Geography miscue continues magical odyssey

At Philadelphia International Airport, Chester County Sheriffs Carolyn ‘Bunny’ Welsh and Alex Underwood are reunited with Alex Collins, now 12.

Three years ago, a 9-year-old West Chester boy stole hearts when his contest entry -- seeking a hunting and fishing trip with the Chester County Sheriff -- ended up in the wrong state.

Fortunately for Alex Collins, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who received the boy’s poignant application, quickly determined that it should have gone to the Chester County in South Carolina. She also knew that first-term Sheriff Alex Underwood, whom Welsh had mentored at the National Sheriffs’ Institute in Colorado several months earlier, would have a similar response to the boy’s letter.

During a subsequent phone call initiated by Welsh, the two sheriffs hatched a plan to send Alex Collins to South Carolina and make him a winner on numerous levels. Not only did he get a day of outdoor sports with Underwood, but he also established enduring bonds with both sheriffs. The boy, since then a part of Welsh’s extended family, which includes four children, nine grandchildren, and four step-grandchildren, has also traveled at least once a year to South Carolina.

On Friday, Nov. 17, the now-12-year-old headed to the Philadelphia airport once again. With Welsh at his side, he reunited with Underwood for a more low-key encounter than several of their previous ones. A surprise TV reunion in 2015 on “The Meredith Vieira Show” generated numerous national headlines. This time, the South Carolina sheriff, known as “Big A,” had hopped a plane only so that he could turn around and return home with “Little A,” aka Alex Collins.

For the second year in a row, the West Chester youth will have an extra special Thanksgiving. Alex Collins said he was looking forward to more hunting and fishing and another amazing holiday feast, but the “best part” of the visit: just getting to spend time with Underwood and his wife, Angel.

At the airport, both Welsh and Underwood separately ran into someone they knew. When they each explained why they were there, the other person smiled and nodded, explaining that they remembered reading about the fortuitous geography mistake.

Welsh said she never could have predicted the events that followed the boy’s initial visit to her office in 2014 to hand-deliver his contest entry.

“This continues to be a wonderful journey for all of us,” said Welsh. “Alex wiggled his way into hearts here in Chester County, Pennsylvania, as well as in Chester County, South Carolina. We all share in the joy and happiness of this great experience.”

 

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