ROCKLAND — Edith Dondis sat in a chair on the porch of her home Saturday, regaling visitors with stories of life on the Tillson Avenue peninsula in Rockland, her home for the past 100 years.

Friends, members of the Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt post of the American Legion, and congregants of the Ada Yoshuron Synagogue honored Dondis on her 100th birthday at the home where she was born June 13, 1920. The house, located in the center of downtown Rockland, is the last remaining house in the downtown and is now surrounded by commercial buildings.

Edith Dondis, left, is honored Saturday on her 100th birthday. Her friend Arlene Edwards Montgomery is on the right. Stephen Betts/The Courier-Gazette

Kathleen Ross said she got to know Dondis when she helped her with gardening in her yard. Now she is one of the many members of the community who watch over her.

The shopkeepers who have Main Street stores adjacent to Dondis’ well-kept home keep an eye on her and stop by to see how she is doing, Ross said. The shutdown from COVID-19 has decreased the number of visitors she sees, particularly when the shops were closed. A woman who rents an apartment in the nearby Thorndike complex also keeps an eye out for Dondis’ well-being by seeing if her newspaper is picked up each day.

Among the well-wishers Saturday was longtime friend Arlene Edwards Montgomery.

“She is the most wonderful woman I have ever met. She can name every person who lived on this street,” said Montgomery, whose father ran the legendary Edwards Ice Cream shop, which operated adjacent to Dondis’ home for decades.

Dondis babysat Montgomery, who is now 90, and the two have remained friends over all those years.

Dondis signed up for the WAVES in November 1942, the year after the United States entered World War II. She was sent to receive training in Stillwater, Oklahoma, before being assigned to the naval district headquarters in New York City.

She was encouraged to enter the service by an uncle who had become naturalized by serving in the military. Dondis said she also wanted to serve because she knew of the atrocities being committed against the Jews in Europe by the Nazis.

She handled communications about arrivals and departures of ships and personnel, and communications about sightings of German submarines. She said she kept track of where her siblings were serving.

Her brother Maurice joined up first and served on the same destroyer for four years, in both the European and Pacific theaters of war. Her brother Philip was stationed along the coast of the United States during the war. Brother Joseph, who had been a junior at the University of Maine, signed up and saw combat in Okinawa. And her brother Ernest saw combat in Iwo Jima.

All four survived the war.

An illness cut Edith Dondis’ service shorter than planned. She returned to Rockland to care for her mother after two years in the WAVES.

“When we got out of the service, I and several other women went to join the American Legion but they wouldn’t let us,” Dondis said.

Post Commander Shawn Driscoll rectified that when he presented Dondis with a formal membership to the post. Russell Wolfertz from the American Legion post pointed out that Dondis was born only a few months after the post formed.

The Adas Yoshuron Synagogue also presented Dondis with a formal, framed lifetime membership to the synagogue, of which she was a founding member.

Dondis recalled her early years when Tillson Avenue was a melting pot filled with homes, many of which had been grand in their earlier days, as well as shops. She said Tillson Avenue was a community of its own with people of every nationality, and every language.

She said during the Great Depression in the 1930s no one in the neighborhood had money, but everyone watched out for one another.

Dondis worked for nearly 30 years as office manager and bookkeeper at Rockland snowplow maker Fisher Engineering, retiring in 1985.

Her mother had arrived in the United States in 1900 at the age of 10 from the Poland-Russia area. Her father had come as an infant in the late 1800s from the Ukraine.

Her father also ran a candy store adjacent to the historic Strand Theatre. Her uncle and later a cousin, Meredith Dondis, operated the Strand for nearly 80 years.

Turning 100 has slowed her down some but she continues to remain active. She has a driver’s license and a car but only drives it herself in the summer, and only for short distances.

Rockland’s fire department had a parade of trucks pass by her house Saturday afternoon. The City Council voted during the past week to present her a plaque on her birthday.

Wolfertz recounted a story of when he was at her home and found out that the smoke alarms did not work. He called the fire department, which sent a couple of firefighters down to install new ones.

“Edith mentioned how handsome the men were and said if she had known they performed this service, she would have had the alarms replaced a lot sooner,” Wolfertz said.

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