SBJ/Feb. 24-March 2, 2014/Champions

Ilitch aids civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, others

In his chambers in Detroit, Judge Damon Keith holds a copy of a check in his hand and has a story to tell. It’s about the time Mike Ilitch came to the aid of Rosa Parks, whose legendary defiance of segregation in 1955 led to the black civil rights movement.

Judge Damon Keith shows one of the checks that Ilitch paid for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks’ housing.
Photo by: KIMBERLY KENDRICK
“It’s for $2,000, dated November the first, 1994. It’s from Little Caesars Enterprises to Riverfront Apartments, and I know it was just one of many,” said Keith, 91, who has been a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Detroit for the last 46 years. “It’s important that people know what Mr. Mike Ilitch did for Ms. Rosa Parks because it’s symbolic of what he has always done for the people of our city.”

On Aug. 31, 1994, Parks, then 81, was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit. 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.

SBJ Podcast:
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and NHL writer Christopher Botta discuss the life and career of Mike Ilitch.



The episode is just one of many throughout Ilitch’s life when he stepped forward to help (see box), usually outside of the spotlight.

“Mike Ilitch is totally committed to Detroit,” Keith said. “He brought the Little Caesars corporate offices here. He saved the Fox Theatre. He built Comerica Park, and he kept the hockey and baseball teams thriving here when times were tough. But of all the incredible things he has done for the city, people should know what he did for Rosa Parks.”

OF THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

Among Mike Ilitch’s many causes throughout the years

Supporting the Motor City’s Big Three
When sinking profits forced General Motors to discontinue its sponsorship of the center-field fountain at Comerica Park in 2009, Ilitch saw an opportunity to help the automobile industry. He gave the spot to GM, Ford and Chrysler, free of charge. Underneath the companies’ logos was a sign that read: “The Detroit Tigers support our automakers.”

Cup rings for past champions
When the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008 — the fourth under Ilitch — the club decided to send rings to all of the living players who were on championship teams in Detroit before Ilitch bought the team in 1982. Marcel Pronovost, for example, received a ring with four diamonds, marking the four Cups he won with the Red Wings in the 1950s.

Little Caesars hockey program
In 1979, three years before he bought the Red Wings, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League. Today, it’s the largest youth hockey program in the U.S., with more than 600 teams and 10,000 participants.

Charitable works
Since 2005, Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Tigers Foundation and the Detroit Red Wings Foundation have awarded $15 million in grants to local charities, college scholarships, game tickets and in-kind donations.

— Compiled by Christopher Botta


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