Remembering Mike Ilitch
Little Caesars founder and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, Mike Ilitch, was rushed to a local Detroit hospital late Friday, Feb. 10 and died later that evening at the age of 87.
In the public light, Ilitch was the creator of the third largest pizza chain in North America, Little Caesars. He started the pizza chain in Garden City, Michigan just 17 miles away from his home town of Detroit. He used the earnings from the pizza empire to purchase the Detroit Red Wings in 1982, for $8 million and helped mold them into Stanley Cup contenders winning the cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. With Ilitch’s leadership, the Red Wings also have the longest active playoff streak of 25 years and counting. He also purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992. Ilitch was never able to win a World Series as owner of the Tigers but he helped them win the American League title in 2006 and 2012.
Out of the public spotlight, Ilitch spent 60 years alongside his wife Marian Ilitch and with her, raised their seven children in Detroit. In the later years, Ilitch became a grandfather to 22 grandchildren as well as three great-grandchildren.
Ilitch was proud of where he came from and always gave back to the City of Detroit. He used Ilitch Holdings Inc. to operate and manage concessions for Comerica Park as well as Joe Louis Arena to keep jobs in Detroit. He also relocated the Tigers’ ballpark closer to downtown to draw people to the city centre alongside Ford Field. Before he died, he also made plans to have the new Little Caesars Arena for the Red Wings and Pistons moved closer to Detroit’s entertainment district.
Ilitch’s philanthropy has been recognized by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan for his Little Caesars Love Kitchen organization that started in 1985. The “Love Kitchen” travelled across America to feed the hungry during national disasters. He also spearheaded the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey program in 1968. In 2006, after being inspired by a veteran returning from war who had lost both of his legs, he began the Little Caesars Veteran Program. The program focused on helping veterans find business opportunities and jobs after their service. In 2000 he created the Charities for Children non-profit organization, later re-named Ilitch Charities. He also purchased and helped rebuild the Fox Theatre.
The City of Detroit will miss the presence of Mike Ilitch and his pride and philanthropy for the city. Mike Ilitch will join legends like Ernie Harwell, Al Kaline and Gordie Howe as part of the Spirit of Detroit.