Our staff amassed a list of the 150 Michiganians who most affected the news, history and our lives − for better or worse − in the 150 years of The Detroit News, ranked from 150 to 1 (Read the FAQ on our selection process here). Here are our picks, one a day through our birthday on Aug. 23.
43: Mary Barra, current CEO of General Motors (1961-present)
The first woman to lead one of the Big Three automakers has deep roots with the company she now helms. Barra, born in Royal Oak, started working at General Motors as a co-op student in 1980, when she was 18 years old. Barra attended the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and then worked her way up the ranks, taking on a number of leadership roles — including plant manager of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, vice president of human resources, and leading the global product development division — before she was named CEO in 2014. As top executive, Barra has led the company back from its 2011 bankruptcy to record profits and is now pointing the way to an all-electric future. Barra will be named to the Automotive Hall of Fame this month.
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44: Gordie Howe, hockey legend (1928-2016)
The man who would come to be known as “Mr. Hockey” was born in Saskatchewan and began playing hockey when he was eight years old. He made his National Hockey League debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 16, 1946. He would play with Detroit for the next 25 seasons. In his lengthy and legendary career, Howe was a winner of four Stanley Cups, six scoring titles and six MVPs and ranks third in NHL history with 1,850 points, including 801 goals and 1,049 assists. In 1980, at the age of 52, Howe became the oldest player in NHL history, and the only to play across the span of five decades. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Canada along with the Governor of Michigan announced that the publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit would be named the Gordie Howe International Bridge, honoring the pride Howe inspired on both sides of the river.
45: Robert Griffin, senator from Michigan, state Supreme Court justice (1923-2015)
Robert Griffin, a Detroit native, enlisted as an Army infantryman during World War II and served 14 months in the European theater. The Central Michigan University graduate got his law degree from the University of Michigan and began practicing in Traverse City. Griffin was elected to the U.S. House in 1956 from the state’s 9th District, defeating Republican incumbent Ruth Thompson in the GOP primary. Griffin supported both the Civil RIghts Act and the Voting Rights Act. He was appointed to the Senate in 1966 upon the death of Sen. Patrick McNamara. Griffin was an author of the Landrum-Griffin Act, governing the internal affairs of labor unions. He led the filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Abe Fortas, and in 1974 called for the resignation of his friend, President Richard Nixon. After losing his seat to Carl Levin in 1978, he served as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
46: Gretchen Whitmer, current governor of Michigan (1971 to present)
Halfway through Gretchen Whitmer’s first term as governor, the state was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer joined other governors in declaring a state of emergency and imposing broad shutdowns on Michigan businesses and residents. She set health care reform and a promise to “fix the damn roads” as her first term priorities. She was elected to a second term in 2022 by a large margin, running on a strong pro-choice platform. The Democrat served in the Michigan House from 2001 to 2006 and the Michigan Senate from 2006 to 2015, when she was term-limited out. Whitmer was the first woman to serve as Democratic leader of the Senate. In 2020 her name was floated as a potential running mate for President Joe Biden.
47: William Milliken, Michigan’s longest serving governor (1922-2019)
William Milliken served three full terms and one partial term as governor from 1969 to 1983, making him the longest serving governor in state history. He served one term in the Michigan Senate from Traverse City before being tapped by Republican Gov. George Romney to be his lieutenant governor. When Romney resigned in 1969 to become HUD secretary, Millien took over as governor.
His tenure was marked by dramatic shifts in the economy, most notably an oil crisis that rocked the automotive industry. He was also caught up in Michigan’s PCB contamination crisis. A moderate, Milliken led the formation of the Council of Great Lakes Governors in 1982. He flew 50 combat missions during World War II, and came to politics from his family’s department store business.
48: Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit mayor, convicted felon (1970-present)
Kwame Kilpatrick was tagged for a big future as a Detroit leader when he was elected to the state House at age 27. He was elected Detroit’s youngest ever mayor in 2001, and after a rocky first term that included allegations of financial mismanagement, was reelected in 2005 with the support of the city’s business community. A romantic affair with his chief of staff, revealed by graphic texts that became public, started his downfall. A federal investigation uncovered a complex scheme involving charges of bribery and kickbacks in city contracting. Kilpatrick resigned in 2008 after being convicted in Wayne County Circuit Court of misconduct, perjury and obstruction of justice. Federal indictments followed. Kilpatrick was convicted of racketeering and extortion and sentenced to 28 years in prison. In 2021, former President Donald Trump commuted Kilpatrick’s sentence in the final hours of his term. He now works in the ministry.
49: Diana Ross, Motown superstar 1944-present
Diana Ross became a singing sensation as the lead member of the vocal group The Supremes, the most successful Motown ensemble during the 1960s and among the best-selling all-female acts ever. She left The Supremes in 1970 for a solo career that debuted with the iconic hit “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough.” She was a superstar pioneer, mounting elaborate concert performances that included singing and dancing for her world tours. Ross, born in Detroit, attended Cass Tech high school, where at age 15 she formed the musical group the Primettes with Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. Her neighbor, singer Smokey Robinson, got the group an audition with Motown, and they were signed by Berry Gordy in in 1961. Ross is also an accomplished actress and received a special Tony award. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 with the Supremes and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
50: Philip Hart, U.S. senator (1912-1976)
Phil Hart served as Michigan senator from 1959 until his death from cancer in 1976. Hart was born in Pennsylvania and came to Detroit on his marriage to Jane Briggs, daughter of former Detroit TIgers owner Walter Briggs and an aviator who became the first female helicopter pilot in Michigan. Hart, who was awarded the Bronze Star in World War II, practiced law in Detroit and became active in Democratic politics. In 1958 he defeated Republican incumbent Charles Potter to win his first Senate term. As a senator, he was a champion of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights act, and a steadfast advocate for the common man. Hart was the lead sponsor of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended discrimination in immigration quotas.His integrity and commitment earned him the moniker “Conscience of the Senate.” Hart’s colleagues honored him by naming a Senate office building in his honor.
51: Eminem, rapper, Oscar winner (1972-present)
Born Marshall Mathers III, and known professionally as Eminem, the rapper is credited with popularizing Hip Hop in middle America. Eminem was brought to Warren at age 12 by his mother, who had been a singer herself. For much of his youth, the family lived in a mostly Black and working class neighborhood of Detroit. He dramatized his upbringing with the movie “Eight Mile.” based on his song Lose Yourself, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. As a teen, he competed in freestyle rap battles and open mic contests. In 1987 he competed in the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles, finishing second and grabbing the attention of producer Dr. Dre. His Slim Shady EP was one of the most popular albums of 1999. His success is considered to have broken racial barriers for White rappers, and his music a touchstone for the American underclass.
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52: Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and activist (1797-1883)
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York State, and escaped to freedom in 1826 with her infant daughter. She went to court to recover the infant son she left behind, and in 1828 was the first African-American to win such a case against a white man. Born Isabel Baumfree, she changed her name in 1843 after becoming convinced God was calling her to be an evangelist. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black soldiers to the union army, and was widely known in that era for her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. After the war she unsuccessfully tried to secure land grants for formerly enslaved persons. She also fought for women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. Truth is the first Black woman to have a statue in the U.S. Capitol Building. She spent her last years in Battle Creek, where she died.
53: Hank Greenberg, baseball star (1911-1986)
“Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg made his major league baseball debut with the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 14, 1930. He was the first Jewish superstar in American team sports. He drew the spotlight in 1934 when he had to decide whether to play ball on two Jewish holidays; after consulting with his rabbi, Greenberg suited up. He played with the Tigers through the 1946 season, and was named to the All Star team five times, was the American league Most Valuable Player twice, the league’s home run land RBI leader four times, and played on two World Series championship teams. Greenberg played his final season in 1947 with Pittsburgh, but entered the Hall of Fame in 1959 as a Tiger. His No. 5 jersey was retired by the team.
54: Bill Ford, Ford Motor Co. chairman (1957-present)
Bill Ford is the fourth generation of his family to head Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co. He is the son of William Clay Ford Sr. and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford. On his mother’s side, Ford is also a descendant of Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. founder Harvey S. Firestone. Bill Ford joined the company in 1997, serving in a variety of executive roles before being named its board chair in 1999. From 2001 to 2006, he also handled chief executive officer duties. Ford kept the company out of bankruptcy during the Great Recession, and orchestrated its sustainability efforts. He is currently leading Ford’s electric vehicle transition. In 2018, Bill Ford championed the acquisition of the long-abandoned Michigan Central Depot in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, which is being converted into a hub for Ford’s mobility initiatives.
55: Rick Snyder, Michigan governor (1958-present)
Rick Snyder was the 48th Michigan governor, serving two terms from 2011 to 2019. The University of Michigan graduate was a businessman and venture capitalist before winning the governor’s race in 2010. It was his first elected office. The Republican focused his efforts on improving Michigan’s business climate, pushing through a number of tax and regulatory reforms designed to attract jobs and investment to the state. He guided Detroit through its bankruptcy, appointing an emergency manager and developing a plan to put the city on a solid financial footing coming out of the court proceedings. Snyder briefly tested a presidential run in 2016. But the Flint water crisis hit, and Snyder was tagged with responsibility for mismanaging the response to the contamination of the city’s drinking water. After leaving office, he formed a cyber-security firm.
