GFA 2017 Vern Seefeldt Lifetime Achievement Award

Mike Ilitch

Michael “Mike” Ilitch began his career as an entrepreneur with the opening of the first Little Caesars Pizza store in Garden City, Michigan in 1959. By 1999, the empire had expanded to about 4,000 stores. He invested his fortune into his hometown of Detroit with the goal of reinventing the city, buying the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Mike was central to downtown Detroit’s redevelopment efforts; he purchased and renovated the Fox Theatre and relocated his business headquarters there.

Prior to his entrepreneurial success, Ilitch served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years after graduating from Cooley High School. Upon returning to Detroit, he signed with the Detroit Tigers for a four-year minor league career from 1952 to 1955. After his baseball career came to an end, in 1985, Ilitch turned his focus to philanthropy and established the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a nationally recognized traveling restaurant formed with the goal of feeding the hungry and assisting with food provisions during national disasters. He later founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which provides honorably discharged veterans with business opportunities when they are transitioning from service.

Mike Ilitch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 as well as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, and was presented the key to the City of Detroit in February of 2008.