Mike Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza and owner of two major Detroit sports franchises, passed away last Friday at the age of 87. Stories of Ilitch’s generosity surfaced in the wake of his passing, as it was revealed that the owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers quietly paid Rosa Parks’ rent in the twilight of her life.
Ilitch was born July 20, 1929 to Macedonian immigrant parents and raised primarily in Detroit. A minor league baseball player, Ilitch left the game and began the Little Caesar’s Pizza franchise in 1959 alongside his wife, Marian. The franchise exploded nationally, making the Ilitch family quite wealthy. He then pooled that wealth into ownership of the NHL and MLB teams.
In 1994, Parks, one of the best known icons of the civil rights movement, was beaten and robbed at her Detroit home. The community rallied around to provide Parks with a safer environment and the efforts of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith led to the Ilitch connection. In a Washington Post article, Keith explained that Ilitch gave Parks $2,000 a month along with providing whatever else she needed.
It was typical for Ilitch to be this charitable, although her preferred his altruism to stay out of the limelight. He used his wealth to fund programs like the Little Caesar’s Hockey League, reportedly the largest youth hockey league in the states. And since 2005, his charitable organizations Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Tigers Foundation and the Detroit Red Wings have donated millions to various city charities.
Ilitch was 87.
PHOTO: CBS Detroit screenshot