Looking Back at 2020 . . . Part 2

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As we entered the second half of the year 2020, COVID continued to dictate how people interacted at events and gatherings. These are the headlines from July to December:

Looking Back at 2020 Part 1 (Jan. – June)

JULY
July 1 – The Town of West Pelzer held a flag raising ceremony for a US flag presented to the town by members of the Anderson County Legislative Delegation. House District 9 Rep. Anne Thayer presented the flag, which had flown over the State House in Columbia, to the town.

July 8 – Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, AnMed Health reinstated a no visitation for any inpatient areas with the exception of end-of-life and special circumstances. Visitation was limited to one support person for end-of-life, labor & delivery, pediatrics, outpatient facilities, surgery, and the Emergency Department. No visitation under any circumstance for COVID-19 positive patients or patients under investigation (PUIs) for the coronavirus.
Williamston Town Council approved a resolution honoring Willie Junior Blanding, heard a request to remove historic markers, a complaint about the police department. Spring Water Festival Chairman David Meade told council that the town’s signature event will be canceled.
Williamston Police Officers investigated a drive-by type shooting incident on West Main St. involving juveniles with multiple shots fired by both parties. A seventeen year old male was arrested in connection with the incident.
West Pelzer Town Council denied a request for rezoning property at 102 West Stewart Street from residential to commercial and approved an “Eagle Scout” project by Harley Gentry for a handicap ramp and steps at the old town hall building.
West Pelzer continued with safety measures at town hall for COVID-19 including cleaning, DHEC approved screen, social distancing and other measures. The O’Dell Community Center was open and Court scheduled to resume in with limited access.
For the Town of Pelzer Special Election, Will Ragland, Margaret Jamison and Harold Tennihill are running for the office of mayor. Gary (Garbo) Pridmore and Donna Ide are running for a council seat. Pelzer Attorney Skip GoldSmith, Jr. also ran as a write-in candidate.

July 15 – A Charleston County dog was confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
DHEC confirmed the state’s first pediatric death associated with COVID-19. DHEC reported 1,850 new confirmed cases and five new probable cases of COVID-19, no additional confirmed deaths and five new probable deaths. Anderson County reported 42 new cases. Greenville County reported 168. This brings the total number of confirmed deaths statewide to 984 with 14 probable deaths.
The Greenville County Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit (GCMDEU) working with the SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED) intercepted a shipment of marijuana originating in California and ending in Greenville. The marijuana seized has a street value of approximately $90,000.
DHEC reported the most COVID-19 associated deaths for a single day. There were 69 confirmed and three probable deaths, however the deaths of the individuals occurred over several weeks.

July 22 – Anderson County canceled the Celebrate Anderson event for Memorial weekend 2020.

Young adults between the ages of 21-30 were 22% percent of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, and ages 11-20 made up 11% of confirmed cases. The data followed national trends that indicated a growing number of young adults and youth were testing positive for COVID-19.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman began to announce the approval of school district reopening plans submitted to the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) and instituted a face mask requirement for students and staff on state owned school buses,

The topic of reopening schools dominated the District One School Board meeting as Superintendent Robbie Binnicker explained the state’s demands and the district’s plans for meeting those demands. Binnicker explained that the district had developed three options, depending on the future course of the COVID pandemic. Options included full time in class instruction, a part time in class instruction, known as the hybrid plan, as well as the option of full time virtual learning from the home.

As part of a county wide campaign the Williamston Police and Fire Department distributed free face masks and “Williamston Strong” tee shirts at the Williamston Mineral Spring Park. The Town of Pelzer and West Pelzer handed out masks at the Pelzer Auditorium.

AUGUST

Aug. 5 – The August meeting of West Pelzer Town Council was postponed. In place of the canceled National Night Out event, the West Pelzer Police Dept., West Pelzer Fire Dept. and Pelzer EMS stopped by homes throughout the town to give out goodies and let children climb on firetrucks.
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham announced that the family of Dr. T. Walter Brashier planned to donate property adjoining the Anderson School District 1 & 2 Career and Technology Center to Tri County Technical College. Council passed a resolution recognizing the Brashier family for their support of education and in recognition of the property donation. The property includes 24 acres.
Council also approved a resolution in support of the extension of Cherokee Road to West Main Street in order to open up a major corridor into downtown Williamston. The proposal was recommended in the town’s 2016 Community Master Plan and by the town’s planning commission.

