Mourners gather at memorial wall outside Comerica Park to honor Mike Ilitch

Posted at 4:50 PM, Feb 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 18:22:51-05

Outside Comerica Park, a memorial wall has been erected near the famed tiger statue where Detroit Tigers fans have become accustomed to visiting, and posing in front of before games.

The smiles and cheers that typically flood the walkways leading to the stadium have been replaced with tears, but those who showed up to sign the wall told 7 Action News that it was the perfect setting.

“You could tell he had a lot of people behind him,” said Ann Marie Genrich-Rockov, an employee who worked for the Ilitch family." "People that didn’t even know him that well I’ve seen walking down the street are talking about him just because he’s a legend.”

While fans were asked to begin sharing their memories and write messages of condolences at 1 p.m. a handful of die-hard fans showed up early to be among the first to say goodbye. Among them, Bud Somerville a father who knew Ilitch since he was a child.

“Back then he was just ‘Mike,’” said Somerville, recalling memories of riding his bicycle to the original Little Caesar’s in Garden City with his best friends. “He’d come out and sit with us until Marian would come out and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to make a pizza!’”

Somerville said he always looked up to Ilitch, but he didn’t know he would go on to build a pizza empire and eventually own his favorite sports teams.

“Everything he’s done for the Tigers and Red Wings…he’s the best thing that’s happened to Detroit.”

Somerville broke down in tears while reading back his message he shared on the wall for the Ilitch family to see one day. He broke down while reading the closing words: “We love you, rest in peace.”

Others broke down and cried at the sight of the crowd. A handful of Ilitch Holdings employees who showed up during their lunch break consoled each other after signing the wall.

Some who never even met Ilitch called him a hero, others pointed to his work within the city as reason enough to celebrate the man.

The outpouring of support wasn’t unexpected. Before Monday’s memorial wall signing started the Ilitch family released a statement thanking the support that had already begun to rush in.

“The volume of condolences and kind wishes overwhelms us, and we appreciate it more than words can express,” the statement read. “We know that he would’ve been touched by the outpouring of support, especially from this community that he so loved.”