Ernest Dondis, obituary

Fri, 05/07/2021 - 12:45pm

CORONA DEL MAR, California — Ernest Dondis, born June 10, 1924, passed away on peacefully on April 17, 2021 in his home surrounded by family.

Known as Ernie by his friends and Dr. Dondis by his students, Ernest was born in Rockland, Maine when a loaf of bread cost 9 cents. He was the youngest son of James and Ida Dondis, who settled in the area along with other family members and were prominent among the Jewish families who helped to establish the Adas Yoshuron Synagogue. James Dondis opened a candy store to supply patrons of the Strand movie house next door, operated by his brother, and used his four sons, Ernest, Phillip, Joseph, and Maurice, to deliver candy supplies for movie goers. His sisters Ruth, Edith, and Bertha helped mother Ida bake her weekly batch of fresh bread for the family and attend to other household needs. Ernest attended Hebrew School and received his bar mitzvah, practicing the moral tenets of Judaism to choose goodness and help others in need throughout his life.

After he graduated from Rockland High School with honors, Ernest joined his older brothers and one sister to serve his country during World War II. He enlisted in the Marines, was assigned to the 4th Division, fought in the significant battle of Iwo Jima, and helped defend Hawaii before receiving an honorable discharge. During his time in military service, Ernie met his first partner, Robert Ross. They moved to Pasadena and Ernest indulged his ambition to become an actor by training at the Pasadena Playhouse. However, he also wanted to further his education and ultimately earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961 with honors.

Then utilizing his PhD, Dr. Dondis worked for the California Department of Mental Hygiene, conducting specialized psychological testing and developing significant understanding of abnormal psychology. This professional expertise led to an appointment at the California State University, Fullerton’s Department of Psychology. Dr. Dondis taught courses on abnormal psychology along with the history of psychology for many years, advancing to the position of Department Director before he retired in the 1990s. Dr. Dondis is known for co-authoring (along with Robert Ross and Jim Giampiccolo) a groundbreaking book, The Lives of the Mentally Retarded, which helped to develop knowledge in the field of developmental disability.

In 1971, Ernest started a relationship with Frank Fiorillo, which led to 48 years of love, companionship, and magic. The couple developed joint interests in gardening, opera, good food, and travel. Ernest, in particular, had a green thumb and loved flowers, so that extravagant blossoms of orchids and many other special flowers filled their garden. In addition to his many skills, Ernest was a highly accomplished pastry chef and loved photography, taking many beautiful pictures to share with family and friends.

Living life to the fullest, Ernest and Frank joined a wine society, a gourmet food club, and traveled widely throughout Europe, enjoying opera, theater, and the arts both abroad and locally in southern California.

Ernest was a wonderful stepfather to Frank’s three children, providing an open home that has left many happy memories of good times for the family, especially of the delicious pies or cakes that were always ready at the end of a family dinner. Extended family and friends appreciated his welcoming and affectionate manner, while his sweet disposition made it easy to care for him over time. Ernest was valued as a mentor, teacher, friend, father, partner, and much more.

He is survived by one sister, his loving partner Frank, his three stepchildren, their three children, along with many nieces, nephews, great nephews, great nieces, and cousins throughout the United States.

A graveside service will be held Wednesday, May 19, 2021, at 11:30 a.m., at the Jewish Cemetery, Ingraham Drive, Owls Head.

For those who wish to join the service virtually, please visit Dr. Dondis’ Book of Memories at, click on the Photos and Videos Tab and then Watch Webcast.

Local arrangements are in the care of Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, 110 Limerock Street, Rockland.