Obituary of Helen Darlene Flack
H. Darlene (Gifford) Flack 2 March 1933 — 27 January 2022 Rest eternal grant her, O Lord And let light eternal shine upon her. In the cold, late winter of 2 March 1933, Darlene was born to her parents, Bruce and Helen Gifford, in a bedroom on her grandpa and grandma Nelson’s farm near Litchfield, Minnesota. It was in the earlier years of the Great Depression and life was hard on everyone, something fewer and fewer people yet live to remember, and the family shared space and eked out a meager living together. Darlene was the second of two children to Bruce and Helen. Her brother, Bruce, Jr., was born a couple years earlier. Her mother had another daughter, Myrtle, by a previous marriage. Darlene was the last to survive, mostly out of stubbornness perhaps, and she was the youngest. Eventually, Bruce and Helen bought a small farm around a long gravel curve across from Dan Green Slough, south of Terril, Iowa. The family lived there until Bruce and Helen died in the early 1960’s. All of the grandkids remember playing in the grove and “riding horse” on the rusted-brown gas barrels, and climb and eat the apples from the trees in the front by the road. Every trip there meant collecting eggs from the coup, checking on Bessie, the old family cow, and tracing fingers through the old horsehide draped over the back of the couch in the sitting room, its previous owner having only once kicked grandpa, sending him flying across the barn. Occasionally, the chickens had to be thinned and so were scalded, plucked, and dressed in the yard, and everyone went home with several for their freezer. Growing up on that farm, Darlene entered school, eventually graduating valedictorian from Lake Center High School in May 1950, a 2½ story brick building sitting by itself in the country, and associated with what was Lake Township, south of Terril, Iowa. During high school, Darlene was introduced to John A. Flack, a young man five years her senior with wavy, black hair. He came to court her at the farm in his small, cloth-covered airplane, landing it on the gravel road out front. He would take her for rides as their dates. However, they also had to take her older brother Bruce along, until he got airsick. The two married a couple months after she graduated high school on 30 July 1950. John was ticketed for littering as they drove away from the wedding. Evidently, some of the cans and streams had come loose. Darlene and “Johnny,” as she called him, had four children, John Quentin, Kay, Sidney, and Joel. As the family grew, they lived on several farms in Minnesota and Iowa. In one year, they moved from a farm near Litchfield, Minnesota where the milk froze in the three-gallon can sitting on the floor by the Frigidaire, to Florida where Johnny worked on dairy farms, moved to another place in Florida, and then back to Iowa. Darlene protested she couldn’t tolerate the Florida sand fleas. Others might say it was because she missed being near her family, or perhaps because the move south was never her idea. Johnny hated the northern winters. They moved back north. Eventually, Johnny grew tired of farming and began working for the Iowa State Conservation Commission, as it was known then. They moved onto a state compound west and south of Maple Hill, Iowa. After a couple years, Johnny was transferred to Clarion, Iowa where they rented a place five miles north of town with giant pine trees, elm and cherry trees in the front yard, and out buildings, including a chicken coop where they kept Banty hens, and fencing for 4H sheep gotten from grandpa and grandma Gifford in the back. During the two winters they were there, blizzards brought snow so deep, the outbuildings were lost in the drifts, and they had to take the family into town, following a snowplow, to stay with friends until power was restored. After two years there, Johnny stopped working for the State, they purchased a Maid-Rite franchise/teen center in Clarion, called The Teenie-Weenie, and moved the family into the small apartment upstairs. Downstairs in the front, there was a little kitchen with fries to one side, glass doored refrigerators in the middle, a couple booths around the edges, tables under the front windows, and a long Maid-Rite griddle down the center surrounded by a U-shaped counter with stools that swiveled. In the back, on the other side of the restrooms, there were three pool tables, a handful of pinball machines, and a jukebox that played all hours of the day. The local high school had an open campus at lunchtime, and premade orders with names on them were lined up all along the griddle and counter. It was a popular place. After two years, in late August 1968, Darlene and Johnny left the Clarion to move to Oxford, Iowa, near Iowa City, where they bought a home on a great sledding hill in town, and Johnny went