Aug. 12 – Anderson School District One delayed the start of the 2020-2021 school year for students by one week and were planning a staggered school start. Officials said the change gives the District an additional week to ensure all safety measures established in their “Back to School Protocol” document are in place.

DHEC reported the death rate for those with confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina is .02 percent. Black people are being diagnosed with and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates compared to their percentage of the population. Although Black people account for only 27% of the population of South Carolina, they represented 49.1% of those who were hospitalized because of the virus and 45% of those who have died.

Greenville & Western Railway Company, LLC, began major repairs to the J.P. Gossett Drive overpass in Williamston

Zachary Chastain, Senior Digital Strategist at FUEL, was selected for the inaugural group of GSA Business’s Forty Under 40.

Anderson School District One school reopening plans were approved by State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. Anderson School District One will officially start with K-5 – Five day face to face instruction; 6-12 – Hybrid model with two days face to face instruction; Fully Virtual (all students).

Aug. 19 – Anderson School District One is returning to school with a staggered school start and safety protocols to address the COVID-19 situation. A survey by the District showed that 88% of parents and 97% of staff indicated it is important or very important to resume face-to-face instruction in the fall. The survey also showed that 87% of parents and 96% of staff indicated they are very comfortable or comfortable with significant safeguards in place to resume face-to-face instruction in the fall.

Figures released by the Anderson Emergency Management Division confirmed a trend downward in new coronavirus cases in the county. The numbers are based on the various zip codes located within the county. Of the thirteen zip codes reporting, only one saw an increase. All other areas either saw reductions or stayed stagnant in terms of increased cases. Seventy of the county’s two hundred thousand plus residents have died from the virus, according to DHEC. That is a mortality rate of .00003 per cent.
The number of new cases were flat in all of the county’s municipalities over fourteen day period.

Aug 26 – Anderson School District One students and teachers went back to school with face to face and virtual learning, staggered attendance, hybrid schedules and special protocols to deal with the COVID-19 situation.
From temperature checks outside school buildings and to students have assigned classroom to classroom seating, desk shields, masks and other guidelines while inside.

Anderson School District One Board members heard an update on the start of school during the pandemic at their meeting. Superintendent Robbie Binnicker said the opening of school “went remarkably well considering all of the new policies and procedures.” Binnicker said there were some glitches but masks were a non-issue. District One is among schools posting the number positive cases of COVID-19 related to the school district on their website. District One reported three positive cases reported the day before classes started.

The South Greenville Fire District (SGFD) dedicated a new fire engine for service to the district’s citizens and fire prevention. The ceremony was held at SGFD Station 74 (Ware Place) where the new apparatus will be stationed. The new Pierce Engine replaces a 2004 E-1 which will be placed in a reserve role within the District.

SGFD announced the promotion of Interim Fire Chief Matt Sutherland to the position of Fire Chief. Chief Sutherland replaced Chief Ken Taylor who retired after 20 years at the helm of SGFD.

Williamston police officers were dispatched to 305 West Main St. in reference to a man with a gun and an armed robbery. Two men were arrested in connection with the incident however only one had warrants issued and the other was released. Statements from people involved indicated shots were fired at a dog and that one of the shots came close to a victim’s head.

SEPTEMBER

Sept. 2 – DHEC reported 761 new confirmed cases and 31 new probable cases of COVID-19. There were 37 additional confirmed deaths. This brings the total number of confirmed deaths to 2,626, and 131 probable deaths. Anderson County reported 34 new cases of COVID-19 and one related death. Greenville County reported 32 new cases of COVID-19 and three related deaths.

Envision Williamston named Lisa Cope the new Executive Director of the organization. Cope, a resident of Liberty, brings over thirty years of experience in working with non-profit organizations to her new role.

The discovery of additional structural damage to a critical load-bearing point on the 1912-built rail overpass on Gossett St. bridge revealed a need for additional repairs by the Greenville & Western railway.

