Ernest “Ernie” Dunlevie passed peacefully at age 96 on Oct. 7 at his home in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., surrounded by his family. Ernie was born Aug. 3, 1917, in New York City, the only son of Adelaide and George Dunlevie. Ernie spent most of his youth in East Orange, N.J. In 1936, after graduating from East Orange High School, Ernie and his mother drove across country to Palm Springs to visit artist friends who spent their winters in the desert. The allure of the area captured them both and they never left.
Ernie was a tireless worker throughout his life. When World War II broke out in 1941, Ernie enlisted in the Army Air Corps, trained to fly B-17 and B-29 aircrafts in Salina, Kan., as well as Denver, and was then stationed in India. Ernie flew bombing missions ranging throughout China, Japan and Formosa (now Taiwan). On May 1, 1944, his plane was shot down over Burma. After parachuting out at an altitude of 18,000 feet, Ernie and his crew were separated in the jungle, but later found by natives and reunited at a nearby English tea plantation. For the Burma mission and in recognition of his exemplary service during the war, Ernie was decorated with the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross.
When the war ended, Ernie got his real estate license. Over his 68-year real estate career, Ernie served many grateful clients including celebrities such as Cary Grant, Fernando Lamas, Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner, many became lifelong friends. His success in business led him to serve in many leadership roles in the real estate industry and community, including president of the Palm Springs and Southern California Board of Realtors, Southern California Golf Association, as well as numerous other boards.
In the late 1950s, Ernie along with Ray Ryan developed Bermuda Dunes Country Club, which included Bermuda Dunes Airport and Bermuda Dunes Racquet Club (now Murph’s Gaslight Restaurant). In developing Bermuda Dunes, Ernie met Clark Gable and they became close friends. Clark maintained a home at Bermuda Dunes until his passing, where Ernie served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
Ernie co-founded what was initially called the Palm Springs Classic golf tournament, first played in 1960. In 1965, Ernie and others convinced Bob Hope to add his name to the tournament, thus creating the Bob Hope Desert Classic now known as the Humana Challenge. During the tournament’s history, Ernie served as Classic president five times, met and befriended presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford.
When Arnold Palmer played in the inaugural 1960 tournament, he and Ernie formed what would become a lifelong friendship. Ernie was privileged to accompany Arnold on many memorable trips, one of which took them around the world. As Arnold told the Dunlevie family, “He was my buddy; we did it all.”
Ernie was instrumental in the establishment of the Eisenhower Medical Center and proudly served on the Eisenhower Medical Center’s original board and received numerous awards and recognition for his life of charitable accomplishments.
In 1950, Ernie married Taylor Bandlow and had four sons; they divorced in 1970. In 1971, Ernie met his beloved wife-to-be, Joy Nicholson. Ernie and Joy married in 1982, and they enjoyed a special and devoted love for each other for many wonderful years. Their shared love of travel led them on many memorable trips and cruises throughout the world, often with good friends. Ernie enjoyed skiing, a love of flying his own plane, sailing his boat to Catalina and spending time with his family. Ernie was an avid skier who owned one of the original condos at Manor Vail and was a founding member of Camp Robbers of Vail.
He is survived by Joy, loving stepmother to his four sons, Jon, Scott (Bill Kelley), Michael (Anne), Geoffrey (Rhonda); six grandchildren, Ian, Rachel, Jack, Connor, Taylor Dunlevie and Cole Schamber; sister-in-law Sheila Stirling; brother-in-law Tony Nicholson; former daughter-in-law Donna; niece Shane Lalonde (Larry); and his beloved dog, Raffles.
Ernie will always be remembered for being charming, gracious, friendly, having a fabulous sense of humor and sharp wit. Ernie was a remarkable human being who was loved and will be missed by all who knew him.
A memorial service will be held in the Annenberg Auditorium at Eisenhower Medical Center on Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Eisenhower Medical Center or the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley.