BY MARY KAY SWEIKAR
DANVILLE — Greg Watson grew up in Chicago, but he fell in love with Danville — the town where he spent many happy hours as a child visiting his grandparents and cousins.
After they were married in 1988, Greg and his wife, Odette, decided to make Danville their permanent home. And today they agree that Danville was a wonderful place to raise their two daughters — Gabrielle and Arianna — who are both in college.
Gabrielle is a sophomore at the University of Iowa, majoring in pre-dentistry as well as communication science disorders.
“I want a backup plan in case dental school doesn’t work out,” she said.
Gabrielle enjoyed her four years at Danville High School, where she was in show choir and Madrigals.
Her choice of an extracurricular activity at college was a big surprise to her friends and family. This is Gabrielle’s second year on the school’s highly competitive women’s rowing team, which practices up to 20 hours a week.
Odette was most surprised when she heard about her daughter’s newest activity.
“When Gabrielle told me that she joined the rowing team, I was shocked,” she said. “She never learned to swim well, and the rowers don’t wear life jackets.”
However, Gabrielle assured her family that she’s become a much improved swimmer since she joined the rowing team.
Gabrielle explained that when she approached the table to register for her college choir, she noticed that the rowing team sign-up table was right next to it. Even though she had never rowed before, she was picked out of the crowd that day to try out for the team, most likely because of her strong physique.
“I did well at the tryouts and decided right away that rowing was something I loved doing,” she said.
“I like to have one big thing that I spend my time on so I can schedule everything else around it,” Gabrielle said. And right now rowing happens to be that single “big thing” in this college sophomore’s life.
The Watsons’ older daughter, Arianna, joined this family interview via Skype from her dorm room at Northwest Missouri State University. She is a senior there, majoring in interactive digital media, and she hopes to find a job in Missouri after graduation.
She also acted in the Kansas City Black Expo and sings in the school’s Gospel Choir.
While she was a student at DHS, Arianna was in the show choir. She also attended Danville Area Community College for two years before transferring to Northwest Missouri State.
Odette is well known in Danville through her work at the Community Action Agency for the past 10 years. She now holds the position of associate director and oversees the agency’s education services at 11 centers in Vermilion, Ford and Iroquois counties.
“I have always loved my job,” Odette said, “and it allowed me the flexibility to spend time with the girls as they were growing up.”
Odette also volunteers at Laura Lee Fellowship House, helping families and children. She enjoys cooking for individual people in need, and she regularly helps with the Thanksgiving meal for the District 118 Alternative Program.
Odette was born and raised in Jamaica, and her family came to Chicago when she was 9 years old. She said moving to Danville from a big city was a “very big adjustment” for her. “But once we started having a family, I really appreciated living in a small town,” she added.
The Watson family still has many relatives in Chicago, where they love to visit on holidays and other special occasions, and they all are members of New Life Church of Faith in Danville.
Odette loves to cook, and she’s known for the special Jamaican dishes that she makes when the extended family gathers on holidays. She said that most Jamaican food is much spicier than traditional American food. Some of the family favorites are curried goat; spiced bread (sweet fruit bread), which they eat with cheese; lallalou (a leafy green); ackee (fruit); and codfish that has been preserved in salt.
Odette has taught her daughters to cook, crochet and sew — skills she believes are important for women to have.
Greg retired in May as recreation supervisor at the Danville Correctional Center, where he worked for 30 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and administrative justice from Kansas Wesleyan University. He also taught kindergarten in the Chicago area for a couple of years before taking his first job with the Illinois Correctional System in Pontiac.
Greg now works as a personal trainer and referees high school basketball and football. He’s also an avid golfer and works as a golf ranger at Harrison Park Golf Course.
How they met
About 30 years ago, Greg was waiting at a bus top in downtown Chicago, where he often traveled from Danville to visit his parents. That’s when he spotted Odette, his future wife, working in the window of a clothing boutique. Needless to say he missed his bus when he entered the boutique to meet Odette.
“It took a while before she would even date me,” Greg said, explaining that Odette was still in college at the time and living at home, and her parents were very strict. The couple’s first meeting was for lunch at a Wendy’s in Chicago, and they’ve been together ever since.
Odette said, “I always worried how we would pay back the loans for our girls’ college, but thankfully they both received scholarships for academics.” Gabrielle has an additional scholarship for her participation on the college rowing team, and Arianna receives additional financial aid for serving as a “Bridge” in her dormitory to assist international students.
Odette said, “I’m personally grateful for this city of Danville. It has allowed us to raise two responsible young ladies. Both of them have received a good foundation at the schools here — and that has been a blessing for all of us.”