Welsh paved way for fu­ture woman sher­iffs

Bunny Welsh re­calls chal­lenges of be­ing county’s first woman sher­iff

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lucas Rodgers lrodgers@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Lu­casMRodgers on Twit­ter

This story is part of a series on women in the greater Philadel­phia area who have bro­ken the glass ceil­ing in their re­spec­tive fields.

“I had to meet some chal­lenges be­cause I was the first woman, and there’s some­thing about be­ing the first any­thing. When you’re the first, you can’t make any mis­takes,” Ch­ester County Sher­iff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh said of her first term in of­fice. “As the first woman, I think it was in­cum­bent upon me, and I al­ways in­tended to, do a good job.”

She said this idea holds true not just for gen­der, but for all cat­e­gories when­ever an in­di­vid­ual takes a new path or as­sumes a po­si­tion, as the first one to rep­re­sent their group.

Welsh has achieved many firsts through­out her ca­reer.

In 1999, Welsh was elected as the first woman sher­iff in Ch­ester County’s his­tory, and she has up­held the du­ties of that of­fice since Jan­uary, 2000, when she was sworn in. She is cur­rently one of two women sher­iffs in Penn­syl­va­nia, and 38 in the na­tion.

The of­fice of sher­iff is not the only glass ceil­ing that Welsh has set her sights on break­ing. In July, 2009, Welsh was sworn in as pres­i­dent of the Penn­syl­va­nia Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion, mark­ing the first time in the as­so­ci­a­tion’s his­tory that a woman was elected to the top lead­er­ship po­si­tion. Welsh went on to be elected to the Board of Di­rec­tors of the Na­tional Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion in Jan­uary, 2011; she was elected sergeant at arms of the Na­tional Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion in July, 2015. Welsh said she may even be on track to be the first woman elected as pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

Welsh has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards and ac­co­lades dur­ing her time as sher­iff. Her out­stand­ing vol­un­teer ef­forts in the com­mu­nity earned her the na­tional “Eck­erd 100 Women of 2000” award. In 2002, Welsh re­ceived the pres­ti­gious “Break­ing the Glass Ceil­ing” award from the Na­tional Cen­ter for Women and Polic­ing. Welsh was in­ducted into the In­ter­na­tional Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion Hall of Fame in 2004, and she re­ceived the March of Dimes of Ch­ester County Women of Achieve­ment award that year.

Welsh was born in Al­toona, Blair County, but she grew up in Delaware County, and grad­u­ated from Up­per Darby High School. She said her fam­ily also has roots in Ch­ester County.

Welsh has lived in Ch­ester County for more than 30 years. She said she loves the qual­ity of life and beau­ti­ful land­scapes, as well as the ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties in the county. She has four chil­dren and nine grand­chil­dren.

Welsh has a back­ground in busi­ness, and she worked in the heavy and high­way con­struc­tion in­dus­try be­fore be­ing elected sher­iff. She stud­ied psy­chol­ogy at Wes­ley Col­lege in Delaware, busi­ness law at the Whar­ton School of the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, and crim­i­nal jus­tice at Tem­ple Univer­sity. She said she stud­ied spo­rad­i­cally as she was rais­ing her chil­dren. Welsh grad­u­ated from the Na­tional Sher­iff’s In­sti­tute in Colorado in 2000.

She said she has al­ways been in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, and her fa­ther, John Welsh, re­ally got her in­volved in pol­i­tics when she was grow­ing up. Be­fore run­ning for sher­iff, Bunny Welsh served as a com­mit­tee­woman for the lo­cal Repub­li­can Party, and then the state Repub­li­can Party.

Welsh said she de­cided to run for sher­iff be­cause she loves county gov­ern­ment, and she was con­fi­dent she would be able to do the job well, and she had also com­pleted con­sta­ble train­ing, which is al­most iden­ti­cal to the train­ing a deputy sher­iff re­ceives. She said her ex­pe­ri­ence with busi­ness and man­ag­ing em­ploy­ees would be an as­set in the sher­iff’s of­fice.

Welsh said she ran for sher­iff in the Repub­li­can pri­mary in 1999 against four can­di­dates who were all hon­or­able men, but she felt she was uniquely qual­i­fied for the po­si­tion. She even gained the en­dorse­ment of the Ch­ester County Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee. Welsh won the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tion that year, and she is cur­rently serv­ing her fifth term; each term for sher­iff lasts four years.

Welsh said she is hon­ored that the cit­i­zens of this county have elected her to serve as their sher­iff these past 16 years, and she is very proud of all the good work the men and women of the sher­iff’s of­fice ac­com­plish on a daily ba­sis. She said there are about 70 deputies in the sher­iff’s of­fice, and a to­tal of about 90 per­son­nel, in­clud­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive staff.

Welsh said she wanted to make sure that she served the of­fice and cit­i­zens well dur­ing her first term be­cause as the first woman sher­iff, she was ba­si­cally lead­ing the path for other women who may want to serve as a sher­iff or elected of­fi­cial.

Welsh re­called that when she first men­tioned her in­ter­est in run­ning for sher­iff to Alan No­vak, who was the chair of the Ch­ester County Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee at the time, he ad­vised her not to use her nick­name dur­ing the elec­tion. How­ever, Welsh said she wanted to be gen­uine, and she couldn’t change who she was, so she kept the nick­name. She said her grand­fa­ther gave her the nick­name “Bunny” when she was a lit­tle girl, and she has kept that name ever since.

Welsh said that a sher­iff must an­swer to the peo­ple, as an elected of­fi­cial, rather than a gov­ern­ing body, so that al­lows her to be in­de­pen­dent with the of­fice. She said one of her fa­vorite things about lead­ing the sher­iff’s of­fice is do­ing com­mu­nity out­reach with chil­dren and se­nior cit­i­zens.

She said the worst part of be­ing sher­iff is the con­stant worry of the deputies go­ing home safe at night, es­pe­cially in this day and age. “Any­body in uni­form any­more is a tar­get,” she said.

Welsh said when she has free time, she likes to play the key­board, and she re­ally en­joys spend­ing time with her grand­chil­dren.

Welsh is in­volved in sev­eral com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions: she is a mem­ber of the Ro­tary Club of West Ch­ester; vice pres­i­dent of the Ch­ester County Hero Fund; and a board mem­ber of the Ch­ester County Fam­ily Academy, Penn­syl­va­nia Lead­er­ship Char­ter School, Na­tional Flag Foun­da­tion, and Ch­ester County In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity. She also serves as a com­mis­sioner on the Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mis­sion for Women.

Welsh said she likes to talk to all kinds of kids, and she tries to en­cour­age young men and young women, but par­tic­u­larly young women that are in­ter­ested in law en­force­ment or crim­i­nal jus­tice to look at ca­reers in law en­force­ment at ev­ery level, be­cause there are so many agen­cies at the lo­cal, state and fed­eral lev­els that could ben­e­fit from hav­ing more women on their teams.

“Hope­fully I can be a role model to some of them, that they want to grow up and run for sher­iff or be a po­lice chief, or move to Se­cret Ser­vice or the FBI,” Welsh said.”


Sher­iff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh


Carolyn “Bunny” Walsh


Sher­iff Bunny Welsh, seated with her deputies who are sport­ing goa­tees, from left, Deputies Brad DeSando, Wayne John­son, Robert Kear­ney, and David Reeves at the Ch­ester County Sher­iff Of­fice in West Ch­ester on Fri­day, Oct. 11, 2013.

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