back to work for the State. It was here that they lost Quentin and his young fiancée, Mary Lou Eggers in August 1970, a year after the two had graduated high school. Darlene and Johnny, with the two younger boys, had gone back north to visit family in and around Spencer, Iowa. On the way home, they had car trouble with their 1962 Chevy, and Quentin and Mary Lou were going to meet them in Clarion to follow them back to Oxford. Thinking Quentin could introduce Mary Lou to his former school friends, they left early. It was hot, as August can be in Iowa, and they drove with the AC on and the windows up. As it was night the two were sleepy, they pulled off the interstate to sleep at a rest stop. They never woke up. This was how the family discovered Quentin’s car had a factory defect that brought carbon monoxide into the cabin. Right after this tragedy, Johnny was required by his work to move to a facility on “The Southside” of the Coralville Reservoir on the Iowa River, and they sold their house and moved to the country again. They lived there in a house that had previously been the Madison School House, the farthest north satellite school of the Clear Creek Community School system, made from four, one-room country school houses brought together, which Johnny had been required to remodel. About ten years later, the State decided to move them to another house on the north side of the reservoir and tear down the old house. Another year later, Johnny again quit working for the State, started his own business, and they moved to Swisher, Iowa. After the business took off, Johnny convinced Darlene to move south once more, this time to Arkansas. In February 1988, they moved to Beaver Lake, Arkansas. They enjoyed the place and area, but the business didn’t do as well as they’d hoped. Eventually, they downsized and had enough to buy another home in Rogers, Arkansas where they lived until 2004 when they returned to Iowa City, Iowa and semi-retirement. Johnny died there during the December storm of 2007. They were married for 57 years. During all her years, Darlene found purpose in a variety of occupations, homemaker and mother certainly, as with so many women of her era. She did many other things as well. She sold Tupperware out of big, blue Samsonite luggage, waitressed at a truck stop, ran the Teenie-Weenie, taught sewing for Singer, which was always a passion, was bookkeeper and head cashier for many years at Randall’s Foods in Coralville chasing down the last penny of a day, cashiered for Wal-Mart’s Food-4-Less in Bentonville, Arkansas, and finally, at Menards in Iowa City until she called it quits and retired for good. As much as with working, she found meaning in service to her church. Born into the Swedish Lutheran Church, she was an active Lutheran all of her life. Unfortunately, corraling four children whose ages spanned 14 years was not an easy task. And, as they always lived several miles away from their congregation wherever they lived, they were not well known for being on time. But, she always wanted them to sit in the front row. One occasion, as they settled in place, the pastor was heard to say, “Well, the Flacks are here. We can start now.” Darlene was active in most every aspect of her congregational life. One was making the coffee. When it was her turn to fill the urn and get the dark, “Lutheran Wine” ready, it was not a good idea to intervene if she happened to be a little late. That was her job and she would do it. In October 2021, Darlene broke her left femur. She had surgery to repair it, underwent rehab, and convalesced in a local care facility for several weeks. She finally returned home on her son, Joel’s birthday in December, the home she last shared with Johnny, and where she’d lived with her daughter, Kay since after he died. On Friday 21 January 2022, Kay helped her into bed. It was the last she accepted anything to eat, or get up out of it on her own. On Thursday 27 January 2022, Kay and Joel took her to see a doctor, the first office visit she’d had in since August the year before as she had always been reluctant to go and cantankerous about it for years. While in the room waiting for the doctor to come in, her breathing became labored, and then she stopped. Kay and Joel summoned help. She was pronounced dead at 9:32 a.m., managing one last time not to see a doctor. Darlene is preceded in death by her parents, Bruce and Helen Gifford, her stepsister Myrtle, brother Bruce and his wife Shirley, her husband John A. Flack, and her eldest child, John Quentin Flack. She is survived by her daughter Kay Scheetz, sons Sidney and his wife Gail, Joel and his wife Margarita, grandchildren John Z. (wife Clare), Miriam (husband Jose), Daniel (wife Stanzy), Timothy, Andrea, William, and Natalia, five great grandchildren, numerous cousins, nieces and nephews, and friends.