The Town of Williamston hosted the Cancer Association of Anderson Hot Air Affair balloon festival over Memorial weekend.

Gary Garland and Shannon Garland, of Big Creek Road, Belton, along with Johnnie Wells, Michael Skelton, and Duwone Allen, all of Anderson, were arrested on a multi-count federal indictment charging violations of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and production of child pornography.

Sept. 9 – Anderson School District One released information regarding fan attendance and safety protocols at upcoming Fall athletic events. Among highlights, the number of fans will be limited and in-person attendance for family members a priority. There were no ticket sales at the games. Fans attending had to use designated seating areas, masks were required and social distancing expected. Some events were to be live streamed.

DHEC unveiled an online resource that provided information on COVID-19 cases associated with students, faculty and staff and all kindergarten-12 grade public and private schools in the state.

An official flag retirement ceremony to properly dispose of worn-out American flags was held at American Legion Eddie Morgan Post 121 in Williamston.

US Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr. announced that six people were facing federal charges for participating in actions including arson, inciting riots, and other civil disorder in Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, on May 30 and 31, 2020.

DAV (Disabled American Veterans) awarded the Arthur H. and Mary E. Wilson Top Venture Impacting Veterans Award and a $10,000 prize to Army veteran David Raad, founder of Six and Twenty Distillery in Powdersville.
West Pelzer Town Council held a brief meeting in which Council heard updates from the police department, on the strategic plan update and the coronavirus situation.

Mayor Blake Sanders said there will be no upcoming meetings scheduled for West Pelzer unless a vote by council is needed or a situation arises. Sanders said the town is expecting $107,123 from the state as part of the CARES coronavirus reimbursement program. The funds can be used for various COVID-19 related expenditures the town incured.

During a work session Williamston Town Council heard preliminary information about a possible residential development off Williams Street. They also talked about paving projects underway in town and the Rise Above Cancer Balloon event. Mayor Durham said the town is considering “an incentive deal with a land transfer” which will allow value added amenities within the project that will allow the developer to put “value back into the property.”

Sept. 16 – Anderson School District One Superintendent Robbie Binnicker announced that all middle and high school classes will begin full-time face to face instruction. Secondary students had previously been served through a hybrid schedule with half of the students attending. Students in Pre-Kindergarten through grade five have been face to face in classrooms since August 28th.

Envision Williamston readied for two fall events, the fall scarecrow decorating contest and a “Chalk It Up Positive” activity.

Williamston Town Council heard reports on the fire department ISO audit. Fire Chief Steve Ellison reported that the fire department currently has an ISO rating of Class 3 and is striving to become the first volunteer department in the state to get to a rating of Class 2. The department received 74 of 100 points in their ISO audit and needs to get to 80 of 100 to be rated Class 2. Council unanimously approved funding for state required indigent defense.

Family members, friends and town employees gathered for a dedication ceremony of the West Main Pocket Park to town employee Chris Coleman, who died unexpectedly last September. The ceremony was held on the one year anniversary of Coleman’s death.

Three candidates have signed up to run for an open Pelzer town council seat that will be decided in a special election that will be held on November 10. The seat was left vacant by the election of Will Ragland as mayor. Running are Margaret Jamison, Alisha Tuttle and Donna Ide.

Repair work on the J.P. Gossett Drive railway overpass was completed. Steven Hawkins of Greenville & Western Railway Company, LLC, said trains passing through Williamston will now be travelling at 20 mph through Williamston, about 10 mph faster than they had previously.

American Legion Eddie Morgan Post 121 held a commemoration ceremony honoring the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, airline flight takeovers and the American military service personnel who have died in the war against terrorism while other members of the service continue to fight.

Don McCown, deputy coroner for Anderson County advised that the Coroner’s Office is investigating the accidental drowning in which a woman fell into a retention pond in the Wren area and later died at the hospital. Josh Shore, Deputy Coroner identified the victim as Toni Summers, 56-year-old-female of Laurens.