56: Mike and Marian Ilitch, founders of LIttle Caesars, owners of Red Wings and Tigers
Mike Ilitch and his wife, Marian, are without a doubt Detroit’s most influential 2nd generation Macedonian immigrants. The Ilitch’s founded Little Caesars together in Garden City in 1959. As the business grew, so did the couple’s fortune. A Detroit native, Ilitch bought practically every sports team in the city at one point or another. He owned the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Wheels, Caesars, and Drive. He bought the Tigers in 1992 from pizza-rival Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s. While the Tigers lost 12 of the 13 seasons Ilitich owned them, he turned the Red Wings into real contenders. Under Ilitch, the Red Wings won four national Championships between 1997 and 2008. Due to his contributions to the team, Ilitich was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
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57: Fielding Yost, football player and coach (1871-1946)
University of Michigan Head Coach Fielding Yost was responsible for 6 of the school’s 11 national championship titles. Yost played football and earned his bachelor’s degree in law at the University of West Virginia. He began coaching at Ohio Wesleyan when he was 26, and went on to coach at four other universities before ending up at Michigan. Under Yost, Michigan didn’t lose a single game from 1901 to 1904. They won four straight national championships during this time, and two more in 1918 and 1923. In his entire Michigan coaching career, which lasted 24 years, Yost only lost 29 games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of fame in 1951, just five years after his death.
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58: Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense (1916-2009)
Not only was Robert McNamara the longest-sitting Secretary of Defense in US history, he also briefly served as the president of Ford Motor Company. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, McNamara was named one of the Ford Company “Whiz Kids,” a group responsible for implementing new ideas and organization in the office. McNamara specialized in management and production. He rose through the ranks and held several top managerial positions before becoming the company’s second out-of-family president in 1960. He didn’t hold the position for long, however, as he was appointed JFK’s Secretary of Defense that same year. McNamara remained in office throughout LBJ’s presidency, serving a total of seven years.
59: J.L. Hudson, department store founder (1846-1912)
The department store J.L. Hudson in downtown Detroit in 1881 became the city’s most iconic retail institution. What began as a men’s clothing store grew into a multi-story shopping palace that anchored Woodward Avenue, and eventually became a fixture in upscale suburban shopping malls. Hudson was an early leader of Detroit’s business community and a major driver behind many civic projects. He provided funding for an automotive start-up, Hudson Motor Co.,that was named in his honor. The Hudson chain remained in the family until it was sold in 1984. The long vacant downtown store was imploded in 1998.
60: George Romney, former Governor (1907-1995)
George Romney was born in Mexico, the son of Mormon missionaries. Romney moved to Detroit in 1939 for a career in the auto industry, and a year later helped found the Automotive Center for Air Defense to help prepare for the coming war. After Pearl Harbor, Romney was instrumental in converting automobile production capacity to making military equipment. He rose to chairman of American Motors Corp., stepping down to run successfully in 1962 for Michigan governor. In 1968, Romney mounted a presidential bid that went off track when he said he had been brainwashed on the necessity of the Vietnam War. In 1969, Romney was named by President Nixon as HUD secretary. His son, Mitt Romney, was a Senator from Massachusetts and also ran unsuccessfully for president. He is now a senator from Utah. Granddaughter Ronna Romney currently heads the Republican National Committee.
61: L. Brooks Patterson, lawyer & politician (1939-2019)
L. Brooks Patterson was the second county executive Oakland County, and the individual given most of the credit for the county’s rise as an economic powerhouse. Patterson first came to prominence as a young lawyer defending anti-school busing activist Irene McCabe. He rode the publicity from that case to election as Oakland County prosecutors. He was elected county executive in 1992 and served until his death in 2019. He was a fierce advocate for his county and was often accused of putting Oakland’s interest ahead of those of the region. His idea to create an Automation Alley along I-75 brought thousands of industrial jobs to Oakland.
62: Al Taubman, shopping mall developer (1924-2015)
Michigan-born Al Taubman is considered the father of the modern shopping mall. Taubman amassed his fortune through a series of real estate investments, mainly surrounding indoor shopping malls that helped fuel the suburban migration. He also was the majority owner of the Michigan Panthers football team from 1983-84. Taubman was among Metro Detroit’s most prolific philanthropists, particularly in medical research. Taubman ran into trouble with his ownership of Sotheby’s, a British auction house. In 2002, Taubman and others were convicted of a price-fixing scheme between Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s. Taubman was fined $7.5 million dollars and served a 10 month prison sentence. He insisted he was innocent throughout the entire legal process, and for the rest of his life.
63: Roy Chapin, former Secretary of Commerce & co-founder of Hudson Motor Company (1880-1936)
Roy Chapin was a Lansing-native who brought national interest and industry to Michigan. In 1908, Chapin led a group of investors and engineers in founding the Hudson Motor Company in Detroit. He helped run the company and formed its subset, Essex Motor Company, which specialized in the mass production of affordable automobiles. Hudson became one of the most profitable auto-manufacturers of the time. In 1932, Chapin was appointed the United States Secretary of Commerce under President Hoover. After his political career ended, Chapin moved back to Detroit and fought for the rest of his life to protect Hudson from the effects of the Great Depression.
64: Dick and Betsy DeVos, businessman & former Secretary of Education (1955-present)
When it comes to power couples, it’s hard to beat Dick and Betsy DeVos. The Grand Rapids pair are influential in both business and politics. Dick Devos is the son of the late Amway-founder Richard Devos Sr., and helped lead the direct marketing company to an international presence. He ran unsuccessfully for Michigan governor as a Republican in 2006. Betsy DeVos is an advocate for education reform. The former chair of the Michigan Republican Party was named by President Donald Trump as the 11th Secretary of Education, and used the position to advocate for school choice and more accountability in education. The pair are major philanthropists, both in Michigan and worldwide. They have also been big donors to the Republican Party. Together they founded the Windquest Group, a privately-owned organization that invests in clean energy.
65: CW Post, breakfast cereal titan (1854-1914)
After a stay in the Battle Creek Sanitarium for a mental breakdown, CW Post allegedly stole several cereal recipes from the Santiarium’s operator, John Harvey Kellogg, and used them in 1895 to start the Postum Cereal Co. in Battle Creek. As his food production business grew, Post became one of the richest men of the early 20th century. Postum Cereal Co. ran into trouble in 1907, when Post was fined $50,000 in a libel case over an advertisement claiming that his Grape-Nuts could cure appendicitis. In 1914, Post suffered from appendicitis himself, which would ultimately lead to his death. The company he founded survives as Post Consumer Brands, maker of Bran Flakes, Chips Ahoy!, Pebbles, Honeycomb, and other major brands.
66: Carl Levin, former US Senator (1934-2021)
Sen. Carl Levin was Michigan’s longest tenured U.S. senator, serving for 36 years. The Detroit native got his start working with the Michigan Civil Rights Council in the 1960s, and later won a seat on the Detroit City Council, eventually becoming its president. Frustrated by inaction on repossessed HUD homes, Levin rented bulldozers and led fellow council members in driving them through a blighted neighborhood. He spent seven years on the council from 1969 to 1977, during which he was a close ally of Mayor Coleman Young.Levin was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1978, and for 10 years chaired the Armed Forces Committee, and advocated for Pentagon transparency during the Iraq War. He also led a comprehensive congressional investigation into the causes of the financial collapse in 2008. Over the course of his Senate career he authored 51 bills that became law.
67: Charles Wright, physician and museum founder (1918-2002)
Dr. Charles Wright was both a physician and civil-rights activist. After completing two residencies in Harlem and Cleveland, Wright moved to Detroit and practiced general medicine, later becoming a gynecologist, surgeon and senior physician at Hutzel Women’s Hospital. In the 1960s he joined the civil rights movement, joining marches in the south and providing medical care for fellow protesters. Throughout his career, Wright worked to bring more African Americans into the medical field, raising funds for scholarships. He also advocated for a museum to celebrate Black history, and was instrumental in the 1985 opening of the Detroit Museum of African American History, which in 1989 was renamed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in his honor.
68: Louis Chevrolet, race car driver & Chevrolet co-founder (1878-1941)
Louis Chevrolet was co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Company, which later became a a division of General Motors Corp. Chevrolet learned most of what he knew about cars through racing. After driving race cars for Buick for years, in 1909 Chevrolet began designing his own engine for a new kind of car. He was one of the three designers credited with creating the Buick 60 Special, one of the first American-made race cars with a single front-seat for the driver. In 1911, with the help of his brother, Ralph and GM founder William C. Durant, Chevrolet co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in Detroit. It was absorbed into GM and has become one of the most iconic brands in automotive history.
69: George Booth, second Detroit News publisher (1864-1949)
George Gough Booth was the son-in-law of Detroit News founder James E. Scripp, and the man who led it into the 20th Century. Booth was an innovator in publishing, pushing the news to leadership in both journalism and technology. If you like what you’re reading, George Gough Booth is to thank. Booth’s father-in-law, James E. Scripps, convinced him to go into the newspaper business. Although Scripps founded The Detroit News, Booth is continually recognized for the paper’s success. Booth went on to found Michigan’s largest newspaper conglomerate, Booth Newspapers. Booth Newspapers has henceforth turned into MLive Media Group, which owns eight papers around Michigan. Outside of journalism, Booth was an avid philanthropist. He was a supporter of the arts, and both George and his brother frequently donated to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
70: Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy (1959-present)
Vancouver-born Jennifer Granholm was the first woman to serve as the Michigan attorney general and governor of Michigan, respectively. Granholm attended undergrad at the University of California Berkeley and Harvard Law. She moved to Michigan soon after finishing law school, where she completed her clerkship under legendary federal Judge Damon Keith. In 1991, Granholm became an assistant U.S. attorney, during which she convicted 151 of her 154 cases. Granholm served as the Michigan attorney general for one term from 1999-2003, and governor for two terms from 2003-2011. Granholm has served as President Biden’s secretary of energy since 2021. Granholm was one of Biden’s least-contested cabinet picks, receiving bipartisan support with a 64–35 Senate vote.
