By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The late Jim Iannone, a political leader and businessman in Sea Isle City, was known for helping people out and getting things done in the community, but he didn’t want to take credit for it, his friends recalled.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio said he would ask Iannone from time to time about the possibility of naming a local street after him to recognize his contributions to the city, but Iannone would flatly refuse such an honor.
Iannone, who died last year at the age of 73, now has something named in his honor far more significant than a street – a nearly $1 million fishing pier and kayak launch site that graces Sea Isle’s bayfront
“He’s hating this day. He’s absolutely hating that we’re giving him this recognition,” Desiderio jokingly told the crowd Saturday during the formal dedication of the Jim Iannone Fishing Pier & Kayak Launch site.
The emotional ceremony included Iannone’s wife, Barbara, his children and 10 grandchildren. One of his granddaughters, 6-year-old Vivian McDonald, held an oversized pair of scissors to help Desiderio cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the project.
Barbara Iannone noted that her husband came to Sea Isle in the 1950s with his family and “immediately fell in love with the sleepy, little shore town.”
In remarks to the crowd, she said Jim “would be beyond proud” to have the new project named in his honor.
New Jersey Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen and Cape May County Commissioners Jeff Pierson and Will Morey presented Barbara Iannone with a plaque and proclamation to recognize her husband’s achievements. Sea Isle City Council members William Kehner, Mary Tighe, Jack Gibson and J.B. Feeley also honored the Iannone family.
Iannone was a political leader, realtor and businessman. Before Sea Isle switched to the mayor-Council form of government in 2007, he served as a city commissioner for 22 years. He was first elected in 1985.
Desiderio recalled the close friendship and political partnership he and the congenial Iannone established to help promote and nurture the city, even though Desiderio is a Republican and Iannone was a Democrat.
“He was someone who really, really cared about helping people,” Desiderio said.
After his election as commissioner, Iannone variously oversaw Sea Isle’s departments of Public Works, Revenue and Finance and Public Safety.
In addition, he served as the director of Recreation and Tourism for Sea Isle, according to his obituary.
He was instrumental in establishing the Sea Isle City Tourism Commission and the Friends of Tourism. He initiated the development of the Sea Isle City Marina project and of Excursion Park.
Desiderio said the fishing pier and kayak launch project will serve as a lasting tribute to Iannone’s contributions to the city’s recreation programs and the rest of the community.
“Jim Iannone was the best of the best,” Desiderio said.
Meanwhile, the new boardwalk-style pier juts 132 feet out into the bay near 60th Street, next to the city’s Dealy Field athletic and recreation complex.
The center section serves as a fishing pier. Another section includes a “passive pier” featuring a covered pavilion.
There is also a floating dock for a handicap-accessible launch area for kayaks and paddleboards.
Hannah Griffin and Mia Recchia, both 12 years old, stood on the launch platform and said they couldn’t wait to get their paddleboards into the water.
“I got a paddleboard for Christmas and I’m excited to launch it here,” Mia said.
Mia and Hannah, who both live in Broomall, Pa., spend their summer vacations in Sea Isle with their families.
“I really like this, because now I won’t have to go down to Avalon,” Hannah said of being able to launch her paddleboard in Sea Isle.
Crowded with upscale homes, Sea Isle’s bayfront offers few places where kayakers, paddleboarders and anglers have public access to the water. The new project gives the public a prime location to enjoy the back bays.
From the pier, picturesque views of the bays and wetlands teeming with wildlife unfold for miles in the distance.
Accompanied by family members, Barbara Iannone walked out to the end of the pier, savored the views and smiled.
“It’s so nice. It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I can just imagine the gorgeous sunsets and all of the picture-taking.”
Her thoughts then turned to her husband.
“This would have made him very proud. Our family is all so touched,” she said of the pier being named in his honor.