Wyatt Gray Upchurch
On August 8, 2003, Wyatt Upchurch looked back at a career in the poultry business that spanned half a century. His contributions to the state of North Carolina go far beyond the poultry industry, because his leadership has extended to many different community and public service roles.
Wyatt Gray Upchurch was born in Lee County, North Carolina. His values - hard work, family, community, public service - were shaped on his family’s farm. His childhood was during the era when tobacco was king. Even so, Wyatt soon blazed a trail in a different line of agribusiness: the production of turkeys. Upon graduation from high school in 1953, he took courses in poultry science and agricultural economics at N.C. State University, and during that time he also worked as an inspector for the USDA. He also met and married his wife, Mary Garner.
In 1959, Wyatt became eastern sales manager for a Chicago-based company, Priebe Poultry. Constant travel and a desire to steer his own course led him to join the Upchurch Milling Company and its Upchurch Turkey Farms. The parent company, though sharing Wyatt's name, was unrelated to him or his family. In 1972, Wyatt, along with his wife Mary, purchased Upchurch Turkey’s breeder operation and hatchery outright, and formed a new company: Tar Heel Turkey Hatchery. Based in Raeford, the new company immediately took on a key investor when Carroll’s Foods (now Smithfield Foods) bought a share of the hatchery. The inclusion of Carroll’s guaranteed a market for the new company's product, and was the beginning of strategic partnership that continues to endure some 31 years later.
Tar Heel Hatchery began with two incubators and two offices - one for Wyatt, one for Mary. After several expansions, the company now occupies multiple buildings, including a large office complex built in 1993. Annual production currently totals 16 million eggs and 12 million poults, and the company has 200 employees. Tar Heel Hatchery has always maintained the strictest health, safety and security standards, utilizing state-of-the-art techniques in protecting its products and workers.
Wyatt Upchurch's leadership in the poultry industry has been felt far beyond Hoke County and North Carolina. In 1990, as part of his long association with the North Carolina Turkey Federation and the National Turkey Federation, both of which he served as president, Wyatt had the distinction of presenting the official “holiday" turkey to President George H.W. Bush on the White House lawn. Closer to home, Wyatt exemplifies the finest traditions of community service. He served for a decade on the Hoke County Board of Commissioners, seven of those years as chairman. He chaired the Board of the Lumber River Council of Governments, which saluted Wyatt's leadership by giving its Calvin Haggins Award to him two years running. Since 1995, his service as a Director of North Carolina's Southeast Commission has helped attract jobs and investment to an eleven-county region stretching from Richmond County to the Atlantic Ocean.
Wyatt Upchurch is also an avid supporter of education. On October 1, 2001, the ribbon was cut on Upchurch Hall, a 10,000 squareÂ·fo0t facility that is the cornerstone of Sandhills Community College's Raeford campus. The $1.8 million structure sits on a 10-acre lot purchased by Mary and Wyatt that they donated to the college. Wyatt is also a man of strong faith, sewing as Deacon and Elder of the Raeford Presbyterian Church. Amazingly, none of Wyatt's many business and community roles have come at the expense of his family. Next year, Wyatt and Mary celebrate their Golden Anniversary, and their union is stronger that ever. The couple's daughter Jodi, son-in-law Wayne and two granddaughters, Megan and Catherine, are central to their lives. Another son, Jeff, was taken tragically from Wyatt and Mary in 1976 after a valiant struggle with cancer. In the little spare time he reserves for himself, Wyatt enjoys fishing, golf and travel.
With his sharp mind, tireless work ethic and business acumen, Wyatt Upchurch might have pursued any number of careers in any number of places. The poultry industry in North Carolina is fortunate that 50 years ago, he chose the path he did. It was a good day for him and a great day for us; and because of that the Officers and Directors of the North Carolina Poultry Federation are honored to name Wyatt Gray Upchurch to its Hall of Fame.
August 15, 2003