Holland community honors long-time Tulip Time vendor with brain cancer

Posted at 10:10 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-08 22:39:20-04

HOLLAND, Mich. -- Since 1929, the Tulip Time Festival has drawn thousands of people from around the world to the city of Holland.

For a majority of that time, May's Popcorn has been a cornerstone of the festival.  Now, the woman who runs that shop is getting ready to step down after dealing with a difficult year.

Clara Mayhanagian, 89, has run the shop at Tulip Time for 70 years, and says her family has been selling caramel corn in West Michigan since 1921.

Mayhanagian, who goes by Clare, has spent a lifetime bringing smiles to people who come to the festival. On Tuesday, however, the community made her smile instead.

Over the years, Clare has made friends with countless people at Tulip Time.  Everyone who's met her knows she calls them 'honey,' it's what she does.

"It's heartwarming, honey. I miss everybody. I've known these people for years when the Holland festival came," she said.

Last year Clare and her family received the devastating news that she has brain cancer.

"She formed a couple tumors, CNS lymphoma in the frontal lobe of her brain," Clare's daughter Debra Mayhanagian said.

Her family says Clare tried chemo and radiation, but has decided to not have any further treatment after the cancer came back. Instead, she's choosing quality of life in her last days.

"Her name is Clara and it means 'light,'" Debra said. "And I would truly say that throughout her life she has truly been a beam of light to every place she's gone and every person she's ever met. "

To celebrate what could be her last Tulip Time Festival, they took her in a trolley around Holland on Tuesday, visiting vendors who have become like family to her.

"Now it's her time to enjoy this. She's never really seen Tulip Time except through the window of a food wagon, and now she's going to," said Clare's friend Tom Wentzel.

Clare also got to see the Dutch dancers at Centennial Park, something that's always been on her wish list.

"The clomping dancers. She's going to be able to view them right in the park where she's never been able to go because she's always been on 8th Avenue right behind the counter serving all the customers," Debra said.

It was a scene that brought a lasting smile to Clare's face.

“I miss it. I miss it. I miss all these beautiful people," she said.