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71: Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., physician (1900-1969)
On April 12, 1955, the world turned its attention to University of Michigan virologist Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., who announced that his trial of unprecedented size and scope found that the vaccine against poliomyelitis was safe and effective. Francis was a brilliant mind behind both the influenza and polio vaccines. In his early life, he studied at Allegheny College and received his medical degree from Yale. He became the first American to isolate the influenza virus, and discovered that it had multiple strains in 1940. This led to his appointment as the director of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board’s Commission on Influenza, leading vaccination work for the U.S. troops in World War II. At Michigan, he mentored Dr. Jonas Salk, eventual creator of the polio vaccine, tested it, then played an instrumental role studying herd immunity. The two worked together to infect and treat Michigan students with influenza, work which would ultimately guide Salk to the vaccine in 1955. In his honor, the University of Michigan gives out the Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health annually.
72: Al Kaline, Tigers right fielder (1934-2020)
Al Kaline, or ‘Mr. Tiger,’ played 22 seasons of Baseball for the Detroit Tigers between 1953 and 1974. His stats are legendary, and he made major achievements throughout every decade he played in. In the 1955 season, Kaline became the youngest player ever to win the American League batting title with a .340 batting average, and ended that season with 200 hits. In 1962, Kaline had a career-high 29 home runs in a season. In September of 1974, Kaline became the 12th player to ever reach the 3,000 milestone. He ended his professional career less than a month later, with a whopping 3,007 career hits. Kaline was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 1980. Kaline worked behind the scenes at Comerica Park until the day he died in 2020, reaching a 67-year run with the Tigers.
73: Bob Seger, singer and songwriter (1945-present)
Detroit-born rocker Bob Seger graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and started his musical career in 1961, playing local joints with a three-piece band called The Decibels. He broke across the fame line in 1969 with his album “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man.” In 1973, he formed the Silver Bullet Band with a group of Detroit-based artists and began belting out a series of chart toppers, including “Against the Wind,” “Night Moves,” “Turn the Page” and “Like a Rock.” His raspy voice and the blue-collar themes of his songs have made him an everyman hero. Seeger’s lyrics often reflect themes of his Michigan upbringing. Seger is among the best-selling musicians of all time, having sold 75 million records over his 60 year career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.
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74: Orville Hubbard, Dearborn mayor and segregationist (1903-1982)
Few suburban mayors had such grand visions for their communities as Orville Hubbard had for Dearborn. Buoyed by a city treasury filled by the many Ford Motor Co. operations within its borders, Hubbard sought to make Dearborn a utopia of gleaming neighborhoods, top-flight services and such rare amenities as a recreational camp in Milford, a retirement complex in Florida, free babysitting for shoppers and a police escort home for intoxicated New Years Eve revelers. All that, and low residential tax rates to boot. During his long tenure from 1942 to 1978, Hubbard was reelected 15 times, often with 70% of the vote or more. But he was also an avid segregationist, employing subtle measures such as red-lining and a ban on low-income housing, and more forceful ones, such as police intimidation to keep Blacks out of Dearborn.
75: Peter Stroh, beer brewer (1927-2002)
Peter Stroh took his family-owned, Detroit-based beer company to soaring heights — and presided over its epic fall. Stroh was the sixth generation of his family to run the Stroh Brewing Company, which was founded by his great-grandfather Bernhard in 1850 on the city’s east side. Stroh tried to make the “fire-brewed” beer a national brand in the 1980s, and through a series of acquisitions it became America’s third largest beer company. Stroh watched the city burn from the roof of his brewery during the unrest of 1967, an experience that he said moved him to activism. He used family and corporate funds to develop Stroh River Place at the foot of Jos. Campau. Stroh retired as chairman in 1997, and his overextended company was dissolved by 2000, though the brand is still manufactured by the Pabst Brewing Co. in Milwaukee.
76: William Upjohn, pharmaceutical pioneer (1853-1932)
William Upjohn was founder of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Co. in Kalamazoo, today known as Pfizer.A doctor, Upjohn practiced medicine in Hastings, Mich., for 10 years while experimenting with ways of administering medicine. He received a patent in 1885 for an easily digestible friable pill and a year later founded his company to make the pills. He served as president for 40 years. Upjohn helped establish the commissioner-manager form of government in Kalamazoo and provided the seed money for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. He also established the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
77: John Engler, governor of Michigan (1948-present)
John Engler was elected three times as governor of Michigan, serving from 1990 to 2002. He started in politics in 1971 as a Republican state representative from the Mt. Pleasant area, serving from 1970 to 1978. He then spent a decade in the state senate, including six years as the chamber’s majority leader. Engler’s years as governor were marked by the privatization of state services and tax reform. To address high property taxes in the state, he cut a deal with Democrats to slash Michigan’s property levy in half and replace the revenue with a higher sales tax, which went to fund schools. He also introduced public charter schools and reorganized state departments. After leaving elected office, Engler served as CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, president of the Business Roundtable and interim president of Michigan State University, his alma mater.
78: Bo Schembechler, University of Michigan football coach (1929-2006)
Glenn “Bo” Schembechler is the most famous college coach in Michigan history. The Ohio native played tackle for Miami University, where he was coached by Woody Hayes, and later became head coach at Miami from 1963 to 1968. In 1969, he moved to the University of Michigan football team, and he and his his old mentor Hayes became arch-rivals. With the Wolverines, Schembechler compiled a record of 194–48–5 over 21 seasons and won or shared 13 Big Ten conference titles. He never won a national championship, but his teams were nationally ranked in all but one season and 16 times finished in the Top 10 in the polls. After retiring as head coach, Schembechler served as UM’s athletic director. He left in 1990 to become president of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, where he made the controversial decision to fire beloved Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell and was fired himself in 1992. He is an inductee into the National College Football Hall of Fame.
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79: John DeLorean, automotive whiz kid (1925-2005)
John Delorean was an engineer and auto executive best known for his creation of the gull-winged, stainless steel DeLorean sports car — and for the criminal scheme that grew out of his desperation to keep it alive. DeLorean was a whiz kid at General Motors Corp., heading the Pontiac division and leading the development of the GTO, Firebird and Grand Prix. He left in 1971 to start his own car company and create his dream car. The DeLorean collapsed after one year, but its creator refused to give up on the concept. In 1982, the feds charged DeLorean with cocaine trafficking in what was believed to be an attempt to save his company. He was acquitted, but the automaker went bankrupt. DeLorean died broke at age 80 in New Jersey. But his sports car lived on as the star of the “Back to the Future” movies.
80: Smokey Robinson, singer and songwriter (1940-present)
William “Smokey” Robinson was founder and frontman of the Motown group Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Robinson was born into a poor family in Detroit,, and developed his love for music as part of a doo-wop group at Northern High School. At one point of his childhood, he and Aretha Franklin were neighbors on Belmont Ave. He formed the first version of the Miracles in 1955 and began playing in Detroit venues. Robinson met Motown founder Berry Gordy two years later, and impressed him with both his singing voice and his songwriting skills. When the Miracles released their first record, Get a Job, Robinson dropped out of engineering school and pursued music full-time. The Miracles’ first hit came in 1960 with Shop Around. Robinson retired from the group in 1972 to become vice-president of Motown. He returned as a solo artists the following year, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1987, as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Pittsburgh in a home that doubles as a winery.
81: William Knudsen, automotive executive and World War II general (1879-1948)
William Knudsen was an automotive executive whose production and logistics skills were so respected that President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned him directly into the U.S. Army as a lieutenant general to help lead the nation’s war production efforts during World War II. The Dutch immigrant was working at a bicycle plant in Buffalo, New York, when it was purchased by Ford Motor Co. in 1911. Knudsen stayed with Ford for 10 years, becoming an expert on mass production. He moved to General Motors Corp., rising to president of GM’s Chevrolet division, and the president of the entire company, a position he held from 1937 to 1940. Roosevelt recruited Knudsen to come to Washington to help with war production. He was appointed Chairman of the Office of Production Management and a member of the National Defense Council at a salary of $1 a year. He was the only civilian to ever join the Army as a lieutenant general. Knudsen is credited with the nation’s unprecedented switch to a wartime manufacturing economy that gave the military the resources necessary to win the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service medal in 1944 and 1945.
82: Fred Meijer, founder of grocery store chain (1919-2011)
Fred Meijer began working in the grocery business at age 14, when he helped his father open a market in Greenville, Michigan. Twenty-eighty years later, in 1962, he and his father launched Meijer Thrifty Acres, a pioneering one-stop store where shoppers could get groceries, clothing, hardware and a variety of other goods. It quickly grew into a popular midwestern chain. It was among the first of the big-box stores. A noted philanthropist, Meijer, helped establish the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids and an honors college at Grand Valley State University that bears his name. A chair in Dutch culture at Calvin College is also named for him. In 1990, he handed over the company to his sons, Doug and Hank, although he remained the chairman of the board until his death. He ranked as the country’s 60th richest person when he died, with a fortune worth $5 billion.
