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Claxton Poultry Scholarship program awards $6,000 in college grants to three area graduates
Jake Debevec of TCHS, Walt Durrence of PCA, and Archie Fernandez of CHS
Jake Debevec of TCHS, Walt Durrence of PCA, and Archie Fernandez of CHS received Claxton Poultry scholarships.

The high school careers of three area seniors, marked by top academic performance, community involvement, and athletic accomplishment, earned each a $2,000 college scholarship through this year’s annual Claxton Poultry Norman W. Fries Scholarship program.

Jake Debevec of Tattnall County High School (TCHS), Walter Durrence of Pinewood Christian Academy (PCA), and Archie Fernandez of Claxton High School (CHS) each received the highly competitive scholarships at their respective graduation ceremonies.

Now in its 24th consecutive year, the awards were established in 1998 by Claxton Poultry founder Norman W. Fries and continued by Doris Fries, chairman of the board, to recognize distinguished area high school students for superior academics, community service, athletics, and demonstrated leadership. The grant program is intended to assist students eyeing careers in health, nutrition, agriculture, related science, or business.

“This has been a very challenging past three years,” Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries said. “Changing much about our lives and offering challenges we’ve never dealt with before. The fact that these impressive young people were able to maintain the discipline and focus so necessary to their success amid all the disruptions speaks worlds about their accomplishments, their families, and their teachers.

“This is part of why I find our scholarship program so satisfying.  My grandparents felt that local accomplishment should be rewarded locally, and that the best and brightest in our community deserved every chance to succeed. On behalf of Claxton Poultry, congratulations to these outstanding students and this year’s local graduating class, along with our very best wishes for their continued growth and success,” he said.

Jacob “Jake” Debevec of TCHS

By any measure, young Jake Debevec, newly graduated from TCHS, offers an extraordinarily impressive résumé.

Ranked fifth overall in his TCHS graduating class, a straight “A” student through all four years at TCHS, and an already accomplished videographer and editor, this stand-out student plans to attend Georgia Southern in the fall of 2022. He’ll bring with him more than a college semester’s worth of credit already earned by taking dual enrollment, honors and gifted classes, all while also working in the Tattnall County School System’s Technology Department.

In fact, he’s decided Computer Science is his calling, specifically in the areas of cybersecurity and data analysis, and then he hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Computer Science. Much of this impetus came when he started as a student worker in his school system’s technology department, only to be offered a year-long position not long after he joined.

He was heavily involved in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) throughout his high school career, particularly in the areas of video production and editing, which became particularly important to him and in which he developed an award-winning expertise. He credits those skills and others to FBLA Advisor Tracy Waters.

“The most significant persons in my life (besides my parents),” he said, “include my teacher and FBLA advisor, Mrs. Tracy Waters.  In my first year in high school, she encouraged me to join FBLA and develop my skills with filming and editing. Now those skills are some of my strongest, and I find such joy in getting to utilize them. Additionally, she has helped me through several challenging Business Technology classes and assisted and encouraged my growth as a leader.

“I can definitively say that without her guidance and gracious help, I would not be the person I am today,” Debevec said.

In addition to a long list of honors and distinctions, ranging from four years of Honor Roll to numerous FLBA community service and other awards, to a Governor’s Honors Program Nominee, Jake played in the Marching Band grades 8th through 12th and worked in the community as an Audio/Visual Technician at Pineview Baptist Church and as a four-year volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.

Walter “Walt” Durrence of PCA

Aspiring veterinarian Walt Durrence will be entering the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, Georgia, as an incoming freshman, bringing with him a number two PCA class ranking, a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average, and a love for the biological sciences.

The fact that he also played for four years as a varsity football and baseball player with state championships to his teams’ credit, seems to define this all-around student athlete.

During his high school career, he completed AP Environmental Science, Physical Science, Honors Biology, and Honors Chemistry, and is now just completing his last high school AP Biology course. Veterinary school is an important career target in his sights.

“Not only have I enjoyed my science courses, I have excelled in them,” Durrence said. “They have been a strong point throughout my academic career. A biological science degree from UGA would cover all the prerequisite classes that I would need to apply to veterinary school.

“I know that Mr. Norman Fries and his family have helped many individuals get their start,” Durrence continued. “Investing in me would be an investment in our community because I plan to return to Claxton after graduating veterinary school. Eventually, I would like to open my own practice.”

Major Academic honors have included four-year membership in the National Honor Society, Maxima Cum Laude performance on National Latin Exams, English Subject awards, naming as a Georgia Certificate of Merit Scholar and a recipient of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Award, among several others.

As a two-sport varsity athlete, Durrence helped his baseball teams win Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) All-Region Baseball and 2021 GISA State Baseball Championships. On the gridiron, he was part of the Pinewood Christian Academy football teams that won a 2022 GISA Regional Championship and placed as 2022 GISA Football State Runners-up.

Not one to stay idle, Durrence was on the Evans County Wildlife Club Junior Board, volunteered at the Paul Anderson Youth Home and the Hagan United Methodist Church, and served considerable volunteer hours with Dayspring Chrysalis.

Finally, he worked on the WK Durrence Farms during the summers, mowed lawns, and worked as a volunteer on half pay at the Deal Vet Clinic.

He plans to live and study on the University of Georgia main campus when he begins this summer.

Archie Fernandez of CHS

Throughout his four years at CHS, Archie Fernandez says he wrestled with a problem not usually faced by his peers until their junior or senior years deciding his career choice.

He knew it would be in the health sciences, but just what specifically eluded him. At any given time, he debated going into medicine as a family physician. Sometimes he thought he’d become a dentist. But that was until he learned about becoming a physician’s assistant (PA). 

“I ended up wanting to pursue the career of being a PA. The decision was made because PA’s have several opportunities to switch specialties, such as emergency medicine, family medicine, dermatology, or many others.  That won me over, since I’m willing to switch in several specialties to try new things,” Fernandez said. “I plan to major in Health Science with a minor in Business Administration at Georgia Southern University (GSU). After I graduate, I then plan to go to PA school in Augusta, Georgia.”

His work at CHS certainly seems to qualify him. He graduated with a 3.76 GPA as a four-year Honor Roll student ranked in the top ten of his 2022 class. He was also active in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), a national career and technical student organization for students in Family and Consumer Sciences education in public and private schools through grade twelve.

He earned numerous Gold and Silver Awards at FCCLA Students Taking Action With Recognition (STAR) event competitions on a regional, state, and national level.  Fernandez was recognized for proficiency and achievement in chapter and individual projects, leadership skills, and career preparation.

Fernandez also competed on the CHS Varsity Track and Field team, was a member of the BETA Club, and was a dual enrollment student at GSU. Community activities include work as a Field Day volunteer at Claxton Elementary School, and he worked at both the local McDonald’s and at the Georgia Fruitcake Company.

He’ll be living at home while he studies at GSU, beginning college in the fall of this year.

For more information, contact Claxton Poultry Farms at (912)739-3181 or visit