By Brecken Branstrator
The Veterans Watchmaker Initiative is kicking off its first class on Sept. 5 in Odessa, Delaware.
Odessa, Del.--It’s been five years in the making, but a program designed to offer free classes on watchmaking to disabled veterans is ready to launch.

Right after Labor Day, the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative will hold its first class.

The idea for the school started in 2012 with Sam Cannan, a retired police officer from Baltimore who trained in Switzerland and has been a watchmaker for the past 30 years. He also has served as the director of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors School of Horology.

Cannan designed the school to mirror the one Bulova opened in 1945 to train disabled servicemen at no cost. It closed in the late 1990s.

There will be no cost to students of the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative either; all costs are and will continue to be underwritten largely by the watchmaking industry, grants and private donations.

Once their education is finished, the veterans then aim to find a job in some aspect of watchmaking. In fact, there’s a place on the Veterans Watchmaking Initiative website for retailers or watch service centers who are interested in hiring a graduate of the initiative.

The program is dedicated to honorably discharged veterans, specifically those who have been disabled. The watchmaking skills they gain from the school give them a chance to provide for themselves and their families, Cannan said.

“For the first time in a long time, they have control over their lives,” he said, adding that the actual work of watchmaking also is therapeutic for many of them, as it is a skill that can be worked in the quiet and at their own pace.

Right now, the school is operating out of a facility in Odessa, Delaware called The Odessa Center for Horological Excellence. Cannan cut a deal to rent the space, the former county paramedic station, from the New Castle County government for $1 per year after learning they were going to tear it down.

Fittingly, the town has a long history in the clock-making business, according to the Historic Odessa Foundation. The organization told the Middletown Transcript the craftsmen who made clocks and clock cases in the area date back to the 1700s.

But four acres have been donated to the initiative in nearby Middletown, which will be the permanent site of the school once enough money is raised to fund construction.

It will be a 28,000-square-foot facility, serving 54 students at a time and include not only classrooms but also administrative offices, a gym, a dining hall and more.

The Odessa facility then will become a full-time service center for those veterans who have finished their training but did not want to work in the public arena. Cannan said the building would be able to hold about 20 employees doing service and repairs for customers like a “for profit” business.

The first class to kick off the initiative is a watch technician course, starting Sept. 5. It will have six students.

Currently, there are more than 300 people waiting to join the program, Cannan said. Instructors will all be volunteering their time.

Its curriculum includes a full Professional Veterans Watchmaker Training Program, which requires students to take a total of 1,840 class hours (about 14 months). There also will be a six-week (260 hours) watch technician option.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, there will be a grand opening event at the center in Odessa, celebrating the launch of a project that took five years to build but which will benefit many.

“When people ask me, ‘What’s in it for you?’ I tell them: If you don’t understand when you see that change that comes over them when they’ve learned something like this, you’ll never understand,” Cannan said.

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