Citing a long and distinguished career of outreach, the Exton Region Chamber of Commerce (ERCC) bestowed the 2017 Senator Robert J. Thompson Public Service Award on Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
State Rep. Becky Corbin, a past recipient, presented the award at the ERCC Annual Review Luncheon at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Malvern. She explained that the former state senator had set the bar high while maintaining a sense of humor often punctuated by Snoopy neckties and red suspenders.
“His legacy of public service will live on forever,” Corbin said. “He was a beloved and respected state and local government leader whose 30-year career was a model of both personal and professional integrity, fairness, optimism and humility.”
Noting that Welsh has mirrored that approach, Corbin detailed a litany of her outstanding achievements, ranging from Welsh’s election as the first female sheriff in Chester County to her leadership roles with state and national law-enforcement agencies. Corbin described community initiatives such as “Shop with the Sheriff,” a program that annually brightens the holidays for 100 elementary-school students, and a recent effort that delivered thousands of pounds of relief supplies to hurricane victims in multiple states.
“She’s great at building bridges,” Corbin said.Jeannie McGinn, an ERCC member, said submitting Welsh’s nomination for the award was a no-brainer. She said her she was delighted when the ERCC board affirmed her choice. “It was a unanimous vote by the board,” McGinn said.
In McGinn’s submission, she wrote: “Sheriff Bunny is a civil servant who embodies what it means to ‘walk the talk’ and serves all the citizens of Chester County in the highest, most honorable fashion.”
Addressing Tuesday’s audience of more than 100, which included all three county commissioners, Welsh said that the award was special because of her personal connections to Thompson and that he was among those she wanted to thank.
Thompson was one of her earliest supporters, she said, urging her to ignore counsel from GOP leaders that she change her name to make herself more electable. “He was just a constant source of positive energy and a great spirit,” Welsh said.
Welsh also expressed gratitude to her office, explaining that her 95 employees -- deputies and civilians -- make her look good each day. She said many citizens don’t realize the scope of the Sheriff’s Office responsibilities, which include serving civil papers, transporting prisoners, overseeing firearms permits, apprehending fugitives, and maintaining security at the county’s government buildings.
“A thousand calls go through the Sheriff’s Office each and every year for deputies – medical response, security response, calls for our K-9s,” Welsh said. “That’s more than a lot of small police departments. You don’t hear about it because they’re handled.”
Finally, Welsh thanked “all of you,” explaining that she appreciates all of the people who “elected and supported “her. She pointed out that, unlike police departments, her law-enforcement position requires her to answer only to the people.
In addition to the Senator Robert J. Thompson Public Service Award, Welsh also received citations from the Chester County Board of Commissioners, the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline, who presented the commissioners’ citation, called Welsh a mentor as well as an inspiration to other women in public service.
During the luncheon, Laurie Kerkering, ERCC’s president, explained the genesis of the Thompson award. She said Thompson helped ensure the construction of the Exton Bypass, a decades-long process that represented the foresight of a group of Exton businesspeople who created the ERCC.
Kerkering said that while some feared a highway detour would hurt Exton businesses, others realized that improving traffic and providing easy access to other regional centers would ultimately benefit everyone. Kerkering said Welsh was the 10th recipient of the Thompson award.
Welsh has served as Chester County sheriff since January 2000, one of only 40 female sheriffs in the nation. She is active in many community organizations, including the Rotary Club of West Chester. She is vice president of the Chester County Hero Fund and serves on the boards of the Chester County Family Academy, the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, the National Flag Foundation and the Chester County Industrial Development Authority.
Thompson, who died in 2006, served the 19th Senatorial District from 1995 to 2006. Prior to that, he was a Chester County Commissioner from 1979 until 1986. Thompson was a resident of West Goshen as well as a former West Goshen Township supervisor. He served as the founding executive director of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce. His community service also included the boards of the Chester County Historical Society, the Westtown-Goshen Rotary Club, the West Chester Area Day Care Association, and SEPTA.