Residents, fans pay tribute to Tigers' Ilitch

Owner inspired generosity throughout Detroit

Residents, fans pay tribute to Tigers' Ilitch

DETROIT -- Not two hours after the temporary memorial for Mike Ilitch opened at 1 p.m. ET on Monday, the wall dedicated for notes outside Comerica Park already was one-third full. Employees of the Tigers, Red Wings, Little Caesars, and members of the community stopped by to pay their respects and share memories about how Ilitch affected an entire city.

"[I have great memories] of him helping the city when other people wouldn't," Tanya, a lifelong Detroit sports fan, said. "I think he's always been gracious and has done a lot more for the city than other folks."

Amid the bustling construction in downtown Detroit, largely the doing of Ilitch Holdings, strangers and those who knew Ilitch took time out of their day to remember a giant of the city. Many of the messages said their lives were transformed or inspired by his generosity on a personal level, and for Detroit as a whole.

No written message was quite so bold, however, as that of the note left by employees of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute. Ilitch, who paid Rosa Parks' rent in her final years, left a lasting impression on everyone he met, and at times his quieter actions eventually served as a testament of his heart for others.

Some, like Inis Elkins, who served as Little Caesars' national director of leasing for 16 years, remembered a personal interaction she and her late husband had with Ilitch. Walter Elkins served in the Vietnam War and passed away suddenly in 2015, at the age of 70. Inis spoke of how supportive Walter was of her working for the Ilitch family because of the environment fostered by Mike Ilitch.

"When they won the Cup, my husband, he was a disabled veteran, he came in and Mr. I came over and talked to him and shook his hand," Inis said. "My husband was a baseball player, too, he was a pitcher [at Concord College]. He had actually tried out for the Mets and for the Astros -- actually had a contract for the Astros and they tore it up when he threw his shoulder out. So, him and Mr. I kind of hit it off."

Allen on Mike Ilitch's legacy

Ilitch fostered a family community, not only within the city, but within his businesses and everyday interactions. That sense of family extends to employees' families, not just those working for an Ilitch company, several said as they paid their respects.

It's difficult to be in Detroit and not see an area that Ilitch hasn't changed for the better: from the Fox Theatre to the new QLine rail system and Little Caesars Arena. The loss of Ilitch is deeply felt in Detroit, but that isn't simply because of two sports teams he owned. He became invested in the people, and in doing so, he helped transform the city for the better.

Catherine Slonksnis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.