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Longtime Deschutes County Clerk Mary Sue ‘Susie’ Penhollow passes away at 79

Susie Penhollow Pioneer Queen 2024 web
Deschutes Historical Museum
Susie Penhollow was honored as the Deschutes Historical Museum's Pioneer Queen in February.
Susie Penhollow 5-13 web
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Susie Penhollow grew up in Bend and became involved in a wide array of activities, most notably as the Deschutes County clerk from 1982-2002

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Mary Sue "Susie” Penhollow, a well-known and beloved Bend native who served for 20 years as Deschutes County clerk, traveled overseas as an election observer and was very active in the community in a variety of roles, passed away Monday after a stroke at the age of 79, the Deschutes Historical Museum announced Tuesday.

 Born at St. Charles Hospital on “Hospital Hill” in 1944, Penhollow was the youngest of three daughters born to Charlie and Millie Chopp. She graduated from Bend High School in 1962 and attended college for only one year at Oregon State University, as her college plans were cut short when her father died of a heart attack on a trip to visit family in Yugoslavia.

Penhollow returned home to Bend, where she worked for Vince Genna at Bend Parks and Recreation and attended Central Oregon Community College at night. She met and married Mike Penhollow from Redmond in 1964.

In 1970, she was hired by the Deschutes County Clerk’s office, and upon the retirement of County Clerk Rosemary Patterson in 1982, she ran for the office herself. She was elected in the fall of 1982 and held the office for 20 years, until her retirement in 2002.

Under her leadership, Penhollow transitioned the clerk’s office not only to modern computerization but also implementation of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system in 1998. It was during this time that the clerk’s office also dealt with the extreme population growth between 1990 and 2000, when the population nearly tripled from 20,469 to 52,029, vastly changing the size and nature of elections in Deschutes County.

Penhollow's commitment to democracy and the power of free elections led her to serve as an elections observer in several countries, including Azerbaijan, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Ukraine. She was active in the League of Women’s Voters, helping to host and lead non-partisan election debates and candidate forums.

In addition, she was a longtime board member and president of the Deschutes County Historical Society. She also remained active in the Deschutes Pioneer’s Association, PEO, Soroptimists, Assistance League, and Quota In Central Oregon.

Penhollow served as the grand marshal for the 2017 Bend Christmas Parade and was honored by Bend Senior High School as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2019. The Deschutes Historical Museum crowned her Pioneer Queen in February of this year, making she and her mother, Millie, the only mother and daughter to both serve in that role.

A celebration of life is being planned in August at the fairgrounds, with other details to be announced at a later date.

Penhollow's family settled in Bend from Yugoslavia in 1919, according to a biography prepared when she was named grand marshal of 2017's Bend Christmas Parade. That information continues below:

Susie attended elementary school in the Old St. Francis School, now occupied by McMenamin’s downtown. After school, Susie and friends would hit Mabel’s, located next to the Tower Theatre, for fries and a soda. She went to junior high in the Bend La Pine Administration Building. and graduated from Bend High School in 1962.

After college, she started her working career with the Parks & Recreation Department – when it was run by the City of Bend under the watchful eye of Vince Genna (Vince Genna Stadium). In 1970, Susie took a position in the Deschutes County Clerk’s office. In 1982, when the County Clerk’s position became available, Susie mounted a successful campaign to become the new Clerk for Deschutes County. She held that job until retiring in 2002.

During her tenure with the county, Susie saw many changes locally and abroad. Her role as County Clerk gave her the unique experience to travel overseas to observe and supervise elections in Albania (1997 and 2009), Ukraine (2002 and during the Orange Revolution in 2004), and Macedonia (2004).

Her first experience overseas was during a time of unrest in Albania, and she was escorted by armed Turkish Army soldiers to and from the polling stations. Gunfire could be heard all around, but Susie was not deterred.

“You got to see the beginning of democracy in those countries. Now you can see how the processes have improved the lives of the people,” Susie explained. “It was one of the things you felt you were helping these people better themselves and shaping the future for them and the country. People were voting for the first time and they were proud to vote and dressed in their Sunday best, waiting in lines for hours to cast a vote…whole families came together. It was a remarkable time and I was honored to help make a difference.”

Back home. she was also making changes and helping to improve our election processes in Central Oregon and the state. When she started at the clerk’s office, Deschutes County was holding upwards of eight separate elections each year. Sharing her thoughts on this, Susie said, “People didn’t understand what a process it was to get any kind of turnout for any of the elections held at the polls. That is why I advocated for and helped with the mail-in ballots system we have now. It allowed folks to study the issues and be a more informed voter.”

Mike and Susie Penhollow had two grown children and four grandchildren. Mike’s father was the Honorable Judge D.L. Penhollow and minister of the Powell Butte Christian Church, which started the annual Lord’s Acre Day.

Susie was a very active member of the community, raising money for PEO scholarships and a longtime volunteer for the Historical Society. She was active in the League of Women Voters as Voter Service with forums and the Pioneer Association. Susie was a past member of Soroptimists, Assistance League, Quota Club, Kiwanis and did fundraising for Cancer Services.

“Mike and I have been so fortunate to grow up with the focus on family in a loving environment, in a wonderful point in Bend’s history, and for us the holidays are so important to keep these traditions alive and pass this legacy down for our kids and grandkids," she said as the 2017 Bend Christmas Parade approached.

"I still cherish spending holidays in the same house I did at 7 years old with the whole family. We wish everyone in Central Oregon the best during this amazing time of year. Merry Christmas!”

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