Sept. 30 – The Anderson School District One Board of Trustees heard updates on COVID, the building program, learning during the pandemic and acted on an energy management program that will pay for upgrades and save the District more than $2 million. Superintendent Robbie Binnicker told the Board that District One had 36 positive cases of COVID-19 since the restart of school.
Palmetto and Wren Middle building projects are in Phase 2 of 3 phases of construction and are going “very well,” Work at Powdersville Middle is almost finished and expected to be completed by mid October.

Anderson County was awarded a $50,000 Duke Energy Foundation Nature Grant Program grant that will support the installation of an ADA-accessible kayak launch and landing at Dolly Cooper Park, located on the Saluda River in Powdersville. The new kayak launch will provide a secondary river access point at the park and will be supported by a 1,200-foot long shared-use “River Walk” path. District Six Councilman Jimmy Davis expressed the county’s gratitude and appreciation of the utility’s generosity.

Three candidates signed up to run for an open Pelzer town council seat that will be decided in a special election in that will be held on November. The seat was left vacant by the election of Will Ragland as mayor. Running are Margaret Jamison, Alisha Tuttle and Donna Ide.

The ACSO reported that two people allegedly were intentionally run over at 601 Calhoun Road in Belton. One of the victims, Butch Keith Barbre, 52, of Piedmont, died later from the multiple injuries he suffered. Brandon Milleage Taylor, of Williamston faced charges including assault and attempted murder, murder, and violation of probation.

In a work session, Williamston Mayor Mack Durham ran through a list of ordinances and contractual matters the Council will address at their next meeting including a contract between the town and Scout Development, LLC. Scout Development is planning to construct a sixty unit housing project on a tract of land owned by the town located between First Street and Mahaffey Street. Durham also stated that another major economic development project will be announced. He declined to provide any details.

OCTOBER

Oct. 7 – Steve Kelly, Director of the Anderson County Emergency Medical Services, announced that Anderson County has begun operating Paramedic Quick Response Vehicles in specific areas of the County and within the City of Anderson. These paramedic staffed vehicles will supplement the current ambulance services within Anderson County and provide better response times for some of the rural areas in the county.

Town of Williamston municipal election ballots were sent out separate from early voting and absentee voting ballots mailed out by the Anderson County Voter Registration and Election office.

Williamston Town Council heard an audit report and a presentation on town accomplishments over the last five years. Ken Meadows of Greene Finney Accounting Firm told council the town received an “unmodified opinion” which is “the best it can receive”. Meadows said the General Fund had decreased by approximately $310,000 to $1,920,000, but was still in very good shape. Mayor Durham presented information from a survey of town department heads showing how they perceived the town has been doing over the last five years.

Williamston Town Council heard a presentation on a proposed restaurant brewery and approved first reading on a contract for a residential development. Developer/consultant Richard Greer and Chris Paulson of Craft Beer Partners LLC, presented information on their interest in developing the old water treatment plant property into a brewery/restaurant. Council approved an agreement with Scout Development, LLC. to provide property in exchange for residential development. The property is comprised of 32.74 acres and was purchased from Milliken in 2012.

Oct. 14 – Anderson County’s unemployment rate is currently at 5.9%, down from the recent high of 12.6% in April.
The change is due mainly to the fact that employment growth is not meeting labor force growth at this time, according to Steve Newton of Anderson County Governmental Affairs.

West Pelzer recently postponed its October meeting due to a couple of “Covid scares”, in the words of Mayor Blake Sanders.

Sen. Mike Gambrell planned to present PARD grant checks to area towns. Senator Gambrell said he tries to provide some funding for the various towns’ recreation efforts each year.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) named Dr. Mack Durham a 2020-2021 Appalachian Leadership Institute Fellow.

Williamston Mayor Mack Durham said that the town is poised for future growth, which he thinks will soon include a grocery store. Over the last three years, the town has been involved in a plan to increase “roof tops”, the single most important indicator of new growth.

Williamston resident Clint Davis is a finalist for the Pigeon Forge Virtual Path To Fame competition.

The Powdersville YMCA cut the ribbon on a new 10,000 square foot expansion of its branch.

After more than nine months of drilling, Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) completed the tunnel digging and excavation phase of its largest- ever, multi-year wastewater infrastructure project, DIG Greenville.

