Grandma Dar Puts The Cherry on Top


I will never forget the moment I met Darlene, aka “Grandma Dar.” Tim and I had been dating for about a month, and it was time for me to “meet the family.” Tim asked me to join him for his Aunt Jenny’s birthday party at The Chicken Coop. Little did I know, I was not only going to meet his parents for the first time, but I was also going to meet many of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma and grandpa. The nerves were running high! As we walked into the restaurant those nerves slowly turned into excitement. I was instantly greeted with smiles and hugs. Dar was sitting next to Tim’s parents, and when I introduced myself she pulled me in for a big hug and said, “I’m so happy you’re here.”  I felt so welcomed, and I knew right away that Tim’s family was special.

As time went on, my love for Tim’s family only grew stronger, especially for Grandma Dar. I’ve known for quite some time that I wanted to share Darlene’s story. I saved this post specifically for Mother’s Day because it is a perfect representation of family, love and tradition.

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The last time I was in Fort Dodge, Dar invited Tim’s mother, Debbie, and I over for coffee and coffee cake. As soon as we walked in the door, I noticed the table had been set with colorful plates, coffee mugs, and Dar’s old recipe box.

The recipe box given to Dar at her bridal shower. 

The recipe box given to Dar at her bridal shower. 

Dar asked me what I wanted to know, or where she should begin. I told her, “Let’s start from the beginning.”

Darlene grew up on a farm just outside of Hayfield, Iowa. Her dad, Joe Formanek, was a farmer and one day decided to open up a grocery store in town. Dar remembers helping her dad around the store, cleaning, decorating, and traveling to refill the milk jugs. In fact, this is how her now husband, Hans, caught her eye. Dar would always volunteer to bring empty milk jugs to Garner Creamery as she knew she would likely run into Hans.


Joe Formanek at age 18. 

Joe Formanek at age 18. 

One weekend, Dar and her girlfriend (also named Darlene), went to the Surf Ballroom for a night of dancing. Hans just so happened to be there too. Dar explained it best, “Hans was also at the Surf Ballroom with one of his friends. His friend wanted to dance with the other Darlene, so Hans got stuck dancing with me.”

After that night, Hans would make frequent trips to the Formanek store. Oftentimes he would show up shirtless, which did not please Mrs. Formanek. However, as time went on Dar and Hans became exclusive. After Hans graduated from college, he moved back, got a job, and married Dar a week later on June 4, 1959.

Hans and Darlene, 1959

Hans and Darlene, 1959

In 1960, Hans and Dar moved to Iowa Falls and got pregnant with their first child (Tim’s mother), Debbie. Debbie remembers visiting her grandpa Formanek at the store in Hayfield. She says, “The ice cream and pop coolers were my favorite, besides the penny candy!”

Formanek Store, 1960   

Formanek Store, 1960


Mrs. Formanek was known for her delicious pastries and home cooked meals. Dar and Debbie have carried on some of her favorite recipes, including her famous cinnamon rolls.

When I asked Dar which recipe she wanted to share, she had a hard time deciding, and I could tell why! Dar’s recipe box was filled with cards that had been passed on from friends, relatives, and strangers. The box was so full it could barely shut! Debbie suggested that I share one of her favorite treats, Cherry Squares.


I made these squares this past week, and they are delicious! The recipe makes up to 60 squares, so it is perfect for family and friend gatherings. I highly encourage you to try the Cherry Square recipe with your mother and grandmother. Not only will you make a tasty treat, but you will also make a sweet memory.


Dar's Cherry Squares


1 C butter, softened

2 C sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3 c all-purpose flour

2 cans cherry pie filling

Glaze Ingredients

1 c confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 tablespoons milk    


Preheat oven to 375°

in a larg bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy

Add eggs, one at a time

beat in extracts

Slowly add flour

Spread 3 cups of dough mixture into a greased 15X10X1in. baking pan

Spread with pie filling

Drop remaining dough by teaspoonfuls over filling

bake 35 minutes or until golden brown

cool completely on wire rack

in a small bowl, mix confectioners' sugar, extracts and milk

drizzle glaze over top  


Tori Scarpinato