups and downs literally.
"We went over the Cascades and we went over the Rockies"The Cascades were kind of tough," said Johnston. "We made it to the top and then coasted all the way down.
"The toughest day was in eastern Washington," Johnston said. "Apparently there’s a desert in eastern Washington."It was 110 degrees in the shade, and there was no shade."
Peddling through intense sun and high temperatures, Johnston began to worry about water conservation between stops. The extreme environment cut down their pace from an average of 12 miles per hour to about 4 miles, according to Johnston.
"We just kept riding and riding, wondering where the next stop was because we starting to get low on water. It seemed like it took forever," Johnston said.
The couples nervousness subsided once they reached the next town and were able to restock their supplies.
There was only one incident where they stopped because of the conditions, she said. Gunnersen began suffering from heat stress, and they stopped near a farm where they were given fresh water and rested in the shade for about half-an-hour before continuing.
Johnstons only unpleasant incident was a small crash on some broken asphalt alongside a road.
"I was following right behind Anders and couldn’t see the broken asphalt ahead of him. I hit it and then spilled onto the side of road and got some scrapes. I still have some of the marks now," Johnston said, pointing to some scars on her arm.
There were many stories along the 3,000-plus miles across the country, Johnston told The Enterprise. Going from park to park and small town to small town, the couple was given concert tickets in one town and also attended a customer-appreciation party in Montana where they were given free steaks and beer.
"People were really nice to us everywhere," said Johnston.
However, it was the daily trials and tribulations that really made the trip special.
"One of the things that was so hard when I got back was that every day I had a goal. The feeling of accomplishment was nice," Johnston said. "I don’t like falling short of a goal. That feeling of accomplishment is really worthwhile."
Overall, Johnston described the cross-country trek as "an amazing trip," but said it did not provide the epiphany that many college and post-graduate people her age are looking for.
"I thought it would be this life-changing event that would open my eyes and provide all of this insight," said Johnston. "But it didn’t. It just gave me a really great summer."
Barnette, Jennings challenged in primary
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY COUNTY The obvious and much-covered primaries in New York are for the office holders. But who chooses the candidates and sets their policies"
The state-wide committees for the parties.
A rare challenge for a Democratic party position has forced a primary that will not only help shape the partys future, but the winners will help choose New Yorks presidential candidate for 2008.
Assemblyman John McEneny and New Scotlands Democratic chair, Connie Burns, are challenging Albany City Treasurer Betty Barnette and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings for spots on the states Democratic Committee.
McEnemy told The Enterprise he has never heard of a primary challenge for a party position, but that he wants the post.
"It’s time to stop the backroom deals," he said; he wants to represent all of Albany County’s Democrats.
"They think it’s a position where you get to sit back and be told what to do," Jennings said on Tuesday.
Each assembly district has two committee members, one man and one woman, to represent the party for that particular area. The unpaid positions are usually filled by appointment unless there is a primary challenge.
The Democratic Committee functions as a policy board for the party.
The positions are for the 104th District, which covers most of the city of Albany, and the towns of Guilderland, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville, including the villages of Altamont and Voorheesville.
McEneny is currently the assemblyman for the 104th District and is unopposed for re-election this fall.
According to Burns, there was some confusion on who was running for the position and that is why she and McEneny forced a primary. They say that the designation of Barnette and Jennings for the positions was not considered by the executive committee or the full committee, so they considered them "open positions," best filled by Democratic voters on Sept. 12.
"When I decided to do this, I thought I was running against someone named Bridgett Prior," Burns said, adding that she didn’t know who she was.
McEneny and Burns said they didnt know Barnette and Jennings were running together for the position until they saw their names printed on the committee list.
Jennings told The Enterprise that he has been on the committee for "quite a few years," and that Barnette, who currently chairs the Democratic Party for Albany County, has been consistently active in the party for years.
Barnette, who did not return calls to The Enterprise, is also currently the Albany City Treasurer and holds a state Democratic Committee position.
While both sides say that the partys best interests need to be served to move the Democratic party forward, the philosophical differences between the two campaigns comes down to city versus non-city issues and the distribution of representation in the county.
"Primaries tend to be more philosophical"People forget that I represent not only the city of Albany," McEneny said. "It’s about openness, fairness, and accountability."
Jennings doesnt see the position that way.
"It’s not about philosophy and its not about geography. It’s about responsibility to the members of the party," said Jennings.