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies and K9 units were involved in a manhunt in the area of Hardwood Road.

Oct. 28 – According to the SCDEW, Anderson County Unemployment Rate has declined from 6.0 percent in August to 4.1 percent for September.

NOVEMBER

Nov. 4 – Anderson School District One had an overall 91.6% graduation rate for 2020. This was the 7th highest graduation rating in the state.

In the Williamston Municipal Election, Rockey Burgess won the mayor’s seat, defeating incumbent mayor Mack Durham by 120 votes, 724 to 604. A special election will be scheduled probably in March to fill the Council Ward 2 seat that will come open when Burgess takes office as mayor in January. Incumbent councilman Chris Alexander received 1097 votes for his Ward 4 seat. He was unopposed. Newcomer Tabitha Austin received 1021 votes running unopposed for the Ward 3 seat. She will be the first female to serve on Williamston Town Council.

DHEC reported 524 new confirmed cases and 89 new probable cases of the novel coronavirus, 7 additional confirmed deaths and no new probable deaths. Anderson County reported 41 new cases and Greenville County reported 52 new cases. There were no new COVID related deaths in either county. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 172,216 since the first case reported March 6 and probable cases to 9,423. Total confirmed deaths are 3,736, and 256 probable deaths. There were 755 COVID patients in hospitals, with 214 in ICU and 102 on ventilators.

Due to the Covid 19 Virus, Christian Men United in Prayer announced that they will not be sponsoring the Thanksgiving Meal project that they held for over ten years.

Williamston Town Council heard an economic and development plan presentation from R. E. D. City Planning, approved second reading on a property development agreement with Scout Development, LLC. Council also adopted flood prevention regulations and approved the sale of property on Parker St.

Adam Chandler of R. E. D. City Planning presented information on a Retail and Residential Development Action Plan he has been working on for about a year. Chandler said, “A lack of new home development has hindered almost all other aspects of growth for the town.” He said the main reason the town has not attracted a grocery store is “Not enough people.” But he added that his view on that has changed by seeing the growth currently underway inside and outside of the town.

Nov. 11 – Data from DHEC showed that COVID-19 case numbers in the Upstate counties are continuing to rise at a steady rate, near or beyond previous spikes in the state. Health officials warned the state may be entering a fall surge.
Food Lion announced plans to purchase 62 BI-LO/Harveys Supermarket stores from Southeastern Grocers.

Pelzer finally has a full five member town council, with voters choosing Alisha Tuttle to fill the one vacant seat on Pelzer Town Council in a special election.

 

West Pelzer Town Council approved an official town poet laureate, a resolution to apply for a PARD grant and approved funding for safety improvements. Council approved a proclamation declaring James Campbell Town of West Pelzer Poet Laureate. The honorary position was created as part to the town’s efforts to cultivate an enriched arts community.

DHEC reported that the state suffered its first flu-associated death of the season.

Richard Greer, of State Investors, who became a familiar figure as he pursued investments and the development of the Saluda riverfront in Piedmont, Pelzer and Williamston over recent years, passed away. He had suffered from serious cardiac issues over the last few years. In 2017, Greer was brought in to help the Pelzer Heritage Commission develop the Upper and Lower Mill properties, which had been undergoing Brownfields cleanup activities.

Nov. 28 – During their meeting the Anderson School District One Board heard an audit report and update on COVID 19. They also approved several policy changes regarding sex/gender discrimination and harassment.
Newly re-elected board members David “Moochie” Merritt, Mike Wilson and Brenda Ellison were sworn in. Nancy Upton was re-elected to serve as board chair. Brenda Ellison will serve as vice-chair and David Merritt will serve as board secretary.

Superintendent Robbie Binnicker reported there had been a slight rise in COVID 19 cases in schools, but the district is not seeing the virus spread throughout a school or the district.

Ken Meadows, of Greene Finney accounting firm reported that the annual audit for District One “went very well” and that the district received an “Unmodified Opinion” which is the best you can get.”

Thirteen year old Kristen Volzka suffered cardiac arrest while riding on an Anderson School District One school bus driven by her grandmother.

