Pizza Magnate’s Secret Charity Revealed

Feb 16, 2017

In 1994, the late Rosa Parks, admired by many as an icon of the civil rights movement, was robbed and assaulted in her home in central Detroit. The 81-year-old woman, who was living on a fixed income, was compelled to move to a more expensive home – and she never paid rent for the next eleven years, because that expense was quietly paid by a benefactor named Mike Illitch.

Mr. Illitch was the founder of the Little Caesar’s pizza chain and owner of the Detroit Red Wings NHL franchise. When he read about what had happened to Parks, Illitch contacted US Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith, who was working with real estate developer Alfred Taubman to find a new home for her. Judge Keith was appointed executor on behalf of Parks to take care of her housing needs.

Following Illitch’s death on February 10, Judge Keith displayed a copy of a check for $2,000 the entrepreneur had written in 1994 to Riverfront Apartments on behalf of Rosa Parks.

“It’s important that people know what Mr. Mike Illitch did for Ms. Rosa Parks, because it’s symbolic of what he has always done for the people of our city,” Judge Keith told the Sports Business Daily. Illitch was “totally committed to Detroit,” the judge recalled. “He brought the Little Caesars corporate offices here. He saved the Fox Theater. He built Comerica Park, and he kept the hockey and baseball teams thriving here when times are tough.”

Following Illitch’s passing, Judge Keith and many other Detroit residents paid tribute to the businessman for countless other acts of private charity that had been done beyond the glare of publicity.