Downtown Detroit memorial held for icon Mike Ilitch
By Ryan Blevins
Michigan residents are mourning the loss of a Detroit icon.
Mike Ilitch died at the age of 87 on Feb. 10, after spending years in the public eye. A series of public visitations were arranged for fans and employees to pay their respects and give their condolences to the family.
Known as “Mr. I” by many, Ilitch was one of the most successful businessmen in Detroit. Before his success in business, Ilitch served for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following his time serving in the marines, Ilitch returned home where he was offered a professional baseball contract by the Detroit Tigers. He played Minor League Baseball for four seasons before retiring without appearing in the major leagues.
A native Detroiter, Ilitch’s business career began when he founded the pizza chain Little Caesars Pizza in 1959 in Garden City, Mich. Ilitch turned his pizza chain into a multi-billion dollar industry.
He also is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted for his work as the owner of the Detroit Red Wings, which he purchased in 1982. Ilitch also owned the Detroit Tigers and the now defunct Detroit Drive of the Arena Football League.
Ilitch is survived by his wife Marian and his seven children. His son, Christopher Ilitch, is the CEO of the company his father founded, Ilitch Holdings, Inc.
“He made such a positive impact in the world of sports, in business and in the community and we will remember him for his unwavering commitment to his employees, his passion for Detroit, his generosity to others and his devotion to his family and friends,” said Christopher Ilitch in a statement the night of his father’s death.
The week of public mourning began with a two day memorial outside the main gate of Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers. Fans were able to leave flowers at the base of the 15-foot tall tiger statue.
Two canvases, approximately 15 feet long each, were located in front of the stadium gates. Markers were provided for people to write messages to the Ilitch family. Pictures of Ilitch’s time in Detroit through all eras of his life were placed between the two canvases.
Mike Evans was part of the company contracted to provided security for the week of events. He said he was impressed with the crowd all week.
“Even with the weather being as cold as it is there has been a really good turnout and a steady stream of people,” said Evans.
Ilitch lay in repose on Feb. 15 in the Grand Lobby of the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. Fans who attended were shown a video tribute to Ilitch. The video, compiled of both professional and family photos, highlighted the many milestones in Ilitch’s life. Fans were then taken from the theatre to the lobby where they were able to view the casket. An American flag covered the closed casket, and a member of the U.S. Marine Corps was stationed alongside the casket. Each member of the Ilitch family waited at the end of the line and gave fans an opportunity to share their memories of Mr. I.
Windsor native Tom Marshall attended both the Comerica Park and Fox Theater memorials. Marshall was personally affected by Ilitch after sending a letter to the Tigers owner in 1999, asking him to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“(Ilitch) let me take batting practice before a game,” said Marshall. “Who does that? I could have gotten hurt or something, but he made my dream come true.”
The Ilitch family has requested memorial donations be made to Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Tigers Foundation or the Detroit Red Wings Foundation in lieu of flowers.