The Passing of Key Peninsula Icon ‘Chainsaw Sue’

She felled trees, tended bar, and would challenge anyone who dared to leg wrestle, while raising two children by herself.


Longtime Key Peninsula resident, champion tree-topper, Huckleberry Inn bartender and renowned leg wrestler Sue Taylor died peacefully at her Burley home October 20. She was 67 years old.

“We knew her health was declining, but we thought we had longer than this,” said her daughter, Stephanie Kennell.

Born in Great Falls, Montana, Taylor moved to Artondale when she was 6 years old. “They lived on a farm and my mom used to sit on top of the silo and do her homework, and to get away from the other kids,” Kennell said. “There were five kids; she was the middle child. So, she had to be tough.”

Taylor graduated from Peninsula High School in 1973 and left Gig Harbor to see the world.

“She traveled all around Europe from about age 19 to 24,” Kennell said. “She worked as a bartender on military bases to make money and keep traveling. She lived in Germany for years; she taught herself German and bicycled all over.”

Taylor found her way back to the States and wound up in Missouri, “where she met my dad and where my brother and I were born,” Kennell said. 

The couple divorced and Taylor moved to the Key Peninsula with her two children, since she had family nearby, but raised them as single mother. 

“She was always a bartender as a fallback, but she was a logger,” Kennell said. “She used to split firewood and sell it, make us buck it up and load it and stack it, for years. We’d go and cut boughs and collect mushrooms, and she had a place she sold the mushrooms to, and she had a place she sold the boughs to.

“She loved it. I don’t know why. She was so capable. Anytime my brother or I said, ‘I can’t do it,’ she’d say, ‘Yes, you can.’ ” 

Leslie Livingston of Lakebay used to babysit Kennell. 

“I’ve known Sue since I was 17 — met at the Huck,” Livingston said. “My dad introduced me to her. He said, ‘You know she’s a tree-topper. The only woman I know who can do that job. She’s a badass.’ ”

The legend of Chainsaw Sue was born.

“It’s what all the other loggers on the peninsula called her,” Kennell said. “Anybody who saw her use a chainsaw was amazed; it was like an extension of her arm. It was so effortless.”

“She bartended at the Huck, so when I was over 21 and I was able to legally go in there we’d talk together,” Livingston said. “She had a smile and a personality that just lit up the whole room. You couldn’t help but be drawn to her.” 

And sometimes you had no choice.

“She would bet guys to do leg wrestling,” Livingston said. “She would literally get on the floor and start leg wrestling for drinks, or just because. I never saw her lose.”

“It was magnificent to watch this woman,” Kennell said. “She would leg wrestle literally anybody. She leg-wrestled an entire baseball team in the parking lot of the Huckleberry Inn, twice, because these guys couldn’t believe they got beat by a girl.”

Chainsaw Sue also competed in the annual KP logging shows throughout the 1990s.

“She climbed a 90-foot pole with her chainsaw hanging off her hip — raced up, climbing — and then lopped off the top and raced down,” Kennell said. “She kicked everybody’s butt all the time.”

Kennell graduated from PHS in 1999 and went to Clover Park Technical College. Sue came with her to Tacoma and then south to Vancouver. “She was taking it a little bit easier,” Kennell said. “She was still always rowdy, bartending in Woodland.”

Sue had both knees replaced at the same time in 2010.

“And for the first time in like, 10 years, she was all, ‘Look, I can run,’ and she was running down the sidewalk and I was like no, no, no, don’t do that,” Kennell said. “But that was her spirit.”

Kennell and Sue returned to the KP area just a few years ago. Kennell was looking for houses in Home when her mom suggested it might be better if they lived closer to a hospital, since her health was deteriorating. 

She spent some time in and out of St. Anthony Hospital over the summer, until Chainsaw Sue told her daughter she wanted to go home.

“She knew,” Kennell said. “She kept telling me, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ Her tone was so mellow and reassuring.

“She’s always just wanted to live. And she did.”

When Kennell posted the news on Facebook, many comments from the peninsula poured in.

“A true KP character. My favorite kind of person.”

“I thought (planting a tree) on the KP would be a good tribute for the chainsaw legend, so her legacy can live forever.” 

“We will rev our chainsaws extra loud today. RIP.”