Local officials from Williamston, Envision Williamston and representatives of Central Rivers Power held a “Celebration of 125 years of Hydro Power”. The celebration recognized the fact that the lower Pelzer powerhouse on the Saluda River, which was constructed in 1895, was one of the first to convey electricity over a transmission line and continues to provide power today. The dam and power house, which is located on the Saluda River near Williamston, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

DECEMBER

Dec. 2 – The Pelzer “Light People” are back with a number of “light people” delighting motorists on Hwy. 8. Pelzer also has new street decorations adding to the holiday atmosphere.

In a special called meeting Williamston Town Council approved a resolution to formally request that the Anderson County Transportation Committee (ACTC) allocate funding and provide assistance to pave several roads in the town. Council also approved a recommendation from Fire Chief Steve Ellison to begin looking into an expansion of the fire station.

As COVID-19 cases across the state continued to rise, Greenville County led the state in the number of new confirmed cases. DHEC reported 1,297 new confirmed cases and 23 new probable cases, 13 new deaths and 10 probable deaths. Anderson County reported 79 new cases, 1 probable case and 3 deaths. Greenville County reported 237 new cases, three probable cases and 5 deaths. In SC, there have been a total of 205,004 cases and 13,908 probable cases since the first case was reported March 6. The total number of confirmed deaths related to COVID is 4,091 and probable deaths is 313.

Dec. 9 – Greenville & Western Railway Company, LLC, held their 14th Annual “Santa Express.” A very large turnout was seen along the route, especially in Pelzer.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office made an arrest in connection with the September 19th shooting at Lakeside Park (1500 Piedmont Highway), which left one person dead. Raymond Thorne, Jr., 32 was arrested in connection to the incident in which Keith Watkins Jr. was shot and killed following an ongoing conflict between the two men.
GCSO investigators said they believe the shooting was a result of a gang-related conflict.

Williamston attorney and S.C. House District 10 representative Westley P. ‘West’ Cox , was elected chairman of the Anderson County Legislative Delegation.

Williamston was experiencing a spike in reported COVID cases in the county, with an increase of ten new cases, from 84 cases to 94.

Williamston Mayor Mack Durham, who has served two terms, presided over his last council meeting. It was also the last meeting for longtime councilman David Harvell, who decided not to seek reelection to another term.
Harvell was recognized and thanked for his service to the town. He was presented a plaque of appreciation along with several framed photos. Mayor Durham was also presented a plaque of appreciation by Jack Ellenburg and his social media group. Winners of the Envision Williamston Scarecrow contest were announced.

 

During the business portion of the meeting, second reading was held on an ordinance adopting flood prevention regulations; an ordinance adopting a flood insurance study and an ordinance authorizing an Intergovernmental Agreement with Anderson County regarding flood prevention. Council approved a resolution authorizing to accept a $10,000 PARD grant and to provide a local match.

SC announced its highest number of new cases of COVID-19. One week later, the state eclipsed that number by more than 700. A total of 3,217 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 were announced and 47 additional South Carolinians lost their lives because of the virus. The state has now suffered 4,673 deaths and exceeded 245,200 cases since the first case was reported March 6.

AnMed Health was one if the first in the state to receive their first allotment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Town of Williamston employees are being asked to take extra safety precautions due to the rise in new COVID-19 cases in the area. Among them are wearing masks at all times during work hours, practice social distancing and other safety practices.

A Williamston woman, Kelly Jordan, 34, is among 40 defendants charged in a federal racketeering conspiracy. United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr. announced that a federal grand jury returned a 147-count superseding indictment against 40 defendants in the largest federal racketeering conspiracy in South Carolina history. The indictment alleges a sprawling criminal enterprise where inmates with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), often by means of contraband cell phones, orchestrated murder, kidnapping, firearms distribution, and an international drug operation.

ALDI was set to open their new Powdersville store at 3340 Highway 153. The new location is part of the company’s national expansion plan to become the third-largest U.S. grocery retailer by store count by the end of 2022.

Dec. 23 – The area celebrated Christmas with very cold low temperatures in the 20s.
Dec. 30 – Area residents celebrate the end of 2020 and a New Year as 2021 arrives.

Happy New Year! May it be better than the last!