Tom DeGoede

Tulip Town co-owner Tom DeGoede died Sunday at the age of 85.

MOUNT VERNON — Tom DeGoede, who owned Tulip Town with his wife Jeannette and helped start the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, died Sunday at 85.

“There’s a good side to it,” Jeannette DeGoede said Wednesday. “Tom did not want to move off this farm. That was his love. He really got to stay until his last day.”

Tulips were part of Tom DeGoede’s heritage, Jeannette DeGoede said. He emigrated from the Netherlands to Canada in 1956, then moved to Skagit County to grow tulip bulbs with his brothers.

The idea for a tulip festival began in the early 1980s when the DeGoedes started offering small tours and selling bouquets at their farm, Jeannette DeGoede said.

“When we saw that people enjoyed it, Tom put a plank down so people could come and walk in,” she said. “That’s how it started and it slowly grew.”

Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde are the two remaining growers of the four that were in business when the festival started in 1984.

Leo Roozen, president of Washington Bulb Company and partner at RoozenGaarde, said the DeGoedes threw their support behind the Tulip Festival even before it began, helping to make it what it is today.

Roozen said Tom DeGoede was a role model in all aspects of his life.

“He was a first-class person in any way you’d want to look at it, as a person, a business person, as a friend,” Roozen said.

Throughout the festival’s 35 years, Jeannette DeGoede said her husband was passionate about trying out new flower varieties and field designs.

“Tom was delighted because he always liked to show tulips off because he was so proud of them,” she said.

Tulip Festival Executive Director Cindy Verge said Tom DeGoede did work to improve the festival that most visitors wouldn’t notice, such as upgrading Tulip Town’s parking area.

He also helped bring in a new system from the Netherlands to plant and harvest bulbs, and traveled to Europe to attend world tulip summits, she said.

“He was a major proponent of the Tulip Festival establishing international relationships,” Verge said.

She said she remembers that during the festival, Tom DeGoede would often wear a hat that read “Mayor of Tulip Town.”

“He was one of those people that when you saw him, you smiled,” she said.

Jeannette DeGoede said her husband was active in supporting his church, the Sacred Heart Church in La Conner, and Friendship House in Mount Vernon.

Most of all, he loved the farming community.

“That was one of the things he wanted was for everybody to wear jeans at his funeral,” she said. “It’s a farmer’s funeral.”

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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