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Detroit -- With a high of 32 degrees on Wednesday and scattered snow flurries, the weather was reminiscent of a backyard hockey game.

For the fans gathered from the corner of Montcalm and Park, the cold was not going to keep them away from paying their final respects to the man who owned the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, as well as the Little Caesars pizza empire.

“H-E double hockey sticks no,” said Linnie Ryan, 51, of Detroit about the weather deterring her from Mike Ilitch’s memorial and visitation.

Ryan, who got in line with her friend Darlene Kaczor, 63, of Detroit not long before noon, once was an usher at Joe Louis Arena. She said Ilitch helped motivate her to open her own business.

“When we worked, we were all in a room and he told us ‘Don’t let this be your only job, because you won’t be able to pay your bills,’” Ryan said. “From there, I started my own lawn service. I didn’t grow to an empire (like Ilitch), but I started my own business.”

Ilitch lay in repose from noon to 8 p.m. in the Fox Theatre's Grand Lobby. He died Friday at age 87 after a lingering illness.

Ilitch and his wife bought the historic Fox in 1987 and restored it, setting the stage for an entertainment revival in downtown Detroit. Marian Ilitch visited Wednesday, leaving the theater shortly before 1 p.m. through a side door.

Several other members of Ilitch's family remained inside the Grand Lobby on Wednesday afternoon, acknowledging each visitor with handshakes and greetings. Christopher Ilitch, CEO and president of Ilitch Holdings, stood with his wife, other Ilitch children and grandchildren.

A U.S. Marine stood at attention next to the casket, as a nod to Ilitch's four-year tour with the military branch.

Next to the Grand Lobby, fans entered into the theater, where an on-stage screen cycled through a timeline of Ilitch's life. Images from his hockey, baseball and pizza empires were mixed in with pictures of him at graduations, weddings, and cradling the family's youngest members.

In one photograph, Ilitch grinned behind two young boys hoisting miniature Stanley Cups above their heads.

The visitation was “a cross between being extremely solemn, a lot of tears being shed, and so much admiration and positivity in the room,” said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment.

Wilson praised Ilitch’s legacy of dedication to “lost causes” like the Red Wings, Tigers, Fox Theatre and Detroit itself.

“He took those on and made them rocking successes,” Wilson said. “(The Ilitches) had this vision for the city and to see it all come together …”

Illitch was “strong and determined and competitive as hell,” Wilson said. But the icon’s influence extended far beyond his the sports and pizza empires.

“There are very few people who fill the room even when they’re not there,” Wilson said. “It’s just such a huge personal loss. Even if you didn’t know him, it feels like a little part of you is gone.”

Chase McMillan, a 24-year-old marketing student at Central Michigan University, drove from Mount Pleasant on Wednesday morning to attend the visitation. He planned to return later in the day.

“That class could wait,” McMillan said. “I emailed my professor and said that I’ve got prior obligations and this is important."

Anthony Digiandomenico, 25, of Norwood, Massachusetts, was in town with his father Michael, 52, and younger sister Maria, 22.

“We came out last week and on Friday we found out the news,” Digiandomenico said. “We were out here already, so absolutely I was going to come down here and pay my respects.”

He said being a Red Wings fan living a little more than a half-hour southwest of Boston is difficult, but not impossible.

“I’ve gone to at least four or five Boston games and I only go and see them when they play the Red Wings,” Digiandomenico said.

Jim Warren, 46, said there's only one appropriate way to thank the man who turned the Red Wings and Tigers into winners.

"We must honor him with a championship," Warren said. "There's just no reason for failure."

Warren arrived around 7 a.m. Wednesday and was first in line by several hours. The next fans arrived shortly before 11 a.m., including Northville resident Rich Noelke.

"So many people say that (Ilitch) was such a caring person," said Noelke, 65. "That's probably the greatest legacy you could have."

Ilitch's impact went beyond sports teams for fans.

“I personally think if it wasn’t for him investing his money in Detroit in the '80s, Detroit would be a ghost town by now. Nobody else was willing to put their money down here,” said Fernando Puente, 63, of Dearborn.

The family said it was grateful for the remembrances.

"To everyone who has so graciously remembered Mike Ilitch, we extend a heartfelt thank you," family members said in a statement. "The volume of condolences and kind wishes overwhelms us, and we appreciate it more than words can express. We know that he would've been touched by the outpouring of support, especially from this community that he so loved.

"We will miss him tremendously, and we are grateful, humbled and comforted to know that his lifetime was filled with well-lived moments.