83: Erma Henderson, longtime Detroit City Council member (1917-2009)
Erma Henderson in 1972 became the first Black woman to serve on the Detroit City Council. She remained on the council for 16 years, 12 of them as chair. The social workers was people-focused, and noted for her ability to build consensus. In 1975 she organized the statewide Coalition Against Redlining, taking on the state’s banking and real estate industries to end the practice of intentionally steering Black homebuyers away from certain neighborhoods. The effort led to Michigan’s anti-redlining law. Henderson was a powerful advocate for women in government. Sheh organized the Women’s Conference of Concerns, a coalition of individuals and organizations representing 250,000 women at its peak, She also pushed for more trade with African nations. Henderson’s voice had international reach. She spoke in favor of disarmament at the World Peace Council in Helsinki, and against South African apartheid before the United Nations. During her career, she was considered the most powerful woman in Detroit.
84: Larry Page, co-founder of Google (1973-present)
Larry Page was born in Lansing, the son of a computer scientist father, and developed an early interest in science and technology. Following his dad’s footsteps, Page graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in computer engineering, and then attended Stanford University for graduate school. At Stanford, he and fellow PhD student Sergey Brin began working to develop a search engine that would allow users to find links on the world-wide web at rapid speed. With funds raised from their professors, family and friends, Page and Brin developed the technology behind Google, and incorporated it in 1998. It quickly became synonymous for web search engines. The company went public in 2004, making Page and Brin instant billionaires. A year later, Page led the acquisition of the Android mobile phone company. Both Page and Brin stepped down from executive positions in 2019, but Page remains a board member and controlling shareholder. He’s the world’s eighth-richest man, with an estimated net worth of $95.8 billion.
85: Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings star, general manager (1965-present)
The Detroit Red Wings made Steve Yzerman the fourth overall pick in the 1983 National Hockey League draft. He spent 22 seasons with the Wings, and is considered one of the best to ever play the game. He was named team captain in 1986 and retired as the longest serving captain of any team in North American team history. He led the Wings to five first-place regular season finishes and three Stanley Cup championships (1997, 1998 and 2002). He finished his career as the sixth all-time leading scorer in the NHL and was inducted into both the Canadian and U.S. hockey halls of fame. He played in 10 All-Star games. After retiring as a player in 2006, Yzerman moved to the Wings’ front office, and then became general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He returned to Detroit in 2019 as general manager of the team, a position he still holds.
▶ Wings GM Yzerman sees progress in his fourth year of rebuild: ‘It’s a slow process’
▶ Wojo: Steve Yzerman is back where he belongs (2019)
▶ Niyo: Steve Yzerman’s arrival buys time for Wings to get back on track (2019)
86: Leon Czolgosz, assassin of President William McKinley (1873-1901)
Born in Detroit and raised in Alpena, Leon Czolgosz became radicalized during the economic collapse of 1893, when mills and factories closed throughout the country. He joined a socialist group known as the Sila Club, where he became interested in anarchism, Czolgosz found it difficult to establish relationships, and eventually became a recluse. He believed there was a great injustice in American society caused by the wealthy exploiting the poor, and blamed it on the structure of the American government. He also became fascinated by the assassination of King Umberto I of Italy by an anarchist. On Aug. 31, 1901, Czolgosz traveled to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where President William McKinley was scheduled to speak. A week later, on Sept. 6, he joined a receiving line to greet the president. When he got to the front of the line, he pulled a pistol and shot McKinley, who died eight days later. In his final words before he was electrocuted, Czolgosz declined to apologize, saying, “I shot the president because I thought it would help the working people.”
87: Jack Lousma, Marine Corps officer, engineer and astronaut (1936-present)
Jack Lousma was born in Grand Rapids and attended the University of Michigan, where he was a back-up quarterback on the football team. He became a Marine Corps officer in 1959 and received his aviator wings in 1960. Lousma was one of 19 selected for NASA Astronaut Group 5 in 1966. He was the pilot for Skylab-3 from July 28 to September 25, 1973, and was commander on STS-3, from March 22 until March 30, 1982, logging a total of 1,619 hours in space. Lousma also spent 11 hours on two spacewalks outside the Skylab space station. Lousma was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1984 he was the Michigan Republican Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to incumbent Carl Levin. He was hurt late in the campaign when video surfaced of him telling a group of Japanese auto manufacturers that his family owned a Toyota automobile.
88: Albert Cleage Jr., Christian minister and Black nationalist (1911-2000)
Albert Cleage Jr., a Detroit minister, newspaper publisher and political activist, founded the politically potent Shrine of the Black Madonna Church, as well as the Shrine Cultural Centers and bookstores in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. Cleage advocated Black nationalism and Black separatism during the 1970s, rejecting calls for integration by mainstream Civil Rights leaders. He attended Wayne State University and Oberlin’s divinity school. Although his first churches were integrated, he became convinced that Whites should not be part of the fight for equality and protested their inclusion in the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March to Freedom in Detroit. Through his church and his newspaper, “Illustrated News,” Cleage advocated that Blacks take care of their own and resist help from Whites.
89: Stephen M. Ross, philanthropist, developer and sports team owner (1940-present)
Stephen Ross, one of the most successful real estate developers in the nation, got his start in Michigan. He was born in Detroit and attended Mumford High School. The nephew of mega-philanthropist Max Fisher, Ross is majority owner of The Related Cos., a world-wide development firm he started in 1982. The billionaire graduate of the University of Michigan built the Deutsche Bank Center and Hudson Yards Project in New York City. He is the largest single donor to U-M, and the university’s business school bears his name. He is also the owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise. Though most of his work has been done in New York City and Florida, Ross is currently partnering with the Ilitch family to develop District Detroit, a $1.5 billion project in the heart of downtown Detroit.
90: Hamilton Carhartt, entrepreneur and businessman (1855-1937)
Hamilton Carhartt began his career in wholesale trading in Grand Rapids, then moved to Detroit in 1884 to start a furniture business. In 1989, the company changed to manufacturing working men’s clothing under the name Hamilton Carhartt Manufacturer Inc. Hamilton sought to provide high quality workwear and an “honest value for an honest dollar.” The company launched the Carhartt union-made bib overall that was made of denim fabric and duck, also known as canvas. In the 80s and 90s the Carhartt brand became a fashion statement for a lot of people who knew nothing of manual labor, and remains so today. It also remains family owned. Hamilton Carhartt died in a Grosse Pointe hospital of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
91: Edward McNamara, Livonia mayor and Wayne County executive (1926-2006)
Ed McNamara was an old-school Irish politician and political boss. The World War II Navy veteran attended the University of Detroit on the G.I. Bill and was working at Michigan Bell when he won a seat on the Livonia City Council in 1970. He served for 16 years and is credited with carefully planning the suburb’s growth. He was elected Wayne County’s second county executive in 1986 and was in that position until 2002. His most notable accomplishment was the $1.6 billion expansion of Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport. He was also a political mentor to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former Attorney General Mike Cox and ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose father worked for McNamara. He was briefly under federal investigation of contracting irregularities at the airport, but no charges were filed and the probe was dropped. The main terminal at Metro is named in his honor.
92: Viola Liuzzo, civil rights activist (1925-1965)
In the spring of 1965, Viola Liuzzo went to Selma to help coordinate the Selma to Montgomery protest marches. While driving back from a trip shuttling fellow activists to the Montgomery airport, she was pursued by a car carrying several Ku Klux Klan members and fatally shot. In 1983, the Liuzzo family filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the federal government after learning that one of those accused in her killing was a paid undercover FBI agent. Liuzzo, who was raised in the segregated south and came to Detroit with her family, was an activist locally before going to Selma. She participated in civil rights protests and led a campaign to change a Michigan law that she felt made it too easy for students to drop out of high school.
▶ RELATED STORY: Statue unveiling honors civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo (July 23, 2019)
93: James Blanchard, congressman and governor of Michigan (1942-present)
Jim Blanchard was the 45th governor of Michigan, serving two terms from 1983-1991. The Democrat came to the governor’s office after spending eight years in Congress as the representative from southern Oakland County. Blanchard is credited with leading the federal bail-out of the Chrysler Corp. that likely saved the automaker from bankruptcy. Blanchard grew up in Ferndale and attended college at Michigan State University. He was defeated for a third term in 1993 by Republican John Engler, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton as ambassador to Canada. When he became governor, Michigan had a $1.7 billion budget deficit and a 17% unemployment rate. He reorganized state government and raised taxes and fees, and left office having achieved eight straight balanced budgets.
94: Tim Allen, comedian and actor (1953-present)
Tim Allen, star of the popular “Home Improvement” television series, moved with his mother as a young teen to Birmingham, graduated from Seaholm High School and then Western Michigan University. Allen was a stand-up comedian when he got the role of Tim “the Toolman” Taylor. Later, he starred in movies such as “The Santa Clause” and “Christmas with the Kranks.” He is the voice of Buzz Lightyear in the “Toy Story” movies. Allen also landed a second long-running comedy series, “Last Man Standing.” His career got off to a rocky start. He was arrested in 1978 at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport for cocaine possession. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and served more than two years in a federal prison. Most recently, Allen is known as the narrator for the award-winning Pure Michigan television commercials.
