Here Comes the Sheriff

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 19, 2011

"Moral progress is impossible apart from an habitual vision of greatness."
Alfred North Whitehead

One of the ways we challenge our students to reach their fullest potential is to help them encounter greatness (excellence) at as many points as possible. And as they do, new inspiration grows, their vision is enhanced, and a lift is created in them which takes them to heights they never thought possible. 

Exposure to great books or great music or great ideas or great art or great architecture or a great professor provides those kinds of huge updrafts. Great guests do the same. This column is about one of those guests. 

I first met Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh at "Sharing the Harvest," a gathering of Chester County non-profit organizations hosted by State Senator Andrew Dinniman and which met here on our campus. During our brief exchange, I was struck by her passion for her job and her deep personal faith. I knew immediately that Sheriff Welsh was the kind of leader our students needed to hear. 

When she spoke to our VFCC community a few weeks ago, I was not disappointed. She began by explaining what a sheriff does. The duties of sheriffs differ in each section of the country. In some places like Louisiana, they are king. In Los Angeles, they are the highway patrol. Here in Pennsylvania sheriffs are the enforcement arm of the Court of Common Pleas. She has over 85 employees with a budget of more than $6 million. 

In her role, Sheriff Welsh and those who serve with her are authorized like the military to "Give their life; Save a life; and Take a Life." The daily risks are huge. Every time they walk up to a home to serve a summons or they transport a prisoner from one location to another, they are demonstrating their willingness to give their lives for those whom they serve. 

The Sheriff and her department are committed to certain core values. Character and integrity are essential. "I never fired anyone because they couldn't shoot," she said. "You can't mistake kindness for weakness." Even though they transport some of Pennsylvania's most dangerous and notorious criminals, there is never a reason to treat them without courtesy, dignity, and respect. She warmly spoke of the time her workers stopped on a hot summer day and bought an ice cream cone for a prisoner. He later commented on the profound influence that small gesture had on him. 

"Whether it is a Criminal Court, Civil Court, or Family Court," Sheriff Welsh told us, "The Court House is where lives change forever." 

A highlight of her presentation came when she introduced one of her Lieutenants and his four-year-old German Shepherd police dog, Buster. I will remember how the dog stood up, ears pointed forward as he moved toward me when I moved toward him to hand a microphone to the Lieutenant so we could hear him as he answered questions. I think our students will also remember that moment. 

Sheriff Welsh ended by having all of us stand, raise our right hands and take the actual oath of office to be deputy-sheriffs. The plastic badge she gave to each of us will remind us of that moment and what that means for those noble servants. 

Role models like Sheriff Welsh have profound influence on college/university students. Our VFCC women and men will long remember this first woman to be elected Sheriff in Chester County, the only female sheriff in Pennsylvania, one of only 38 female sheriffs in the nation, and in 2009, the first woman sheriff sworn in as president of the 88 year-old Pennsylvania Sheriffs Association. 

In 1997 Sheriff Welsh was named one of the Top 50 Women in Business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. She also loves participating in the National Flag Foundation. 

What an incredible vision of greatness (excellence) she left us. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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