Last week I tried out a new feature, Good People Doing Good Things, and people seemed to like it, so I decided to make it a (mostly) regular Wednesday feature. I think it is important, given the current state of affairs not only in the U.S., but across the globe, that we remember there are … there really are … people who care about others and are working to leave the world just a little better than they found it.
Last week I wrote about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) that does much good work around the globe. Well, turns out that is one tough act to follow! If I only write about people doing good on a grand scale ala the Gates Foundation, I will only be able to maintain this feature for a week or two before running out of material. But … there are good people doing good things all over the world, just mostly on a smaller scale. Few of us have the resources that the Gates have, but it doesn’t make our contributions any less meaningful. As a former boss used to say, “peanuts make elephants”. So on that note, this week I present to you Mr. Mike Ilitch!
Mr. Ilitch, who died on February 10th, was the founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza, and he also owned the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League and Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball. Impressive, but those are not the things that bring Mr. Ilitch to this post.
Perhaps his most widely-publicized act of philanthropy involved Civil Rights activist, Rosa Parks. In 1994, Ms. Parks home was broken into, and then 81-year-old Parks was assaulted and robbed. Federal appeals court Judge Damon Keith set about trying to find a safer place for Ms. Parks to live – one that she could afford on her meager income. When Mike Ilitch heard of it, he generously volunteered to pay Rosa Parks’ rent ‘indefinitely’. Which is exactly what he did, from 1994 until her death in 2005! Most outside the Ilitch family were unaware of this until his death last week.
But that is not the limit of Mr. Ilitch’s good works. One of Ilitch’s first good works came in 1985 when he established a traveling restaurant formed to feed the hungry and assist with food provisions during national disasters. The project, called Little Caesars Love Kitchen, is still in operation today, as the mobile food kitchen travels throughout the United States to provide the brand’s pizza to people in need. It operates seven days a week, has fed more than three million people in 48 states and four Canadian provinces, and has responded to many natural disasters and the World Trade Center attacks after Sept. 11, 2001. The program has been recognized by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Last year, law enforcement in Harper Woods, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, wanted to start a K-9 program, but the budget was tight and they couldn’t afford it. Enter Mike Ilitch, who made a large enough contribution to enable Harper Woods to purchase Kaiser, a 15-month-old German Shepard and the town’s first K-9 police officer, trained in obedience, narcotics and tracking.
In 2006, after reading about a Kentucky soldier returning home from Iraq after losing both of his legs, Ilitch, himself a former Marine who served at Pearl Harbor, said, “I felt a little guilty. All these guys going over there, getting blown up. You always want to do more. I didn’t feel good about myself. What could I do? What should I do?” What he did was established the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which offers credits on its franchise fee, the first equipment order and financing. The offer is even better for disabled veterans. The total benefit for service-disabled veterans can be approximately $68,000. It is a step up, a helping hand, but not a hand-out. Ilitch was awarded the Secretary’s Award, the highest tribute given to a private citizen by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007.
In addition to all the above, Mike Ilitch was well known in the Detroit region for his contributions to inner city development and re-vitalization projects and education, and he founded a number of various charities to which he contributed regularly. Isn’t it heartwarming to see that in the midst of today’s avaricious society, there are still those who, like Mike Ilitch, care enough to open both their wallets and their hearts to help others? Ilitch’s son, Christopher, will be taking over the family business, and has learned many a valuable lesson in humanity from his father, but still, those are some mighty big shoes to fill! Mr. I, as he was often called, will not soon be forgotten.
Note to readers: I am open to any suggestions my readers may have of people doing good things for others, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else on the globe! So, if you know of somebody or have read about somebody who qualifies, please let me know! I do not want the well to run dry 🙂