95: William Lucas, Wayne County’s first black sheriff, first exec (1928-2022)
William Lucas spent most of his working life as an elected official in Wayne County. His first political job for the Fordham University Law School grad was sheriff, an office he won in 1970 after serving as a New York City cop and an FBI agent. He was the first Black sheriff of Wayne County. Twelve years later, Lucas became the first county executive, following the adoption of a new charter by voters. Elected as a Democrat, he switched party four years later to run as a Republican for governor against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard. Lucas lost, but he wasn’t done with public service. After losing a race for Recorder’s Court judge, Lucas served briefly as a Justice Department official in the George H.W. Bush administration before winning a seat on the Wayne County Circuit court. The court’s age limits forced him to retire in 2002. He was named a Detroit News Michiganian of the Year in 1984.
▶ William Lucas, Wayne County’s first Black sheriff and former county executive, dies at 94 (May 30, 2022)
96: Father Solanus Casey, Catholic priest (1870-1957)
Correction: Casey was previously identified as a saint. He has not yet been elevated from beatification.
Father Solanus Casey was a Detroit Catholic priest and member of the Capuchin order. Throughout his service, he focused his ministry on the sick, and became known as a healer. After his death, a movement began to elevate Casey to sainthood. He went into the priesthood after working a variety of jobs in Minnesota, including guard in a prison that held members of the Jessie James gang. As a young man in Wisconsin, he was standing before a statue of the Virgin Mary when he said he heard her spiritual voice telling him to “go to Detroit.” The call took him to St. Bonaventure Convent, where he was involved in the founding of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, serving food to the poor during the Depression. The miracle that qualified him for beatification was the curing of a woman of a genetic skin condition. His beatification occurred in 2017 at Ford Field.
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▶ Bankole Thompson: Father Casey, a blessing of thanks for Detroit (2017)
97: Mike Duggan, mayor of Detroit (1958-present)
Mike Duggan lived most of his life in suburban Livonia, where he came under the tutelage of former Livonia Mayor and Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara. Duggan served as McNamara’s top lieutenant in running the county. In 2001, he ran for Wayne County prosecutor, served one term and was appointed CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. Duggan resigned to run in the 2013 Detroit mayoral election, but was disqualified from the ballot because he had not been a Detroit resident for the required one year before filing his petitions. He mounted a write-in campaign and won the primary with 52% of the vote, and then the general election, becoming the first White mayor of Detroit since Roman Gibbs in 1974. Duggan inherited the job of rebuilding the city following its state takeover and subsequent bankruptcy. He won reelection in 2017 and 2021 on a platform of rebuilding the city’s troubled residential neighborhoods.
98: Charles Diggs, founder of the Congressional Black Caucus (1922-1998)
Charles Diggs was a congressman from Detroit and an early participant in the civil rights movement.He gained notoriety when he attended the murder trial of the two White Mississippians accused of murdering Emmit Till, a 14-year-old who was accused of flirting with a White woman. Diggs became a funeral director after his World War II military service, then followed his father into the Michigan state senate. Elected to Congress from Detroit in 1954, Diggs served until 1980, when he was convicted of mail fraud, a charge he denied. Diggs served 14 months of a three-year sentence. While in Congress, he was a vocal critic of South Africa’s apartheid government. He also founded the Congressional Black Caucus.
99: Mona Hanna Attisha, Flint water advocate (1976-present)
Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha, a pediatrician at the Hurley Medical Center, was among the first to sound the alarm about high water levels in Flint’s drinking water. When she first learned that lead may have leached into Flint’s water, Upon hearing about the possibility of lead in the water, Hanna-Attisha began a new research study that found tthe percentage of children in Flint with excess lead levels in their blood doubled after the city’s water source changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River and that the areas of Flint with the highest water lead levels showed “the most drastic increases in elevated lead levels in children.” The findings forced the state to acknowledge the water was unsafe and touched off a movement to treat the affected children and lawsuits that have awarded millions of dollars to Flint residents
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100: William Webb Ferguson, politician and civil rights pioneer (1857-1910)
William Webb Ferguson was responsible for a lot of “firsts” in Michigan. Most notably he was the first Black person elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. A Republican, he was sworn in as a member of the house in 1893 and served for four years. Earlier in his life, he was the first Black child to attend public school in Detroit and graduated with honors from Detroit High School. In 1889 he sued a restaurant manager for discrimination in Wayne County Circuit Court. Though he lost, he won his 1890 appeal in front of the Michigan Supreme Court. It was said to be the first case of racial discrimination in the state. Among his descendants are former state Rep. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas, D-Detroit, who pushed for the Michigan Freedom Trail Project, which preserves and promotes the legacy of the Underground Railroad and the antislavery movement in Michigan.
101: Dennis Archer, Detroit mayor (1942-present)
Dennis Archer was born in Detroit but moved with his family as a young boy to the west Michigan community of Cassopolis. He returned to Detroit after graduating from Western Michigan University with plans for a teaching career. Instead, he earned a law degree from Detroit College of Law and enjoyed a successful 15-year practice before being appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by Gov. James Blanchard in 1986. He left the court in 1990, and in 1993 ran a successful campaign for mayor of Detroit to replace the retiring Mayor Coleman A. Young. He served two terms, and is credited with repairing the city’s relations with the suburbs and the business community and bringing tech giant Compuware and new stadiums for the Detroit Tigers and Lions to downtown Detroit. After leaving politics, he was selected as the first African American president of the American Bar Association.
▶ PREVIOUS STORY: Archer reflects on background in public service, beyond
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102: Aaliyah, singer and actor (1979-2001)
Aaliyah Dana Haughton’s time on Earth was short, but more than 20 years after her untimely death at age 22, her legacy lives on. Born in Brooklyn, New York but raised in Detroit where she attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, Aaliyah was considered a redefining voice in contemporary R&B and pop of the 1990s. For her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” she collaborated with R. Kelly, who entered into an illegal (and later annulled) marriage with the singer when she was underage. Aaliyah moved on to work with influential producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who ushered her to the top of the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop charts where her “One in a Million” lived for eight weeks in 1996. She transitioned easily into the pop realm with “Are You That Somebody?” from the “Dr. Dolittle” film soundtrack. Aaliyah starred in 1999’s “Romeo Must Die” and the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Queen of the Damned,” which was released 2002, one year after Aaliyah’s death in a plane crash.
103: Jack White, musician and Third Man Records co-founder (1975-present)
One of the the 21st century’s bonafide rock stars and a modern guitar hero, Jack White was born John Gillis, the youngest of 10 children in Detroit. The Cass Tech alum continued to live in the city even after he became famous. A 12-time Grammy Award winner, White lives in Nashville now, but still has deep roots in town, mainly family, friends and the Third Man Records store and vinyl pressing plant in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. The store is near where White got his start with bandmate and ex-wife Meg White and their duo the White Stripes, which helped kick off a garage-rock revival in the early 2000s. In addition to his successful solo career, White is also a member of the Raconteurs and Dead Weather and was listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” In 2013, White saved the Masonic Temple from foreclosure after quietly footing the bill for its back taxes.
104: Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions star (1968-present)
Selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1989 draft, Sanders dominated the NFL for the next decade.He won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the year award in 1991, led the league in rushing yards four times and in rushing touchdowns once. Though just 5 ft. 8 in. tall, his quickness and agility made him a gridiron stand-out. In 1997, he rushed for 2,053 yards and was named the NFL’s most valuable player. Sanders played college ball for Oklahoma State, where he compiled what is considered the greatest individual college season in history, rushing for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns in 11 games and winning the Heisman Trophy. He retired in 1999 at age 31, while still at the top of his game and likely just one season away from breaking the all-time rushing record held by Walter Payton.
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105: Vincent Chin, killed in racially motivated attack (1955-1982)
In 1982, anti-Asian resentment was running high in Detroit. Autoworkers fearful of layoffs and plant closings turned the blame toward Japanese automakers. Vincent Chin, a draftsman of Chinese descent, was celebrating his bachelor party at a strip club in Highland Park when he encountered Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz. Apparently assuming Chin was Japanese, they taunted him with racial slurs. A brawl ensued, and the pair beat Chin to death with a baseball bat. They were allowed to plead to a manslaughter charge and received three years probation. The lenient sentence sparked widespread protests and is seen as a critical turning point for Asian American civil rights activism and a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.
▶ RELATED STORY: 40 years later: How Vincent Chin’s death sparked a civil rights movement
106: Ernie Harwell, Tigers broadcaster (1918-2010)
No voice in the history of Michigan is as familiar as that of Ernie Harwell, the legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster. Harwell, who was born in Georgia, spent 42 of his 55 years as a play-by-play announcer in Detroit. Famed for his folksy sayings – “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by” – Harwell’s deep knowledge of the game and familiarity with the players made his radio listeners feel as if they were in the ballpark. He started his baseball career at an early age as a visiting ballboy for the Atlanta Crackers when he was 5 years old. At 16, he began working as a regional correspondent for The Sporting News. He liked to say he never paid for a ticket to a baseball game in his life. The Tigers didn’t renew Harwell’s contract in 1992, but fan outrage led new Tiger owner Mike Ilitch to bring him back when he took over the team the following year.