Although both agreed the states Democratic Committee helps guide and improve the party, most of the agreement ends there.
"This isn’t just about who the mayor is," said McEneny. "Nobody loves the city more than I, but the future of the county is a future of urban, suburban, and rural; not just the city of Albany."
"My primary responsibility is the mayor of Albany. But as a delegate, my responsibility is to help make decisions about the party, regardless of geography," Jennings responded through The Enterprise.
Burns lives in the town of New Scotland, a once rural area which is becoming suburban. She represented the current campaign by drawing a donkey kicking up its heels.
"I’ve drawn artwork for signs in a lot of grassroot campaigns," Burns said.
Her husband, the late Mike Burns, was a labor leader and fromer Albany Democratic chair.
"I’ve been a Democrat with my husband for the past 30 years," she said.
Burns and McEneny said Frank Commisso, business manager for the Port Authority in Albany, also wanted to represent the same district.
"Betty Barnette apparently just decided that Jerry Jennings would be better than Frank Commisso, who was never told," McEneny said. "Jerry want to restore his Democratic credentials, so he had Betty pick him instead of Commisso."
Commisso could not be reached for comment.
The partys future
"Assuming we’re successful, we would be voting on the next presidential candidate for the party," McEneny told The Enterprise.
In reflecting on the upcoming elections for governor and attorney general as well as state senate and assembly races, McEneny said, "It’s an exciting time. I think it’s a given that the state is going to move to Democratic leadership on the executive level"But what’s happened in recent years were more and more backroom deals," McEneny said, of his party.
The governor for the past three terms has been Republican; the Senate has a Republican majority and the Assembly is ruled by Democrats. The state government has come under widespread criticism for having legislative initiative decided by just the governor, the assembly speaker, and the senate leader.
"We just want unity at every level," said McEneny. "No more backrooms."
Jennings told The Enterprise that he believes that McEneny is a part of that "backroom" politicking that is commonly found in the state’s legislature.
"Jack works in a system where three men rule. He’s used to taking orders," said Jennings. "He’s part of a broken system that he’s perpetuated, and he should be trying to correct that instead."
McEneny, in turn, accused Jennings of having a shaky party track record.
"This is not a public office. This is a party office," he said. "Jennings endorsed a Republican governor, helped raise money for him, and endorsed a number of ward leaders with Pataki signs on their lawns," McEneny continued. "You can’t raise money for the Republicans and you can’t endorse Republicans"then turn around and say you’re going to run the Democratic party.
"You can’t be a Republi-crat," McEneny continued, "You have to be a Democrat."
McEneny also sited Jenningss endorsement of Paul Clyne over David Soares for the county district attorney seat after Clyne lost the Democratic Party primary and ran as an Independent.
"Win or lose, you always endorse the party’s choice. That’s the first rule," said McEneny. "Obviously Jennings was not happy with Soares beating his handpicked candidate.
Burns and McEneny see themselves as "balancing the representation" for the party, bringing in the interest of the suburban and rural Democrats along with city party members.
"When I won my assembly seat over 14 years ago, in the town of Guilderland there was not a single Democratic representative in town. Now, I believe there is one Republic left in town," said McEneny.
He added that the recent suburban shift of Democratic power in towns like Guilderland and Bethlehem, show that voting blocks are moving, and that the party needs to be prepared in order to represent that shift.
"I think there is a real lot of enthusiasm for the party, particularly in the suburbs"I think the big thing will be Spitzer," he said of Attorney General Elliot, who has the party backing in the upcoming gubernatorial primary; Spitzer’s being challenged by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.
"I think it will energize the party like nothing else," said McEneny. " It will bring in new young people, and people who feel that things are already decided and cannot change, but now realize they can."
Jefferson Award winner
Rapsard served as Santa to thousands
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Kenneth J. Rapsard was a man who made deep and long-lasting commitments to his work, to his family, to his community.
He died at his Highland Drive home in Guilderland on Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 after a long illness. He was 78.
"His children and grandchildren were able to see him at home before he died," said his daughter, Carol Phillips.
"He really wanted to come home," said his daughter, Patty Busa.
Mr. Rapsards loving and jovial personality never wavered, even through a difficult illness, his daughters said.
"Towards the end, his sense of humor was amazing," said Ms. Phillips. "He even joked the day before he passed away. He was optimistic and didn’t complain."
"His last words to me were, ‘Cluck, cluck’," said his daughter, Sharon Waldbillig. She explained, "It was because I was like the mother hen, always tucking the blankets around him. I’d call him my snuggle bunny."
