Odessa Watch School a timely boon for disabled vets

By Mike Finney
Posted 10/26/21

ODESSA — There are traits that Sam Cannan can clearly identify in prospective new students who wish to attend the Odessa Veterans Watch School – focus, patience, passion and the desire to …

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Odessa Watch School a timely boon for disabled vets


ODESSA — There are traits that Sam Cannan can clearly identify in prospective new students who wish to attend the Odessa Veterans Watch School – focus, patience, passion and the desire to fix and restore things.

Mr. Cannan, program founder and instructor at the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative, believes he has found nine such individuals as he welcomed them into the school, housed in a former EMT station just off U.S. 13 South in Odessa, on Monday.

The Veteran Watchmaker Initiative is designed to help disabled U.S. veterans find post-service employment.

U.S. Army veteran Victoria Young became the first female student to attend the watchmaking school during the introduction of its third class on Monday, and she thinks it is made for people just like her.

“I’ve been on the wait list for this program for about four or five years,” Ms. Young said. “I’ve always been a tinkerer. When I was a kid, I watched my grandmother knock a hole in the wall of her bathroom and she wanted a window there and she put it in herself.

“It started from there. That’s when I was about 5 years old, and then I started working on bicycles and other things but watches always remained in the back of my mind.”

She began collecting watches at the age of 18 and it just kept going and she couldn’t stop.

“Then I began to tinker on them, and I was like, ‘There’s got to be somewhere to learn how to do this,’” said Ms. Young. “Then one day I was on Google and Sam’s name popped up and I called them, and they told me they were working on this school.”

Ms. Young has been living in Los Angeles battling multiple sclerosis and PTSD issues recently. The phone call to attend the Odessa Veterans Watch School was an answer to her prayers.

“Sam told me about the program, but also how it would help me mentally, because there were some things that I had just not been able to overcome,” she said. “He just said to come and try this program and turn the next chapter of your life and give it a try.

“It’s very disciplined. It’s what I need because there are some of us who don’t need freedom. We don’t need any extra time. We just need to stay focused on something. That’s what it’s done for me, and I appreciate the opportunity.”

School offers opportunity

Mr. Cannan said Ms. Young was one of the nine new watchmaking class members who he believes has the gift.

“She’s an Army intelligence officer and I think she’s going to do really well. She’s got the gift,” Mr. Cannan said. “I consider myself a reasonably good instructor, but I think I can see the talent in these kids, and it’s worked out pretty well for me and I think for them as well.

“They’re exceptional guys and gals and I think they’re going to be incredible watchmakers. They’re going to do really, really well.”

The class of nine prospective watchmakers had to pass a series of tests and evaluations to get to this point.

On Monday, they began taking a six-week Quartz Course that is actually the final test in their evaluation process.

If Mr. Cannan likes what he sees, then they move on to the long (advanced watchmaking) course, which is 16 months.

“If they don’t do well here, but they do well enough to graduate from the six-week course, they get a certificate that’s good for a job at any jewelry store. So in the end it’s a win-win,” said Mr. Cannan. “Most do (move on to the advanced course) because I’ve been pretty selective.”

Mr. Cannan, a Swiss-trained watchmaker, said there is a need for 40,000 watchmaker jobs in the United States alone and said that salaries range anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 to start.

“We have students that have turned down jobs at NASA that are working at Tiffany’s,” he said. “We have them working across the country. It’s a field that’s wide open.”

The nonprofit Veterans Watchmaker Initiative had floundered in its infancy, but has moved to solid ground in Odessa, a quaint town that was formerly a regional clockmaking hub during colonial times, beginning in the 1770s.

Mr. Cannan said the school is designed to assist disabled veterans, who have an 83% unemployment rate. It opened in 2017 and is limited to a handful of students each class.

The school, which trains disabled veterans tuition free, was built through private and corporate donations, including donated labor by citizens and veterans organizations.

The initiative’s third class brings students from across the nation who will be trained, housed and fed at no cost.

“We are proud and excited to have them at the Veterans Watchmaking Initiative,” said Mr. Cannan, school director. “They will be housed across the street from the school at a recently acquired building called ‘The Residence.’

Board member Nick Callazzo has volunteered to be the residence house manager.

The Odessa Veterans Watch School got some help on Monday from Lauren Alberti, of Bethany Club Tennis, and Rich Franchella, who presented it with a $45,315.52 check from a Sinatra Under the Stars event held at the Bethany Tennis Club on Sept. 26.

The third class of the Odessa Veterans Watch School consists of: Air Force, Michael Hall; Army, Stephen Shankle, Ms. Young; Coast Guard, Chris Tullos; Marines: Benjamin Herring; and Navy, Tanner Caraway, Marc Clodfelter, Cameron Gerrish and Joey Tucker.

Dave Skocik, president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition, said the watchmaker’s school is a great opportunity for disabled vets.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Mr. Skocik said. “It’s unique in the country because it trains disabled veterans to a whole new opportunity in life. This is something they can do lifelong … up until they are in their 90s if they want to.

“They’ve had situations like what the Swiss did after World War II – this is modeled after that. There’s no tuition, he feeds them and he’s found them a place to live. I can’t think of anything better than that.”

Chasing a lifelong dream

Cameron Gerrish had a marathon ride down from Maine to attend the watchmaker’s school on Monday.

For him, chasing the dream of becoming a watchmaker is something that has persisted in the back of his mind his entire life.

“One of my earliest memories was when I found this old watch at a yard sale for like five or 10 cents and I found out recently that it’s from the 1850s or 1860s, and I’ve held on to it for over 20 years,” Mr. Gerrish said, “so it’s always kind of started from there. I’m working towards getting that thing going.

“Actually, it was my mother who turned me on to the program. She had found out about it and for me I’ve always loved watches.”

Mr. Gerrish said there is no doubt that he is going to put everything he can into becoming the best watchmaker he can possibly be.

“I just got here for Quartz (class),” he said. “We’re going to start off with very basic and then getting into (more complex timepieces), so I’m going to do my absolute hardest and putting in all the effort I can to pass.

“Once I get into the full-bore watchmaker’s course, I’ll be able to make whatever I need for (my old watch) and that’s what I’m really, really looking forward to. I would like to be able to restore that (watch) because I have held onto it for so long and I would like to see it go across the finish line and look beautiful.”

Mr. Gerrish said he was in the Navy and also went to school and got a degree but always felt like there was something else he needed to be doing.

He thinks he found that something with the Odessa Veterans Watch School.

“After talking with Sam, I knew this would be a great program,” said Mr. Gerrish. “He’s very supportive and at least in my personal experience, comparing it to colleges and other institutions that I’ve applied to, such as the Maritime Academy, he was by far the most supportive of me.

“So that’s why I am really looking forward to this. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.”