ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The nature of George Torrey was to help others, but he was not someone who typically wanted to see his name on the projects that he put his financial backing behind.

A case in point is he was a major contributor to St. Cloud State University in getting new scoreboards for the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center and Husky Stadium. Morris Kurtz was the athletic director for the university at the time and had to push Torrey to allow the university to put the names and George and his wife, Shirley, on the scoreboards.

"The scoreboards were donated (in 2004) by George and so his name and Shirley's are on there, but it took every ounce of my being to get his name up there," said Kurtz, who was the athletic director from 1984-2013. "He simply didn't want the recognition. He just wanted to do it.

"I told him that having his name up there would motivate a whole new generation of donors. So he finally, reluctantly, let us put his name up there."

Torrey, who was one of the key financial donors behind St. Cloud State making the move to NCAA Division I hockey, died on June 10 at the age of 87.

George Torrey makes remarks in 2015 prior to being awarded with the St. Cloud State University Foundation’s annual Visionary Award at the President’s Club Gala in St. Cloud, Minn. (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
George Torrey makes remarks in 2015 prior to being awarded with the St. Cloud State University Foundation’s annual Visionary Award at the President’s Club Gala in St. Cloud, Minn. (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

Big backer in move to Division I

Torrey was born in Eldridge, North Dakota, and graduated from Alexandria High School (Minn.) in 1951 and from Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minn.) in 1955. He began working for G.R. Herberger's, Inc., in 1971 and eventually became that company's president and chief operating officer until he retired in 1994.

Kurtz had gotten to know Torrey before the university began looking at making the move to Division I in men's hockey and before it convinced Herb Brooks to become the head coach in 1986.

"When we first sat down with Herb Brooks and talked about this Division I hockey adventure and Brendan McDonald was the (university) president and he said that we need to have support if we're going to move forward with this venture," Kurtz said. "George was the very first person we went to and talked about this initiative, to get support from him and Herberger's.

"He never wavered in that support. He had this vision for St. Cloud and for Division I hockey. We probably could have done it, but it would have taken a lot longer without his support and passion."

Torrey played football at Gustavus and his support of St. Cloud State athletics continued even after the university cut football after the 2019 season.

"As a former college athlete, he understood the lessons and the values instilled in him when he was a student-athlete," said Matt Andrew, St. Cloud State's Vice President for University Advancement. "Those things are still being instilled and have value across a person's lifetime.

"He understood that's what we do at St. Cloud State. He was willing to invest in it, so much so that the last significant gift he made to the institution occurred after we dissolved our football program. I have great admiration for George. He could have quite easily said, 'I'm done.' But George valued and understood the university's position in the community and, most importantly, he understood the impact intercollegiate athletics has on the individual."

Dave Torrey Arena in the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, Minn., will be the new home of the St. Cloud Blizzard, a North American Hockey League Tier II junior hockey team. (Mick Hatten/The Rink Live)
Dave Torrey Arena in the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, Minn., will be the new home of the St. Cloud Blizzard, a North American Hockey League Tier II junior hockey team. (Mick Hatten/The Rink Live)

Dave Torrey Arena, help in community

Torrey also saw the value of youth and high school sports. The Municipal Athletic Complex was opened in 1972, had an extensive renovation in 1994 and then added a second sheet of ice in 1997. The main arena was renamed Dave Torrey Arena in 1998 after George and Shirley's son, David, a former St. Cloud Tech goalie who died in 1993.

"George was instrumental in getting us the funds for our major expansion in '97 and he's just been terrific," said Todd Bissett, the MAC operations director. "Ever since then, he's always been a sounding board for me to get other things going. Without him and what he's done in St. Cloud ... the hockey community, his love of the game was fantastic and he'll never be forgotten.

"In '97, he and Tom Ritsche really spearheaded us getting the second sheet (of ice) going. He'll be immortalized in St. Cloud history for a long, long time. It's a great thing for us to be associated with George Torrey and his family."

Bissett also got to know Torrey some on a personal level.

"Everybody envisions philanthropists as ... I don't know the right word, but George was just a normal guy and a normal dad and a hockey parent and he loved all that stuff," Bissett said. "You can have a conversation with him. He treated everybody well whether you had a dollar in your pocket or you were at his level (financially).

"He was a down-to-earth family man who took care of his family. It was really nice to be a little part of what he's done and I just really enjoyed our conversations over the years. The city of St. Cloud and the MAC want to emphasize our sympathy to the family and all our appreciation of what they've done for us to them. It's just really heartfelt and we're very, very proud of him and his family."

At St. Cloud State, the Torreys also sponsor a hockey scholarship, the men's hockey team's award for its top goalie is called the Dave Torrey Award and they also gave to the university's business school.

"It's not often that an institution enjoys such phenomenal support from someone who wasn't an alumnus," said Andrew, who also noted that Torrey spend nine years on the university's foundation board. "He was a magnificent supporter and we are really blessed to have had George Torrey as a friend of ours.

"George's presence is so strong here that he will not be forgotten. He's shown the way for others, I hope, to follow."

Torrey served on the boards of the St. Cloud Hospital, Gustavus Adolphus College, United Way of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud Downtown Development Corporation and St. Cloud Opportunities. He also served with the St. Cloud Country Club, St. Cloud Rotary Club, Minnesota Retail Merchants Association, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, CentraCare Health System and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota.

He is survived by his daughters Kate Deppert and Ann Kurr, their spouses, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Shirley died in 2018.

This season, sign up for The Rink Live newsletter to get the best hockey stories from across the region delivered to your inbox!