Late last week Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers and the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, passed away at the age of 87. He made his fortune in pizza — Ilitch and his wife opened a pizza shop in 1959 that grew into the Little Caesars pizza empire.
Baseball and hockey fans know Ilitch as an owner was driven to win, someone who would dip into his own personal wealth to help his clubs get the players they needed. The Tigers did not win a World Series while Ilitch owned the club, but the Red Wings won four Stanley Cups under his watch.
Ilitch’s generosity extended far beyond his sports teams, however. According to a Sports Business Daily report from 2014, Ilitch also paid housing costs for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks for more than a decade. Here are the details from Sports Business Daily:
On Aug. 31, 1994, Parks, then 81, was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit. (Federal Judge Damon) Keith called real estate developer Alfred Taubman, the owner of Riverfront Apartments, about finding a safer home for Parks. Taubman pledged to find the best home available. When Ilitch read about Keith’s plan and Taubman’s promise in the newspaper, he called the judge and said he would pay for Parks’ housing for as long as necessary. (Parks passed away in 2005 at the age of 92). Keith served as the executor of the trust established for Parks’ housing.
Keith showed the Sports Business Daily a $2,000 check, dated 1994, from Little Caesars Enterprises to Riverfront Apartments.