From One Legend to Another

The Marvelous 'Mrs. D' and the Man She Mentored

“There are heroes and then there are legends; heroes get remembered but legends never die.” -Boney Kapoor

Ernie Doose never did well in school and was shy growing up. “I went to Dixie College (now Dixie State University) in the late 1960s as a lost soul and was soon ready to give up and head home.” That’s when he met Roene DiFiore, who helped him find his confidence and develop his love for the arts. “She was the inspiration who gave me a direction to take my life’s work,” says Ernie.      

In her time, Roene Bigler DiFiore (1921-1990), fondly known as “Mrs. D,” established the Dixie College Program Bureau, the goodwill ambassadors of Dixie, of which Ernie became an integral part. Her legendary spirit and her legacy, reflect her many talents she wholeheartedly gave to thousands of students and community devotees. They toured the West, presenting “The World of Music” to enthusiastic audiences. Of her impact, one observer stated, “Ernie was blessed to have two mothers: one to give him life and one to give him purpose for life.” From the day Mrs. D took Ernie under her wing, he never looked back.

A Square Peg in a Round Hole

Doose spent his formative years being told he was dumb, stupid and an idiot who would never amount to anything in life. When Mrs. D came into his life she could see something in Ernie no one, seemingly, had seen before: Ernie was artistic, creative and just needed to be shown a different way of learning.

He says, “I think my strongest memory from my youth was always feeling like a square peg who never could fit into the round hole of society. When I found my talent in the arts it gave me purpose.”

More Than a Half-Century in the World of Entertainment

Ernie has enjoyed a wide-ranging career as, actor, singer, dancer, director, producer, costume designer, make-up artist, teacher— and the list goes on.

 He says, “Like most performers, that first time you step onto a stage and you see the audience jump to their feet with that thunderous roar of appreciation, it’s as if it inspires you for the rest of your life’s work.”

To prepare for his life’s work, Ernie studied theatre arts and music at various Utah universities, including Dixie State University in St. George, Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Weber State University in Ogden and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Why so many universities? The rumor is, “I liked what they taught!” For example, if a course at another school captured his interest, he would make a temporary switch for a semester. He was always looking for the next opportunity to hone his artistic skills and enhance his ability to freely express his creativity.

“Some of the best advice I received a long time ago is ‘don’t limit yourself,’” says Ernie. He was awarded a degree from the University of Utah.

As an entertainer, Ernie has maintained a fast, passionate pace, travelling the world and working with more than 200 productions. He spent several years living and acting in New York City, going on national tours, performing in night clubs, participating in summer stock theatrical productions, and taking to the dinner-theatre circuits. Regionally, Ernie has performed with Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, Egyptian Theatre in Park City, and summer stock at Lagoon Opera House, Green Street and Pink Garter Theatre in Jackson Hole.  

Offstage, he has worked as a costume designer and make-up artist on countless stage productions, feature films, movies of the week, television series and advertising campaigns. For five years he owned and operated “Ernie’s Theatre-Restaurant” in St. George, and spent several years as wardrobe supervisor at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City.

The Roene B. DiFiore Center

To honor his life-changing mentor, Ernie opened the Roene B. DiFiore Center for Arts and Education in St. George, in 2012. The DiFiore Center, a non-profit 501(c) (3), is an artistic resource for students of all ages, teachers and parents, and an advocate for the arts in southern Utah. The center connects people to vibrant artistic and creative ventures through classes, workshops, lessons and events.

Under the umbrella of the DiFiore Center is the organization called Artistic Resource for Teachers and Students, known as A.R.T.S. Inc., for which Ernie serves as president and chief executive officer. He says, “Through the fine arts, it is our objective to see that all students leave grades K-12 displaying competency over challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, foreign language, economics, art, history and geography.” He adds, “The greatest responsibility we have as a society is to educate our children and give them a well-rounded education—including the arts.”

Relative to arts funding, Ernie says: “When a community gives support to the arts it shows they care about the culture, soul, and the preservation of artistic human connection.” Cindy Still, Ernie’s wife, has been the DiFiore center’s foremost volunteer for the past seven years over grant writing, and the center has been instrumental in providing resources to help a number of organizations flourish.

One arts promoter, Summer Belnap Robertson, tells of Ernie and Cindy’s impact: “When St. George Dance Company was just starting out, Ernie was instrumental in encouraging me to grow a dance company. Ernie is so friendly and accepting, and he always gives a smile and a big hug—and is always someone you just want to be around. He gave me feedback, reassurance and support in many ways. . . I will always appreciate him and forever consider Ernie and Cindy my good friends. Ernie’s door is always open.”

Chewi Lockhart, comedy theater advocate, says, “So U Comedy Theater would not be in existence without Ernie. He truly helped us get our organization off the ground.”

The Roene DiFiore Program Bureau Award

Through music and the fine arts Ernie remains passionate about making a difference, even if he does it one child at a time.

 “Some of my most memorable responses to what we do is when young students tell me something I did or a performance I was involved with helped them find their path in life, much like Roene B. DiFiore did for me.”

For emulating the qualities Mrs. D instilled in Program Bureau members, including teamwork, comradery, confidence, charisma, musicianship and goodwill, Ernie received the 2017 Roene DiFiore Program Bureau Award. Truly, he carries on the legacy of the life-loving ambassador to the arts, Roene B. DiFiore.

That said, Ernie’s never-ending goal is to help that struggling, square-pegged individual fit into the round hole of society.

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