Wednesday evening, the Wings played their first home game against the St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. since Ilitch's death.

Additional memorial dates and events are expected at the Lakeland Complex and the Little Caesars Arena construction site, officials said.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Ilitch’s memory be made to: Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, and/or the Detroit Tigers Foundation.

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

Twitter: @HollyPFournier

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Olympia Entertainment President and CEO Tom Wilson speaks to the media from Hockeytown Cafe about Detroit's tribute to the late Mike Ilitch.

Ilitch's public visitation took place Wednesday in the theater's Grand Lobby.  The owner of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings died Friday at age 87 after a lingering illness.

Ilitch and his wife bought the historic Fox in 1987 and restored it, setting the stage for an entertainment revival in downtown Detroit. Marian Ilitch visited Wednesday, leaving the theater shortly before 1 p.m. through a side door.

Several other members of Ilitch's family remained inside the Grand Lobby Wednesday afternoon, greeting each visitor with handshakes and greetings. Christopher Ilitch, current CEO and president of Ilitch Holdings, stood with his wife, other Ilitch children and grandchildren.

A U.S. Marine stood at attention next to the casket, as a nod to Ilitch's four-year tour with the military branch.

Next to the Grand Lobby, fans entered into the theater where an on-stage screen cycled through a timeline of Ilitch's life. Images from his hockey, baseball and pizza empires were mixed in with pictures of him at graduations, weddings, and cradling the family's youngest members.

In one photograph, Ilitch grinned behind two young boys hoisting miniature Stanley Cups above their heads.

The visitation was “a cross between being extremely solemn, a lot of tears being shed, and so much admiration and positivity in the room,” said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment.

Wilson praised Ilitch’s legacy of dedication to “lost causes” like the Red Wings, Tigers, Fox Theatre and Detroit itself.

“He took those on and made them rocking successes,” Wilson said. “(The Ilitches) had this vision for the city and to see it all come together…”

Illitch was “strong and determined and competitive as hell,” Wilson said. But the icon’s influence extended far beyond the sports and pizza empires he founded.

“There are very few people who fill the room even when they’re not there,” Wilson said. “It’s just such a huge personal loss. Even if you didn’t know him, it feels like a little part of you is gone.”

Chase McMillan, a 24-year-old marketing student at Central Michigan University, drove from Mount Pleasant Wednesday morning to attend the visitation. He planned to return later in the day.

“That class could wait,” McMillan said. “I emailed my professor and said that I’ve got prior obligations and this is important."

Anthony Digiandomenico, 25, of Norwood, Massachusetts, was in town with his father Michael, 52, and younger sister Maria, 22.

“We came out last week and on Friday we found out the news,” Digiandomenico said. “We were out here already, so absolutely I was going to come down here and pay my respects.”

He said being a Red Wings fan living a little more than a half-hour southwest of Boston is difficult, but not impossible.

“I’ve gone to at least four or five Boston games and I only go and see them when they play the Red Wings,” Digiandomenico said.

Jim Warren, 46, said there's only one appropriate way to thank the man who turned the Red Wings and Tigers into winners.

"We must honor him with a championship," Warren said. "There's just no reason for failure."

Warren arrived around 7 a.m. Wednesday and was first in line by several hours. The next fans arrived shortly before 11 a.m., including Northville resident Rich Noelke.

"So many people say that (Ilitch) was such a caring person," said Noelke, 65. "That's probably the greatest legacy you could have."

Ilitch's impact went beyond sports teams for fans.

“I personally think if it wasn’t for him investing his money in Detroit in the '80s, Detroit would be a ghost town by now," said Fernando Puente, 63, of Dearborn. "Nobody else was willing to put their money down here."

The Ilitch family thanked fans for their support.

"To everyone who has so graciously remembered Mike Ilitch, we extend a heartfelt thank you," family members said in a statement. "The volume of condolences and kind wishes overwhelms us, and we appreciate it more than words can express. We know that he would've been touched by the outpouring of support, especially from this community that he so loved.

"We will miss him tremendously, and we are grateful, humbled and comforted to know that his lifetime was filled with well-lived moments.

Wednesday evening, the Wings played their first home game since Ilitch's death at 8 p.m. against the St. Louis Blues. There was a memorial opportunity and recognition planned at Joe Louis Arena before the game.

Additional memorial dates and events are expected at the Lakeland Complex and the Little Caesars Arena construction site, officials said.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Ilitch’s memory be made to: Ilitch Charities, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, and/or the Detroit Tigers Foundation.

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

Twitter: @HollyPFournier

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