Kenosha-born actor Ameche is buried in Iowa


Dom Ameche is buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery (also known as St. Philomena’s Cemetery), in Asbury, just outside of Dubuque, Iowa.

Ameche was a star of stage, radio, television and film with parts in more than 250 productions and an acting career that spanned nearly 60 years. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of an aging retiree who, with his cronies, discovers a fountain of youth in “Cocoon.”

His most popular roles were radio’s “The Bickersons” (1948), and movies “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell” (1939) and “Trading Places” (1983).

Born in Kenosha

Don was born Dominic Felix Amici on May 31, 1908, in Kenosha to an Italian immigrant father, Felix, and an Irish-German mother, Barbara from Springfield, Ill.

Felix had the family name changed from Amici to Ameche during Don’s childhood.

Don grew up in a violent environment. His father was a bar owner who had owned establishments in Kenosha — one at 213 Howland Ave. (5614 22nd Ave.) — and in LaSalle, Ill.. before Prohibition turned them into soft drink parlors in 1920.

Don told an interviewer in 1988 that his father’s life was brutal, and it scared the hell out the young Ameche.

“I was petrified all the while I was a child. ... It was no fun living with someone who had a revolver in his trousers every day and a poison-tipped stiletto in the house,” Ameche said.

Felix had a few altercations involving the police. When Don was about 7 years old, he witnessed a man being savagely beaten at the bar by another man. Felix threw both of the men out of his saloon.

A Kenosha Evening News front page story on July 21, 1909, tells of Felix getting into a fight with Peter Aceto, who drew a razor on Felix.

The two were seriously injured, and Aceto’s wife, Mary, who stepped into the fight to separate the pair, also got cut.

The cause of the conflict? Felix was Aceto’s landlord, and knowing it was payday, had come to collect the rent.

From Dom to Don

According to “Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid” by Ben Ohmart, Ameche was usually called “Dom” by the family, but most of the non-Italian neighborhood kids were unfamiliar with the sound and usually called him “Don.” It stuck.

When he was 11 years old, Don and his younger brother Louis were shipped out to St. Berchman’s Academy, an all-boys boarding school in Marion, Iowa. Don soon got the reputation as an academic and a hellion.

It was there that he got his first part in a play: “The Blessed Virgin,” a Christmas production.

Unfortunately, he got a black eye shortly before the day of the performance, much to the dismay of the nuns at St. Berchman’s.

Summers in Kenosha

At the age of 13 he moved on to Columbia Academy in Dubuque for high school, and later to Columbia University there. He would come home to Kenosha each summer and work, sometimes at the Nash plant or as a ditch digger.

He met the love of his life, Honore Prendergast, in Dubuque when they were both 14. Although he dated many others, “Honey” always stayed on his mind. They married 10 years after meeting.

Their relationship had its high and lows, and though the couple separated, they never divorced.

Honey died in 1986 and was buried in the family plot at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery.

Ameche died at age 85 on Dec. 6, 1993, at his son’s home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his ashes were buried next to Honey.