Deputy celebrates 30 years in Sheriff’s office

Hercules “Herc” Avello

WEST CHESTER — More than three decades ago, an unlikely confluence of regional influences – mushrooms, the Wyeths, and a passel of crooks – redefined a Kennett Square resident’s career path.

Hercules “Herc” Avello, who marked his 30th anniversary with the Chester County Sheriff’s Office last month, said he expected to follow his father’s footsteps into the mushroom industry. From the age of 10, he had performed a variety of odd jobs, ranging from washing to picking, at ACA Mushrooms, his father’s company.

Born and raised in Kennett Square with a brother and a sister, Avello joined the Future Business Leaders of America Club at Kennett High, and he recalled being the only male in his typing class. He selected it because he figured it would serve him well in the mushroom industry as well as at the Poolside Deli, a family store next to the YMCA that was run by his mother.

“I thought that was my path,” Avello said. Then, a couple of incidents made him reconsider his vocation.

Avello said his father had a heart attack in the late ‘70s at the young age of 47, an experience that necessitated some major lifestyle changes. As his father struggled to rebound, another setback occurred. Avello, who was 19 at the time, remembered coming home one day from work and finding his parents distraught as police officers and detectives combed their home.

The family had fallen prey to a brazen burglary ring that made national headlines in 1982. Among its victims: Andrew Wyeth. Fortunately for the artist, the thieves, who included a mushroom grower from Avondale, were not particularly skilled at fencing stolen paintings. By early 1983, a massive FBI investigation resulted in five indictments.

But repercussions from the crime continued for his family, Avello said. His father, who had been targeted for his coin collection, decided to sell the mushroom business. By then, his son’s brush with law enforcement had left an indelible, positive impact. “I remember being really impressed with the job they did,” Avello said, adding that he wanted to emulate them.

Avello learned that the Chester County Prison had an opening. So he took a job there, and he enrolled in the Municipal Police Academy at Delaware County Community College. A year and a half later, a position opened in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office.

By then, he was married and starting a family, which now includes his “lovely wife Kathy,” a son, a daughter and a granddaughter, and the regular schedule appealed to him. So he changed gears on Jan. 5, 1987. A bonus: He started working with gun permits, a position he has continued.

“I grew up hunting,” Avello said. “So I was very comfortable in that role. It really seemed to be my calling.” He even got to utilize those typing skills.

But it wasn’t until seven years ago that Avello fully appreciated the wisdom of his career choice. He was playing ice hockey with colleagues from the Sheriff’s Office at Ice Line in West Goshen Township when genetics caused history to repeat itself. At age 46, Avello experienced a heart attack.

He credits county resources and the fast action by deputies and West Goshen police with saving his life.

“We’re really fortunate to live in a county that ensures that first-responders have the tools they need,” he said, explaining that a defibrillator was in the police car. He said a recent Valentine’s Day demonstration of hands-only CPR by the county commissioners reinforced their continuing commitment to citizens’ health.

Avello said he hoped to replicate the recovery of his father, who went on to enjoy more than 3 ½ decades. In the meantime, Avello still finds great satisfaction in assisting people with gun permits.

“A lot has changed,” he said, ranging from the disappearance of typewriters to the county’s significant growth.

Thirty years ago, Avello said that he knew about five percent of the people who came into the office. Back then, the office processed 30 to 50 permits a month; that number now runs from 250 to 300. The increase hasn’t slowed the process, though, since technology enables background checks to be done almost instantly.

Avello said he believes the Sheriff’s Office is a special place to work. “When I hear people say the boss is only as good as the people below, I have to disagree,” said Avello. “That hasn’t been my experience: I work hard because of Sheriff [Carolyn ‘Bunny’] Welsh. She sets the tone.”

Part of the office philosophy mirrors his own, Avello said.

“I was always taught to treat people the way you want to be treated, and that seems to work well here,” he concluded.

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