CLAYTON — Frank Ianni’s career was defined by hard work but work worth doing.
The former director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, Mr. Ianni left his post back in the 1980s, but his co-workers have gathered to celebrate his birthday every five years — including in 2021, when he turned 90.
Friends, family and former colleagues honored Mr. Ianni and his achievements Aug. 21 at the Clayton Fire Co.
And if Mr. Ianni is considered the quarterback of a team that has garnered praise for success, then he is a leader who gives credit back to all those who play with him.
“I don’t think for one minute I’m responsible for the achievements of our office,” he said Tuesday. “I always turn it back and point out (that my staff) were the reason. They bought into the program. They committed (themselves) to it.”
During his time as director, Mr. Ianni and his team worked to get laws passed that have become standard 40 years later. His team was responsible for pushing legislation against driving under the influence and offered education on seat belt use, child safety seats and bicycle helmets.
He said he and his co-workers initiated the state’s first sobriety checkpoints, ignition interlock programs, holiday alcohol-awareness initiatives and workshops to teach teens about the dangers of alcohol.
“I literally wrote and got passed drunk-driving laws, seat belt laws,” Mr. Ianni said, noting that he missed out on getting a stricter helmet law for motorcyclists.
“That was not an accomplishment,” he said.
Born in New Castle, Mr. Ianni’s years of service began when he enlisted in the Delaware State Guard at 13, fibbing a bit about his age. He went on to be an active member of the military for more than 30 years.
Dedicating his life to service was a no-brainer for Mr. Ianni. “That’s what my life was committed to,” he said.
He earned a bachelor of science from the U.S. Military Academy in 1954 and a master of arts from the University of Virginia in 1966. He also studied at U.S. Command and General Staff College.
Mr. Ianni served in the Delaware National Guard from 1945-50 and was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army by 1954, advancing to major general in 1977.
He also landed the role of OHS director in 1977, being appointed by then-Gov. Pete du Pont. He stayed in that role until 1981.
Calling the OHS crew small but dedicated, Mr. Ianni said his staff were always willing to respond to his request of “let’s get it done.”
“They were super, super people,” he said.
He told the story of designing and installing a sign that read, “First in safety. Buckle up, Delaware,” on Del. 1 near Frederica. He was awarded for the design because of its inclusion of the state’s license plate and the “First State” slogan.
“We Delawareans take great pride in being the First State,” he said. “Those signs are supposed to be good for about 10 years. Well, it’s been there since the 1980s, and it’s still looking good.”
Following his career at OHS, Mr. Ianni went on to serve as an adjunct professor at Goldey-Beacom College, where he taught until he retired in 2000.
He also authored the nonfiction book, “World War One Remembered,” published in 1993.
As for his former staff and their tradition of celebrating his birthday every five years, Mr. Ianni said he continues to be “amazed” by them.
“They took great pride in our accomplishments,” he said. “The fact that they still continue to celebrate my birthday every five years ever since I left that office — I’m always honored by that kind of commitment from them.”