His final advice to his children, recalled Ms. Busa was, "Take care of your mother."
"They were just intertwined," said Ms. Waldbillig of her parents.
Mr. Rapsard was born in Buffalo, the middle of three brothers. His father had come from France when he was 16 and spent his whole working life with the railroad; his mother, from Germany, was a homemaker who sewed her own clothes.
Mr. Rapsard got his first job, when he was 17 and still in high school, working for the New York Telephone Company.
Except for a hitch as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force, where he worked in radar at Eglin Field Proving Grounds in Florida, Mr. Rapsard spent his entire working life at New York Telephone. He worked his way up to be office supervisor and plant manager, and then, in 1964, transferred to Albany and served as staff supervisor until his retirement in 1985.
"Ken’s career with New York Telephone was a stellar one," his friend Robert Wolfgang, said in a tribute. "I found, however, that when speaking about his career, his discussion would usually center on the friendships that developed and it was apparent that those friendships were more important to him than corporate accomplishment or recognition."
His family was also important to him. He met his wife, Cora Jean, at a wedding. She was living in Texas at the time and he was living in Buffalo.
"They only saw each other three times before they got married," said Ms. Busa.
"They wrote letters," chimed in Ms. Phillips.
The devoted couple eventually settled in Guilderland, on Highland Drive, where they raised their three daughters and two sons.
Always a family man, Mr. Rapsard took special joy in being with his 11 grandchildren, his daughters said.
Mr. Rapsard loved gardening. He grew all sorts of vegetables in his yard and canned them in his kitchen.
"We grew up with spaghetti dinners every Saturday night," said Ms. Busa. "He made the sauce from the tomatoes he canned every fall. We can’t make it like Dad did."
"He gave us the recipe but it doesn’t taste the same," said Ms. Phillips.
"I definitely have his love of gardening," said Ms. Waldbillig. "When he’d transplant seedlings"they are so little, so fragile. He had big hands, but he was so gentle, handling the seedlings."
Mr. Rapsards care for children extended beyond his own. He and his wife were foster parents to 53 children through Community Maternity Services.
"They kept a diary for each baby with pictures," said Ms. Phillips.
"So the adoptive mom wouldn’t miss anything," added Ms. Busa.
"He was always there for you," said Ms. Waldbillig. "Whatever you needed, he was there. His kids came first."
She recalled watching her father’s face during her sister’s graduation from nursing school. "One tear rolled down his cheek"He was very supportive and very proud of his kids," said Ms. Waldbillig.
Mr. Rapsard also moonlighted as Santa Claus.
He was a life member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a volunteer organization of telephone company workers. He was also on the board of directors of the Albany Police Athletic League. Mr. Rapsard and Mr. Wolfgang, a former Albany Police chief, started the PAL/Pioneer Toy Program in the 1980s.
Volunteers recover, repair, and restore once-defective toys provided by a national retailer. "The process began with volunteers picking up the toys from an out-of-state warehouse and transporting them first by U-Haul truck and later by semi-trailers to Albany’s version of the North Pole (a good number of them also found their way to Highland Drive) where Ken and his elves worked 12 months a year, putting their skills to use as they examined the toys, repaired those that could be salvaged, and repackaged the toys," said Mr. Wolfgang.
The first year, 500 toys were distributed; the total has now reached 158,000. "The grandchildren grew up with Grandpa working on toys in the basement," said Ms. Busa.
Mr. Rapsard received several prestigious awards towards the end of his life, including the Mayors Award in 2000, the Third Age Achievement Award in 2001, and the Jefferson Award for Albany County in April of 2006.
Mr. Rapsard’s 11-year-old granddaughter wrote his biography this year. For the title of the book about her grandfather, she used something he had told her: "I have lived a very good life; I am pretty lucky."
Mr. Rapsards daughters described their father as quietly religious. He was a communicant of Saint Madeleine Sophie Church, and a former usher and member of the mens club.
"At the table, we always said grace," recalled Ms. Busa. "Later in life, I realized how spiritual he was."
His daughters recalled how he never missed writing a weekly check to Saint Madeleine Sophie Church.
He enjoyed simple things in life, his daughters said, like fishing, growing tomatoes or watching butterflies.
They recounted how, when he was in the nursing home, one of his grandsons, active in a butterfly project at Farnsworth Middle School, brought him some Monarch butterfly eggs.
"We had the eggs and the caterpillars at the nursing home," said Ms. Phillips.
"He also had a tomato plant there that went all the way up to the ceiling," said Ms. Busa. Watching television just didn’t interest him, they said.
Nurses and patients alike became interested in Mr. Rapsards caterpillars, his daughters said. He watched them daily as the caterpillars turned to chrysalises.
When he returned home, the Monarchs came with him. As they emerged from their chrysalises, they were released.
"They flew away," said Ms. Phillips. "And so did he the next day."
Mr. Rapsard is survived by his wife of 55 years, C.J. (Cora Jean) Rapsard; his five children, Sharon Waldbillig and her husband, Neil, of Ballston Lake; Steve Rapsard and his wife, Nancy, of Latham, Patty Busa of Rotterdam, Carol Phillips and her husband, David, of Guilderland, and Larry Rapsard and his wife, Pamela, of Wisconsin; and 11 grandchildren, Hayley, Lauren, Ashley, Peter, Kayla, Kristin, Brittany, Brendon, Brianna, Elizabeth, and Kevin.
A mass of Christian burial was celebrated on Monday at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland. Burial was private in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands. Arrangements were by DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Police Athletic League Pioneer Toy Program, 165 Henry Johnson Blvd, Albany, NY 12210 or to the Community Hospice of Albany, 445 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205.
Newspaperwoman, historian, mother dies at 101
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALTAMONT Charlotte Wilcoxen, a historian persistent in the pursuit of knowledge but tempered by Southern manners and mother of seven, died on Aug. 27, 2006. She was 101.
"Charming without pretense, honest without rancor, Charlotte grew up in an era when children learned kindness without discrimination, politeness for all," wrote long-time friend and colleague, Roderic Blackburn, of Mrs. Wilcoxen in a book on her historical writing.
Born in Cadiz, Ky., Mrs. Wilcoxen’s interest in history began at home as a child. "I opened a drawer in my mother’s room. I looked in there and there were all these papers. Among them was this funny looking thing, and I unfolded it," she once told Mr. Blackburn. "It was all dried up. I tried to figure it out" It was a genealogical chart."
She went on to contribute further to her familys genealogy by tracing it back, past Myles Standish who arrived on the Mayflower, to their ancestors in England.
The newspaper in Paducah Ky., run by her mother, Edith Lawrence, is where Mrs. Wilcoxen got her start as a writer. She only worked there for a year or so, said her daughter, Faith Fogarty. "They thought women should be doing the society pages Mother wanted something a little bit more," said her daughter.
While there, Mrs. Wilcoxen interviewed John T. Scopes after the "monkey trial" in Tennessee. Scopes was on trial for teaching the theory of evolution in a public school, he was found guilty. Mrs.Wilcoxen met her first husband, Henry Abbett Pulliam, while working on the paper. He showed her the sewer map of Paducah for a story she was working on. The couple married in 1929 and then, said Ms. Fogarty, "they left the South."
After five of their seven children were born, the family moved to an 18th-Century Dutch farmhouse, now known as Bozenbrow, on Bozenkill Road in the Helderbergs.
"That old Dutch house had an effect on Charlotte," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "It asked to be furnished in its own era."
Her children remember her seeking out furniture to restore at auction houses. She had a big pot of lye in the backyard that she would remove old paint with, recalled Ms. Fogarty. "Her hands were always a mess," she said.
"Many of the pieces were more impressive in style than perfect in condition," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "But as she said, they were always ‘interesting enough to be worth restoring.’"
Ms. Wilcoxen became an authority on Dutch colonial history and 17th-Century ceramics. She worked with the Albany Institute for years and served as an expert for the archaeological community. Invited to lecture in Holland several times, her mastery of her subjects were recognized far and wide.
"I asked her once," Mr. Blackburn told The Enterprise, "How have you managed to raise seven children""
"After a while the older ones take care of the younger ones," he recalled that she answered.
In 1952, her husband died, leaving her to raise their three youngest children. She married Lewis C. Wilcoxen in 1957 and moved to his native Michigan.
"A testament to her motherhood," said Ms. Fogarty, "is that we all really like each other. There’s no black sheep."
Ms. Wilcoxen eventually moved back to the Albany area and continued her historical work, publishing numerous articles and books.
"Her favorite drink is a bourbon Manhattan southern style which goes down as sweet and slowly as you please but can bring you up short to stare reality in the face," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "Charlotte is like that."
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