Darlene Marion Erickson passed from this earth on February 6, 2021.
Darlene was born on April 4, 1933 on a farm in Indianola, Iowa. It was the midst of the Great Depression, and her mother Martha Mary Englehardt, moved Darlene, her older brother George, and her older sister Maxine to Des Moines, where the family often shared just one room. Martha faced many obstacles and was forced to send Darlene’s oldest brother Harold to live with his maternal grandmother in Minnesota, but Darlene always appreciated how hard her mother worked to provide for her family.
Like a living history book, Darlene was full of stories about the many places she lived as a child in the 1930s and 40s. She grew up near downtown, where she remembered going to a soup kitchen, seeing FDR in a parade, and riding the streetcar. Being free to explore and roam the historic landmark buildings downtown launched an adventurous spirit that continued into her senior years. When her family moved to rental houses near the Des Moines River they survived a house fire and a flood. They moved to Colorado for a short period and then settled in Ottumwa, Iowa, where Darlene completed junior high and high school. These were happy years for Darlene; she attended numerous high school reunions with her class of 1951 and kept in touch with her friends over the years.
Soon after high school graduation, Darlene moved back to her beloved hometown of Des Moines, where she began a forty-four year clerical career. She was a reliable and responsible woman who went years without missing a single day of work. She never owned a car and always used public transportation, and even when the bus halted due to snowstorms in the winter, she would walk, refusing to let weather stop her from getting to her job and home to her family.
Darlene married Robert Leyston Erickson and had three children: Tim Erickson (Deanna Erickson), Karla Erickson (Michael Kurjan), and Shelly Gauger (Carl Gauger II). When Darlene found herself single with a young family, she forged ahead to provide for the three young children despite the difficulties. She never could have done all of it without the help of her mother, Martha, who took care of the home and children while Darlene worked. Together, they created a loving and stable home and the children never heard Darlene complain. Her family was her world and they saw her sacrifice and commitment.
Even though money was always scarce, Darlene made sure that they had what they needed: she always bought new clothes at the beginning of each new school year, even if it meant having to put them on layaway, and always made holidays special. Summertime included field trips to museums, family camp at the Salvation Army camp in Boone, Iowa, swimming lessons and activities at the nearby community center, church community, and nearness to schools, libraries, and good neighbors and friends. Darlene bought a house for herself and her children and enjoyed the stability of living on Third Street for over fifty years. She displayed unconditional love to her children during their teen transitional years, and as they reached adulthood, she was there to listen and encourage as they formed families of their own.
In her lifetime, Darlene’s family grew to nine grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren who adored and admired her. She loved being engaged in their lives and they could always depend on receiving cards from her for birthdays, holidays, and important life events. They really had fun with their playful, chatty, and joyful grandma whose memorable belly laugh, house full of knick knacks and flowers inside and out, and love of music and jitterbug dancing will never be forgotten. She seemed to never get old and remained spunky for nearly all of her life, participating in many adventures with each of her children’s families.
Although known for her softness, her family also remembers that she was self-reliant, strong-willed, and stood up for what she believed in. It was not in Darlene’s nature to give up; she never backed away from hardships and was proud to be a survivor of cancer. She set a lasting example for her family, always spreading positive energy, displaying loyalty to her people, and extending help and love to others. Her selflessness, generosity, genuineness, constancy, and determination have left a permanent mark.
Darlene’s life was all about people. She was outgoing, encouraging, and a good listener. She made friends easily, from new family members to classmates, neighbors, co-workers, and church friends. After retiring in 1995, Darlene wanted to continue being active and helping others and volunteered in many capacities: serving as a Front Desk Ambassador at Mercy Hospital, assisting at her church clinic for young mothers, moderating her church’s women’s group, and attending Church Women United meetings.
Even though her family had to remain distant in her last days due to COVID-19, Darlene was blessed with the loving care of the staff at the Iowa Senior Living Center in Des Moines. They did a wonderful job of helping her children and grandchildren keep in contact with her. At one point, near the end, a nurse carried around Darlene’s iPad so that she could FaceTime her children when Darlene was alert. Darlene’s family is full of thanks to the entire staff for the terrific work that they perform every day.
Darlene rested in Jesus as her Savior, believing in His offer of forgiveness in her favorite verse, John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God watched over her all of her life and she took comfort from the words of Psalm 23, that he was her shepherd and she didn’t need to fear because he was always with her. Darlene now has a lasting home with Jesus. Our loss, her gain.