My Neighbor Francis A. J. Ianni

My sister asked me about the people we used to live near as a child, the Iannis. We never knew much about them but they always seemed really cool and mysterious. Every now and then they’d drive down our dead-end street in their Land Rover (They had a Land Rover waaay before it was cool to have one). Mr and Mrs were both very fair skinned with white hair. I sometimes envisioned them as vampires holed up in their castle or some-such but the reality was that they were always very nice, if private. Their home certainly held terrific fascination. At the end of our dead-end street, the blacktop changes to cobble stone. The beginning of the driveway is saddled with stone pillars that hold hinges to what used to be a gate. About 15 yards down the road, there was a small house that looked in disrepair; a peep in the window showed a rustic interior. I couldn’t ever tell if it was a storage place or crazy crowded guest house. Go down the road another 20 yards and you come to the house. I only remember going in once… it was with my folks. They had all kinds of cool adult stuff. There were stuffed animals (a bear? My memory fades), an indoor waterfall fountain, lots of dark hues. I remember that the two of them always looked like they were going off on some awesome, grown-up adventure in that Land Rover of theirs. They both had a smile that conveyed intelligence, worldliness, and adventurousness.

I did a little research and found a couple things. Mr. Ianni wrote, among other things The Search for Structure. It’s curious that the first words of the book are “The lives of adolescents hold a fascination for all of us.” In a manner, we were those adolescents.

The Teachers College website reports, “Dr. Francis A. J. Ianni is Professor Emeritus of Education at Teachers College Columbia Univesity. He earned his degrees from Penn State, completing his B.S. in 1949, his A.M. in 1950, and his Ph.D. 1952.”

Most curiously, the Teachers College article mentions:

Dr. Ianni suggested that immigrants from Italy and their children lacked an ethnic identity based on their common national ancestry when they came to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In his view, when they eventually acquired the consciousness of being Italian, such an outcome was “an invention of the new world” (202). Ianni’s interpretation of the changes in Italian Americans’ ethnicity resulting from their interaction with the adopted society can be easily placed in a broader perspective with implications for other immigrant communities in the US as well.

Yes, I understand and feel that. But it’s ok.

His obituary guest book appears here


  1. muffin says:

    kevin and I used to go back there, often, and go in those buildings…all but the main house.
    the one immediately through the gate to the right was a bar and in it was a coffee table made of a coffin and a skeleton from the ceiling! loads of other crazy stuff that kept us going back to check it all out!!
    the doors had no real locks, they were like an old swiss village from heidi…hook latch doors so you pushed down on the latch and it popped open….remember the wolves?!?!

  2. lee says:

    Update: He was as cool as all that. Indiana Jones had nothing on him.
    I just happened upon his obituary wherein he was just as badass as I conjectured as a 10 year old boy. You sir, continue to be an inspiration. Thank you.

    IANNI–Dr. Francis A.J., of Atlantic Highlands, NJ died on Monday, December 2, following a brief illness. The author of numerous books and articles, Dr. Ianni was best known for his break-through study of organized crime, A Family Business, published in 1972. Subsequent works included Black Mafia, published in 1974, and The Search for Structure, published in 1989. Dr. Ianni was born on March 29, 1926, in Wilmington, Delaware to Italian immigrant parents. From early childhood on he strived to acquire knowledge, both through life experience and formal education. He joined the US Navy in 1943 and after a three year tour of active duty in the Pacific Theater, entered the Naval Reserves where he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Dr. Ianni received B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology from Pennsylvania State University. His multi-faceted professional career included positions in academia: Associate Professor of Anthropology and Psychology at Russell Sage College, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and Professor of Anthropology and Psychology at University College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he conducted several expeditions to explore remote regions and study the nomadic cultures that inhabited them. Ultimately, Dr. Ianni joined the faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University, where he taught graduate courses in the social sciences and organizational theory and served as Director of the Horace Mann Lincoln Institute. Upon retiring from Columbia University, Dr. Ianni was named Professor Emeritus. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Dr. Ianni served as Associate Commissioner for Research in the U.S. Office of Education. A graduate of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, he maintained a successful private practice as a psychoanalyst in New York City for many years. Dr. Ianni was preceded in death by Marguerite B. Ianni, his former wife and the mother of his sons, Juan B. Ianni, Anthony M. Ianni, and Andrea (Andrew) D. Ianni. He also was predeceased by wife Elizabeth Reuss-Ianni and two sisters, Dolores Headley and Rita Cirillo. He is survived by his wife, Nina Kasdon Ianni, his sons, his brother, James A. Ianni, and granddaughters Lydia, Malyka, Nora, Caroline, and Haleigh as well as numerous extended family members throughout the U.S. and Italy.

    Published in The New York Times on Dec. 10, 2013
    Photos from his obituary page, the first labeled “Dinner in 2012”, that’s him on the right. Second labelled “The Ianni Boys”

  3. Anthony Ianni says:

    You guys are speaking about my dad! I just came across this and can easily see how it would be a cool place to check out. His sense of adventure was always there – we lived in Africa for a time because of his adventurous spirit.

  4. lee says:

    Anthony, first I have to apologize about my writing style in this post. It doesn’t convey the sense of excellence I had about your dad and his mysterious home at the end of our street when I was a boy. I should write much more about the home, that little house, the wolves they kept and my visits there, getting my boots stuck in the muck near their house, the polywogs in their swamp, the bird sanctuary behind their house, the snow drifts in their driveway that stayed til late May (falsely rumored to cover graves!), their indomitable taste in art, their mysterious Maryland license plates (I see that you are writing from the DC area!), his smile…

    There are many “big little things” that make up a childhood. Your father certainly had an effect on my life.

  5. Anthony Ianni says:


    No need for any apology regarding your writing. In fact, the style captured the excitement of your childhood memory. My father would be thrilled at your eye for adventure (investigating the place)and being cool enough to be impressed!

    The wolves were named Romulus and Remus. There was an ocelot named Fang, as well. That was before any regular cats. I was one of my father’s workers in laying the driveway out. The little house was a bar with a myriad of objects displaying their eclectic tastes. Regarding the melting snow – did you check thoroughly for graves? Or that unbeatable swamp?

    I appreciated your comment regarding my dad’s smile. As a son (he has three) I saw him through both the eyes of a child and someone realizing he really was a badass in his accomplishments. It’s harder for the child to appreciate the impression a parent has on others. The “big little things” that make up our childhood shape our lives continuously. You and I share similar memories from different perspectives. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have in trying to unravel the mysterious vampire I called dad!

  6. frederick t martens says:

    I too remember your Dad and Liz, his then wife as charismatic, adventuresome and bold. Fritz was a mentor to me, taking a nascent student of organized crime and expanding his (my) way of thinking about its genesis and resilience. Having had many a dinner in that stone house at the end of the lane in West Milford, I was often greeted by these eclectic pair of transplanted “New Yorkers” to a sumptuous Italian dinner. I too was met by his wolves, which were the subject of an anthropological study: Can wolves be domesticated. Touching Liz one day (at her direction), I remember the wolves going crazy, essentially wanting to tear my throat out. It was Fritz who introduced to Fred Ferber, an environmentalist who too was an eclectic and unique individual in his own right. Thank you Fritz for the many memories. You were three lucky children…Frederick T. Martens (973-207-8878)

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