Rock the CATWALK model profile: Sean Watterson rocking his way from venue to catwalk for good cause

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This year we are highlighting some of the Rock the CATWALK community models – showcasing their talents, passion and careers leading up to the annual fashion show.  


jill-and-seanThe first time attending and participating in Rock the CATWALK, Sean Watterson will take the stage at this year’s event. But, with years of experience co-owning Happy Dog in Gordon Square and Euclid, it won’t be his first time in the spotlight. For example, Watterson was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People in 2014.

His career path has been anything but linear – from a financial watchdog working in counterterrorism finance to co-owning east and west side hotspots, his travels have always brought him back to the 216.

Watterson transitioned from working as a lawyer in counterterrorism because he wanted the chance to make other’s happy, he said. When Sean Kilbane, former Happy Dog business partner and co-owner, pitched the idea of buying a bar to Watterson, Kilbane stressed they could make a difference every night.

“In anti-money-laundering and counterterror finance work, the only measure of success was nothing bad happening — there wasn’t a positive feedback loop there,” he said. “When I moved back, I worked at Bank of America and eventually got so involved at Happy Dog, in Gordon Square and the Cleveland arts community I decided to give up being a lawyer at a bank to do Happy Dog full time.”

Since 2008, Watterson has managed bookings for the venue, inviting everyone from the Cleveland Orchestra to garage punk bands to play the Gordon Square space. Re-opening the Euclid Tavern in 2014 as Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, he has continued to book non-traditional acts at both venues.

While not willing to qualify himself as “grunge,” Watterson jokes J3, the boutique providing his attire for the runway, will have a lot to work with.

“I have a look, I don’t think it qualifies as style,” he joked. “I have a lot of ‘Deadhead’ T-shirts and jeans, so I’m really interested in seeing what they can do with what’s probably a pretty blank canvas.”

Watterson won’t be alone at his inaugural RTC. Longtime girlfriend and fellow RTC community model Jill Jankowski will accompany him on the runway.

“Jill was dating a friend of mine and it didn’t work out between the two of them,” he said, explaining how the couple met. “I waited a year, I asked him if it was okay and asked her out. The first two times she passed; by the third time she figured I was asking her on a date.”

A long history with United Way, Watterson is excited he and Jill are participating this year.

“I’ve donated to United Way going back to my days as a broker, trader and lawyer and there’s a history of Cleveland’s connection to United Way, so I’m happy we’re able to be a part of this.”


This year’s Rock the CATWALK is Thursday, November 3 at the Global Center for Health Innovation. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are on sale now. For more information, contact Megan Shadrach.  

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