107: Art Van Elslander, businessman and furniture titan (1930-2018)
A giant in the American furniture industry, Art Van Elslander started his first Art Van store in East Detroit in 1959. During its peak, there were around 200 stores in the country, including Art Van and its offshoots, like Pure Sleep and Scott Shuptrine. Locally, “Mr. Van” was known for his philanthropy, and was credited with saving America’s Thanksgiving Parade with generous donations that started in the 1990s and continued through the decades. Just before his death in 2017, Van Elslander donated $20 million to the Solanus Casey Center. According to a spokesperson for the family, the donation was in honor of the friendship between Casey and Van Elslander’s father.
108: Matty Moroun, businessman and bridge owner (1927-2020)
Billionaire businessman Matty Maroun of Grosse Pointe was best known as the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, one of the few privately owned spans between the United States and Canada. Maroun built his fortune in the transportation industry, controlling several over-the-road trucking companies. He was also the long-time owner of the abandoned Michigan Central railway Depot in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, and became the target of criticism as the once-grand building deteriorated. He eventually sold the depot to Ford Motor Co, which is rehabilitating it. In addition, Maroun drew attacks for attempting to block the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which when completed will be a competitor to the Ambassador Bridge.
109: William Davidson, businessman and Pistons owner (1922-2009)
William Davidson was chair and CEO of Guardian Industries of Auburn Hills, one of the world’s largest glass manufacturers. As president of Palace Sports and Entertainment, he also owned several professional sports teams, including the Detroit Pistons of the NBA,, the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, and the Detroit Shock of the WNBA. The World War II veteran attended the University of Michigan and got his law degree from Wayne State University. He took over his family’s struggling glass business in 1957 and brought it out of bankruptcy. He was also a major league philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to cultural and humanitarian causes in Metro Detroit and Israel.
110: Russell Alger, former Michigan governor (1836-1907)
Russell Alger was a one-term governor of Michigan from 1885 to 1887. The Grand Rapids resident entered politics after service in the Civil War and a successful career in the lumber business. He joined the Army as a private and rose to major general before retiring in 1864. Alger was later elected commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s group, and was successful in raising soldier pensions. As governor, he formed a soldier’s home, a pardon board and a state mining school and helped pass legislation to regulate the Lake Superior ship canal. He served as President William McKinley’s secretary of war during the Spanish American War and in the U.S. Senate from 1902 to 1907.
111: Ossian Sweet, Detroit doctor charged with murder after race riot (1895-1960)
Ossian Sweet was an African American physician who got caught up in Detroit’s restrictive housing covenants intended to prevent Blacks from moving into many neighborhoods in the city. Sweet and his wife, Gladys, purchased a home in 1925 on Garland street on the city’s east side. They quickly became the target of racial resentment. A White mob gathered outside the house, throwing rocks and breaking windows. Sweet was inside with his brothers and friends, who had arrived to help him defend his home. Shots were fired from inside, killing one of the Whites outside and wounding another. The Sweets and nine other defendants were charged with murder. The NAACP stepped in, enlisting famed attorneys Clarence Darrow and Charles Mahoney (newsmaker 148) to defend him. All-White juries acquitted some of the defendants, and charges were eventually dropped against Sweet and the others in a rare and early victory for the Civil Rights movement.
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112: Roger Chaffee, Apollo astronaut (1935-1967)
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Roger Chaffee was a Purdue-educated aeronautical engineer, naval officer and pilot before being tapped by NASA in 1963 to join the nation’s budding space program. He was one of 14 astronauts selected for the Gemini and Apollo missions. After serving in a supporting ground role for the Gemini 3 and 4 missions, Chaffee received his first space flight assignment as a pilot on Apollo 1. While performing a pre-launch test on Jan. 27, 1967 at Cape Canaveral, with fellow crew members Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Ed White, an electrical surge touched off a fire. A voice, believed to be Chaffee, reported, “We’ve got a fire in the cockpit.” All three astronauts were killed. Chaffee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
113: John Sinclair, poet and activist (1941-present)
Flint native John Sinclair was a leading figure in the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s and an early advocate for the legalization of marijuana in Michigan. While adapting his poetry to music, Sinclair became manager of the Detroit rock band the MC5. He also founded the White Panther party, a militant, anti-racist political collective that dovetailed with the Black Panthers. Sinclair was prominent in the reorganization of The Fifth Estate, Detroit’s anarchist newspaper, and founded the underground newspaper the Ann Arbor Sun. He was arrested in 1969 for marijuana possession and sentenced to 10 years in prison, a harsh punishment that sparked a nationwide protest. John Lennon took up his cause and he, Yoko Ono and other celebrities appeared at a John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor. Two years later, Sinclair was freed when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the state’s marijuana statutes were invalid. Sinclair then became the face of Ann Arbor’s annual Hash Bash.
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114: Ben Carson, neurosurgeon and politician (1951-present)
Ben Carson was born in Southwest Detroit and graduated third in his class at Southwestern High school. He received a full scholarship to Yale, where he studied psychology, and then entered the University of Michigan Medical School. From there he went to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine neurosurgery program. Carson was named director of pediatric neurosurgery, specializing in traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors and epilepsy. He gained fame by leading a 70-member surgical team that separated twins who were conjoined at the back of the head. Carson retired from medicine and entered the political realm as an opinion columnist for the Washington TImes. Carson launched a presidential bid in 2016 as a Republican, losing to ultimate GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump tapped Carson to be his secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
115: Eddie Slovik, soldier executed for desertion (1920-1945)
Pvt. Eddie Slovik of Detroit was the only U.S. soldier executed for desertion in World War II, and the first since the Civil War. Slovik, who had avoided the draft for most of the war because of a criminal record, was conscripted in January of 1944 and trained as a rifleman. That August, he was shipped to France and almost immediately joined the combat with the Germans. After being lost in a chaotic battle and returned to his unit by a Canadian patrol, Slovik declared himself too nervous and frightened to fight. He signed a confession of desertion and threatened to run away if he was ordered into battle. Several attempts to change his mind failed. He was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge, denied his appeal out of concern it would encourage more soldiers to go AWOL. Slovik was shot to death in eastern France in January of 1945.
116: Nancy Harkness Love, pilot (1914-1976)
Born Hannah Lincoln Harkness in Houghton, Mich., Nancy Harkness Love earned her pilot’s license when she was 16 and her commercial license during her freshman year of college. In the 1930s, she worked alongside her husband Robert Love in their Boston-based aviation company, flew in air races in Los Angeles and Detroit and worked as an air marker and test pilot. It was Nancy Love’s idea, during World War II, to enlist the country’s talented women pilots to fly aircrafts from factories to military airfields. Love would eventually command the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Pilots, later known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, including a 107-woman unit based at what is now Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Love was awarded an Air Medal and is honored in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
117: Alfred P. Sloan, GM CEO and philanthropist (1875-1966)
A longtime chairman and CEO of General Motors Corporation, Sloan helped the automaker grow in the first half of the 20th century. He had a reputation for administrative genius and pioneered the concept of annual styling changes, but his legacy is marred by a GM collaboration with Nazi Germany ahead of World War II, which Sloan told shareholders was a highly profitable strategy and a sound business practice. But his philanthropic efforts still have an impact today: In 1945, Sloan donated $4 million to create the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. And each year since 2003, the Sundance Film Festival has given the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for a film that focuses on science or technology, or depicts a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character. The $20,000 prize is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
118: Hiram Walker, whiskey maker, newspaper investor (1816-1899)
Born in 1816 in Douglass, Mass., Hiram Walker came to Detroit in 1838 and took up work as a clerk in a dry goods store on Atwater Street and eventually opened his own grocery shop. He prospered in the grocery business but sensed opportunity in Canada where labor, grain and land were cheaper. Walker opened a distillery across the Detroit River in Ontario in 1858, in what would become the company town of Walkerville, where he produced a product he first called Hiram Walker’s Club Whiskey, later rebranded Canadian Club. Walker was also a major investor in the Detroit Daily Advertiser, of which James E. Scripps was part owner and manager. Scripps used the insurance money from an 1873 fire at the Advertiser’s offices to start The Evening News, a competitor to the Advertiser.
119: The Rev. Charles Coughlin (1891-1979)
Known as the “Radio Priest,” Father Coughlin was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach his audience. Born in Hamilton, Ontario and died in Bloomfield Hills, he was a controversial figure who at one time had an estimated 30 million listeners to his weekly broadcast. Proceeds from the radio ministry funded the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica Catholic Church in Royal Oak, where he later broadcasted. While he called for the protection of labor rights and was critical of prohibition, he was widely seen as a divisive demagogue and isolationist who spewed antisemitic ideas. In 1942 Dr. Seuss attacked Coughlin in a series of political cartoons and the mailing permit for his Social Justice newspaper was temporarily suspended under the Espionage Act of 1917.
120: Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith, Michigan State football great (1945-2011)
Born in Orange, Texas, Charles “Bubba” Smith hoped to play for the University of Texas, but persistent racial segregation — the Southwest Conference would not integrate until 1967 — brought him to Michigan State University, where he was a two-time All-American. The “quarterback-ripping edge rusher,” as News columnist Lynn Henning described him upon his death in 2011, inspired chants of “Kill, Bubba, Kill” in place of “Rah! Team Fight!” in the school fight song. Smith was the first pick in the 1967 NFL draft and played nine seasons before embarking on an acting career. He appeared in as many as 50 movies and shows, most notably as Capt. Moses Hightower in the Police Academy series, and as himself in long-running commercials for Lite Beer from Miller, in which he also liked “the easy-opening cans.”
