Looks Bright: Bryce’s pens are mightier than the sword

Published 12:15 am Saturday, May 13, 2017

LAPLACE — Most young boys go into scouting to enjoy the great outdoors.

For them, scouting is all about camping in the woods and gathering wood for building fires.

Bryce Watkins looks at all that wood and sees something entirely different — pens.

Bryce Watkins

When he was about 8 years old, the now-14-year-old LaPlace Elementary School student took a keen interest in his grandfather’s wood lathe, using it to craft random pieces of wood into works of art. He’s made a few bowls and platters and odds and ends.

Mostly, though, he makes wooden pens, each lovingly crafted into a one-of-a-kind writing utensil.

“I usually make them for my teachers for teacher presents,” he said. “They’re made out of different kinds of wood so they’re all different stains. First you choose the wood you want and turn it out, then you polish it to what you want it to look like. Then you put it all together.”

Bryce Watkins shapes a pen he is making from wood, an effort he turned into an Eagle Scout project benefiting troops.

Bryce’s dad, Chuck Watkins, who also is his troop leader, said it’s much more difficult than that.

“It takes many, many hours just to get the wood down to the right size and shape to be turned (on the lathe),” Chuck said.

They are worth the effort, though. Ask just about any LaPlace Elementary School teacher to show you theirs.

“He’s actually given them out to all the teachers,” said principal Patty Forsythe. “I’ve seen them in years past and it has grown. They’re really special pens to have and there are no two alike.”

That’s the part Bryce likes best.

It’s part of the reason he has used his burgeoning skills to aim for his Eagle Scout rank.

Bryce is rather young to be shooting for such a lofty goal as most scouts are 16 or 17 when they become Eagles.

To reach that goal, scouts must earn several required merit badges (Bryce has 67), as well as complete a project that benefits the community, an organization or church.

“He wanted a project that would help the military and educate people on how to do this at the same time,” Chuck Watkins said.

Bryce decided to use his hobby toward that goal by making wooden pens for veterans through the Freedom Pens Project, a volunteer effort by the Sawmill Creek Woodworking Community to provide handmade pens to servicemen and women overseas.

Bryce Watkins shows off one of the pens he created with his own hands. (Lori Lyons/L’OBSERVATEUR)

The group has shipped more than 200,000 pens worldwide, and welcomes anyone with the time, talent and inclination to join the effort.

“Every Freedom Pen that is delivered will serve as a constant reminder to our troops that they are not alone and will have our continued support until every one of them returns home,” reads a post on the website, freedompens.org.

Bryce set a goal of 200 pens and, with the help of his grandfather, Lucien Jarreau, several local woodworking mentors and his friends, he has made close to 250.

“He taught other people and had a group of mentors come in and teach other people,” Chuck said.

“He probably had about 12 people walking away knowing how to do this, including (East St. John High school) principal (Tabari) Simon, who made one.”

One of Bryce’s workdays took place in the woodshop at the high school, where Chuck is a science teacher. Bryce also used his skills to compete for his school’s Beta Club at the state convention.

“It’s really remarkable,” Forsythe said.

“The teachers love the pens. Bryce and I have known each other a very long time. He’s quiet and really keeps to himself. I try to start a conversation with him and he’ll pick up a book. He’s a wonderful student from a wonderful family.”

Bryce is happy to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Alex, who achieved his Eagle Scout status a few years ago, in part by building Little Free Libraries for the community.

Mom, Listette Watkins, is a fourth grade teacher at LaPlace Elementary.

Bryce acknowledges much is expected of him as the child of teachers and that’s OK, except for one thing:
“You’re at school a lot longer than everybody else,” he said.