The world was saddened when Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, passed away Feb. 10. Rarely does a man who is so wealthy get such a response to his passing among the general public, but the response is well-earned. It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t respect what Ilitch did for so many people, including the city of Detroit itself.
So let’s look at the top 5 gifts that Ilitch gave to this world we live in.
1. A place to live for Rosa Parks
Ilitch was known for helping many people in his life, but perhaps the most telling story about his generosity was what he did for one person.
In the wake of his passing, a story came out in Sports Business Daily about how he helped Rosa Parks. The civil rights icon was beaten and robbed in her Detroit home in 1994. According to one of her friends, federal judge Damon Keith, he and others wanted to help Parks move to a better place.
Enter Mike Ilitch.
After hearing about Parks’ story, he offered to pay for Parks’ living arrangements for as long as necessary…right up to when she passed away in 2005. Keith still has a copy of a $2,000 check Ilitch wrote out for Parks.
2. The Little Caesars Love Kitchen
One of Ilitch’s first major philanthropic efforts was one of his best. In 1985, Ilitch formed the mobile Little Caesars Love Kitchen to feed the hungry and help with food provisions after natural disasters. The kitchen has served over 2 million people in North America and has been recognized by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
3. Little Caesars Veterans Program
Inspired by a veteran returning to civilian life after he lost both of his legs overseas, Ilitch decided to step up. His Little Caesars Veterans Program offered honorably discharged veterans assistance when transferring to civilian life. It offers business opportunities and assistance with seeking a career change. His program has helped so many people, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gave Ilitch the Secretary’s Award, which is the highest honor given to a civilian by the department.
4. Supporting the “Big Three” automakers in Detroit
The year 2009 was dark for Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers. General Motors filed for bankruptcy and the other two, Ford and Chrysler, weren’t doing a whole lot better. So when the time came to renew its sponsorship for the center-field fountain at Comerica Park in 2009, GM wanted to back out because it couldn’t afford it. Ilitch instead decided to give away the sponsorship to GM, Ford and Chrysler free of charge. He saw the Detroit Tigers as a “public trust” and felt it was better to show support to the major companies in Detroit than to let the sponsorship end. Underneath the logos adorned a sign that read: “The Detroit Tigers support our automakers.”
5. The Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University
Ilitch has pumped a lot of time and money into revitalizing Detroit. Perhaps his most generous Detroit venture belongs to the school building that will eventually bear his name. In 2015, Ilitch donated a total of $40 million and prime real estate to Wayne State University so it can build the Mike Ilitch School of Business. The school is expected to open in 2018.