It was a gig he famously quit in 1986 after students chanted beer slogans upon seeing him as MSU’s homecoming grand marshal. Smith was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988, and MSU retired Smith’s number 95 jersey in 2006.
121: Michael Moore, filmmaker (1954-present)
Michael Moore, a Flint native, is a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on globalization and capitalism. In 2002, he won an Academy Award for “Bowling for Columbine,” which examined the causes of the Colorado school shootings and America’s gun culture. His 1989 film “Roger and Me” documented his attempt to get an accounting from General Motor Chair Roger Smith (131) on his leadership of the automaker and its impact on workers and communities such as Flint. Moore is credited by many as popularizing documentary filmmaking. The progressive activist was named in 2005 by Time as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Moore founded the Traverse City Film Festival and the Traverse City Comedy Festival.
122: Peter Secchia, Businessman and Ambassador (1937-2020)
Peter Secchia was the CEO and chair of Universal Forest Products, a west Michigan company that manufactures engineered wood components. He was also a prolific Republican fundraiser, confidant of Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, and ambassador to Italy. Secchia founded the Kent County Republican Party and was appointed by Gov. John Engler to chair the Secchia Commission, which was focused on improving government services. A graduate of Michigan State University, Secchia donated $1 million to build a new stadium for the women’s softball team and funded a building on the Grand Rapids MSU medical campus, both of which bear his name.
123: Jerome Cavanagh, 1960s Mayor of Detroit (1928-1979)
Jerome Cavanagh was considered one of the most progressive mayors in the nation during his tenure leading Detroit from 1962 to 1970. That made the unrest of 1967 somewhat surprising for many. He won his first political race ever at 33 years old as one of 11 challengers to incumbent mayor Louis Miriani. Cavanagh courted African American voters and criticized Mirani’s record on race relations. As mayor, he reformed the police department, instituted affirmative action in hiring and marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1963 Walk to Freedom in Detroit. Cavanagh ran for the Democratic Senate nomination in 1966 but was defeated by former Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams. Upon his death from a heart attack in 1979 at age 51, The Detroit News described a political career that “combined spectacular victories with crushing defeats.”
124: Walter O. Briggs, Industrialist and Detroit Tigers owner (1877-1952)
Walter Briggs was part-owner of the Detroit Tigers from 1919 to 1935, and then sole owner from 1935 to his death in 1952. Briggs also helped fund the Detroit Zoo in 1928, and personally paid for many of its first exhibits. He was also a patron of Eastern Michigan University and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He formed the Briggs Manufacturing Co. in 1908 to make automobile bodies and later diversified into plumbing fixtures. As Tigers owner, he led the expansion of Navin Field, which later became Tiger Stadium, to 58,000 seats from 23,000. His teams won American League pennants in 1940 and 1945 and the 1945 World Series.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct years in which the Briggs-owned Tigers won the pennant.
125: Iggy Pop, Godfather of Punk (1947-present)
Iggy Pop, who started life in Ann Arbor as James Osterberg Jr., is a ground-breaking musician honored as “the Godfather of Punk.” He pioneered the primitive, aggressive style of rock with his band the Stooges. Their confrontational performances often involved acts of self-mutilation by Pop. He began his solo career by collaborating with his friend and fellow superstar David Bowie on the 1977 albums “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life.” He is famed for his outrageous stage antics, poetic lyrics and distinctive voice. While enjoying only limited commercial success, he is a cultural icon who influenced a wide range of musicians in numerous genres.
126: Elmore Leonard, novelist (1925-2013)
One of Michigan’s most prolific and famous authors, Elmore Leonard authored 48 novels. The former Campbell Ewald advertising copywriter started out writing short stories, then moved to westerns. But he gained his greatest fame from crime novels, including Get Shorty, Gold Coast, Glitz, Stick and 52 Pick-up. His stories are known for their gritty realism and punchy dialogue. Many of his books were made into movies. Leonard, who attended the University of Detroit, set several of his stories in the Motor City.He was given the nickname Dutch while in the Navy, and it stuck. He maintained homes in Oakland County, throughout his and died there in 2013.
127: Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza (1937-present)
Thomas Monaghan is an entrepreneur and Catholic philanthropist. He founded the company that would later become Domino’s Pizza in the 1960s, while studying architecture at the University of Michigan. The business grew in college towns by emphasizing fast delivery. He bought the Detroit Tigers in 1983 and a year later the team won the World Series. Monaghan sold the team in 1992 as he began divesting himself of his possessions to focus on his religion. In 1988 he also sold 93% of his pizza company for $1 billion. After that he dedicated his time and much of his fortune to supporting Catholic charities and the pro-life movement. He founded Ave Maria University in Orchard Lake, later sold it and reestablished the school in Florida.
128: Tom Izzo, Michigan State University basketball coach (1955-present)
Tom Izzo, who grew up in Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula, has been head basketball coach atf Michigan State University since 1995. In 2016 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Izzo has led the Spartans to eight Final Fours in the NCAA tournament, ten Big Ten regular season championships and six league tournament titles. In 2000, the Spartans won a NCAA national championship under his guidance. Izzo has posted the most wins in MSU history, and is currently the winningest coach in the Big Ten. Several of his players have gone on to success in the NBA, and a number of his assistants have become college head coaches.
129: Charleszetta Lena “Mother” Waddles, minister and activist (1912-2001)
Charleszetta Lena Waddles, better known as Mother Waddles, founded the Perpetual Mission church in Detroit. Believing that meeting the physical needs of her congregants was as important as ministering to their souls, Mother Waddles for four decades tended the sick, sheltered the homeless and fed the hungry. She pioneered the now-common practice of accepting cars as charitable donations. She operated under the motto, “We don’t turn anyone away.”
130: Terry Nichols, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator (1955-present)
Terry Nichols, a farmer and itinerant worker from Lapeer, was a co-conspirator with Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The bombing killed 168 people, including children in a day care center inside the building. Nichols met McVeigh while both were in the Army. He developed his resentment toward the government during the period of widespread farm foreclosures and began attending anti-government meetings and experimenting with explosives. The bombing — the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history — prompted the federal government to overhaul its security policies and spurred scrutiny of homegrown extremists and militia groups, especially in Michigan. Nichols was convicted of conspiracy and manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains.
General Motors Chairman Roger Smith — the subject of filmmaker Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger & Me” — took over GM in 1981 after the automaker suffered its first earnings loss since the 1920s. Smith, who started as an accounting clerk at GM in 1949, implemented sweeping, often controversial changes, including the closure of several domestic plants and strategic joint ventures with Japanese and Korean automakers. He launched GM’s Saturn division and steered the company toward technological automation and robotics. But GM’s culture was resistant to change, and much of what Smith attempted to do was slow to take root. During his tenure, GM’s U.S. market share fell to 36% from 45%, and the company edged close to bankruptcy.
132: Garfield Wood, inventor and boat racer (1880-1971)
Garfield Wood was the son of a ferry boat operator and grew up working on boats. In 1911, he invented a hydraulic lift for unloading coal from cargo ships. That led to the establishment of the Wood Hoist Co. in Detroit. But Wood’s love of boats prevailed. He switched to making pleasure crafts, including the Chris-Craft wooden boats, and ultimately racing boats. Wood set a new water speed record of 74.87 miles per hour in 1920 — and broke it five more times in the next 12 years in his famed Miss America boats.
133: Harry Bennett, Henry Ford’s strongman (1892-1979)
Harry Bennett was Henry Ford’s muscle, the strongman who kept order in his plants and union organizers out of them. Bennett, a former boxer and sailor, worked for Ford Motor Co. from the 1920s to 1945 as head of the company’s infamous “service department.” His union-busting tactics made him Public Enemy No. 1 with the United Auto Workers. He’s most remembered for leading security guards against union organizers in the 1937 Battle of the Overpass at Ford’s Rouge Plant. He was fired when Henry Ford II took over the company.
134: Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1904-1971)
Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit in 1904, but moved with his parents to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was 11 years old. (He returned to Detroit in 1927 and was baptized at historic Second Baptist Church.) He studied at the University of California-Los Angeles and at Harvard University and became involved in the emerging civil rights movement as a student. Bunche was recruited for a job at the United Nations from the U.S. State Department in 1946 and soon began working on peace efforts between Israel and the Arab states. Bunche was instrumental in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria — work for which he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He was appointed Under-Secretary-General of the UN in 1968.
135: Dave Bing, former Mayor and basketball player (1943-present)
Dave Bing, born in Washington, D.C., started playing basketball in high school and was named Syracuse Athlete of the Year his senior year. He joined the Detroit Pistons in 1966, where he played for nine seasons, until 1975. He’s the team’s fourth all-time leading scorer, and his No. 21 is retired by the franchise. After his NBA career, Bing founded manufacturing company Bing Steel. In 2008, Bing campaigned to complete the term of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who resigned after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Bing won the seat and was reelected to a full term in 2009. But he lost much of his power in 2013 after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr to handle the city’s finances. Bing did not seek reelection in 2013. He founded the Bing Youth Institute with the mission to empower young Black boys and men to reach their full potential.
136: George Gipp, legendary college football player (1895-1920)
College football player George “the Gipper” Gipp died at age 25 in 1920, but his name lived on. Born and raised in Laurium in the Upper Peninsula, Gipp had an astonishing career at the University of Notre Dame, setting records that would last for decades and at least one that still holds today. In the 1940 film “Knute Rockne, All American,” Gipp was played by future President Ronald Reagan. The legend goes that while he was dying from strep throat and pneumonia, he said to Rockne, “win just one for the Gipper.” The phrase was later used as a political slogan by Reagan in the 1980s.
137: Tyree Guyton, creator of The Heidelberg Project (1955-present)
Detroit native Tyree Guyton turned his childhood street into an internationally known unorthodox art gallery. His colorful, surreal transformations of houses on Heidelberg Street included affixing some with polka dots, naked baby dolls, stuffed animals, shoes and other found objects. Guyton was named by The Detroit News as a Michiganian of the Year in 1991. He was described then as “a gifted, gentle man with a national forum, telling the world how it was to grow up poor and black in Detroit, and how he felt compelled to express that through his art.”
▶ RELATED GALLERY: Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project through the years
138: John D. Voelker, author and judge (1903-1991)
John D. Voelker, also known by his pen name Robert Traver, was a noted lawyer, author and fly fisherman from Ishpeming in the Upper Peninsula. Educated at the University of Michigan Law school, his early professional career was as an attorney and county prosecutor in Marquette County. Voelker was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1957. As an author, he’s best known for the novel Anatomy of a Murder, published in 1958. It was made into a film of the same name directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart.
139: Don Barden, casino and cable TV mogul (1943-2011)
Don Barden successfully owned and operated many business enterprises in various industries, including real estate development, casino gaming, broadcasting, cable television and international trade. He wired the city of Detroit for cable in the early 1980s. For years, the Barden gambling facility in Gary existed beside another casino belonging to Donald Trump. Barden bought out Trump. Though his bid to own one of Detroit’s three casinos was rejected, Barden became the first Black casino owner in Las Vegas with his purchase of Fitzgerald’s in 2001. In 2003, Black Enterprise Magazine selected Barden as Company of the Year.
140: Walter P. Chrysler, Founder of Chrysler Corp. (1875-1940)
Walter P. Chrysler was an early automobile industrialist and founder of Chrysler Corp. He worked with the railroads, before receiving a call in 1911 from Charles W. Nash, then president of Buick, who was looking for a production supervisor for his auto plant. He became president of Buick, and after lucrative stints with other automakers, Chrysler founded the company that bore his name, expanding it by buying out the Dodge Brothers. He built the Chrysler Building in New York City and was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1928.
Yesterday: 141, Gretchen Valade. Tomorrow: 139
141: Gretchen Valade, Carhartt heiress, dubbed Detroit’s ‘Angel of Jazz’ (1925 – 2023)
Gretchen Valade was dubbed Detroit’s Angel of Jazz for rescuing the Detroit Jazz Festival and supporting the city’s musician community. The granddaughter of overall king Hamilton Carhartt eventually rose to chairman of the company that makes work clothing. Outside of her roles at Carhartt, Gretchen Valade was also a well-known businesswoman, having owned and operated a number of establishments in Southeast Michigan and beyond, including the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Farms and a record label.
142: Waunetta McClellan Dominic, champion of Native American rights in Michigan (1921-1981)
An Odawa rights activist, Waunetta McClellan Dominic dedicated her life to demanding the United States government live up to its treaty obligations to Native Americans. The co-founder of the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association achieved a major victory in 1971 when she won a claim against the federal government for compensation under 19th Century treaties. She also championed Native American fishing rights. In 1979, she was a member of the inaugural class of Michiganians of the Year honored by the Detroit News.
143: Albert Cobo, mayor during 1950s boom times, he presided over projects with racist results (1893-1957)
In 1933, Albert Cobo’s employer, Burroughs “loaned” him to the city to help out during a financial crisis. He never returned. Instead, he was elected treasurer in 1935 and ran for mayor in 1949. He led the city to its population peak of 1.8 million people in 1950. Construction of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the Spirit of Detroit statue, and the expansion of the expressway system took place at this time. He was criticized for projects that razed Black neighborhoods and supporting the city’s housing segregation policy.
▶ RELATED STORY: Proposed I-375 project will elevate a Detroit roadway above its racist past
▶ RELATED GALLERY: Detroit’s Cobo Center through the years
144: Peter Karmanos Jr., tech entrepreneur, hockey owner, cancer fighter (1943-present)
The oldest child of Greek immigrants, Peter Karmanos Jr. has led a varied life. The Wayne State University alum co-founded Detroit-based software company, the Compuware Corporation in 1973. He’s also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, having owned the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, the Plymouth Whalers junior ice hockey club and the ECHL team Florida Everblades. In addition to software and ice hockey, Karmanos is known for his philanthropy. Because of his donations to the Michigan Cancer Foundation, the center was renamed the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in 1995 on honor of his wife who died of breast cancer in 1989 at the age of 46. Peter Karmanos’ and his current wife Danialle Karmanos established the Karmanos Center for Natural Birth at Beaumont Hospital and have donated to many local institutions.
145: Eleanor Josaitis and Fr. William Cunningham, Focus HOPE co-founders
Josaitis (1931-2011) and Cunningham (1930-1997) were the co-founders of Focus: HOPE along with Father Jerome Fraser. Though it has no affiliation with the Catholic church, the community initiative started in the basement of the Catholic Church of Madonna in 1968. The nonprofit worked toward resolving discrimination and injustice in the city of Detroit following the 1967 Detroit Riot/Rebellion. Cunningham was given many honors throughout his life including NAACP’s Ira W. Jayne Memorial Medal. After his death in 1997 the church honored his legacy with the award-winning William T. Cunningham Memorial Choir. When Josaitis, who was often called “Detroit’s Mother Theresa,” died in 2021, more than 1,000 people attended her services, which were at the very church where Focus: HOPE started.
146: Ruth Ellis, early leader for Detroit’s gay community (1899-2000)
Ruth Ellis, born in 1899 in Springfield, Ill., was known as the oldest surviving out lesbian at the time of her death in 2000 at age 101. She came out in 1915 and in the 1930s moved to Detroit with her partner, Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. The two ran a printing shop and opened their home, which became known as “The Gay Spot,” to Black, gay Detroiters who did not feel welcome in White gay bars and clubs. The Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ+ youth was named in her honor in 1999. “In my day we weren’t heard of very much,” Ruth Ellis told The Detroit News in 1995. “… If they knew you were a lesbian, you were sort of ostracized. People thought we should be out of the picture, but we’re very much in the picture.”
147: Martha Reeves, earned Motown fame with Vandellas (1941-Present)
Born into a musical family and raised in the choir at the Detroit church where her grandfather was pastor, Martha Reeves had a head start toward stardom. In 1961, Motown Records songwriter Mickey Stevenson heard her sing at The 20 Grand nightclub and invited her to schedule an audition. She showed up unannounced the next day, but Stevenson — who would pen the seminal Martha and the Vandellas hit “Dancing in the Street” — hired her as a secretary. Reeves still performs with the Vandellas and on her own. The group joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Reeves served on the Detroit City Council from 2005 to 2009.
148: Charles Mahoney, first African American U.S. delegate to U.N. (1887-1966)
Charles H. Mahoney, born in Decatur, Mich., was a distinguished attorney, businessman and civil servant who in 1954 became the first African American U.S. delegate — and the first from Michigan — to the United Nations. Mahoney, alongside Clarence Darrow, represented Detroit physician Ossian Sweet, who was charged with murder after defending himself against an attack by a White mob. Sweet was acquitted. Mahoney co-founded and for 30 years served as president of the Great Lakes Mutual Insurance Company.
149: Louis Upton, developed electric washing machine, founded Whirlpool (1886-1952)
A one-time insurance salesman who received a patent for a hand-operated washer to settle a failed business investment, Louis Upton developed an electric washing machine and founded the Upton Machine Co. in Benton Harbor in 1911. The company’s first order for 100 machines, hand-painted by Louis, was delivered to Chicago by horse-drawn carriage — driven by his brother Fred. Renamed Whirlpool Corp. in 1950, the company today is one of Michigan’s largest. Upton’s descendants include former Congressman Fred Upton and model Kate Upton.
150: Minoru Yamasaki, architect, left imprint on Detroit (1912-86)
Many of Metro Detroit’s most stunning structures got their beginnings on the drawing board of Minoru Yamaski. The architect most famous for designing the doomed twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City brought a modernist influence to a downtown Detroit dominated by the Art Deco and neo-Gothic buildings of the post-World War I era. His work includes One Woodward Ave., Yamasaki’s first skyscraper; the McGregor Memorial Conference Center on the campus of Wayne State University, inspired by an extended visit to Italy, India and Japan following a near-fatal attack of ulcers; the Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium, also at WSU; and Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills. Yamasaki is considered one of the most prominent architects of the 20th century. A side note: Yamasaki designed the annex of the Federal Reserve Bank at 160 W. Fort, which houses the current offices of The Detroit News. The newspaper’s previous home on Lafayette Avenue was designed by another famed architect, Albert Kahn.
▶ Come back tomorrow for another newsmaker, and stay tuned for all 150. Who will be No. 1?