If you want to play pickleball, you can do it right now, on state-of-the-art courts in Florence. And you can do it for free. All because Silas Torrey had a vision.
With a background in chemistry and physics, Torrey says nutrition is one of his greatest passions, along with sports and family. For many years Torrey, now 76, operated a restaurant in Missoula called Torrey’s Home Cooking, specializing in cheap, healthy meals. He charged just $6 for a full meal, but in the final two years he dropped that by half to see if he could get more people in. “I was trying to get unhealthy people to come in, but that just didn’t work. I wasn’t reaching the people I wanted to reach,” said Torrey.
After that he bought a sailboat and went sailing for 20 years. When he was in Oregon waiting for his boat to be repaired, he ended up playing pickleball with some friendly folks. That experience made him realize that pickleball is a conduit for promoting social interaction while simultaneously providing health benefits. “I saw the joy that people had playing pickleball.”
Torrey bought a piece of property on Highway 93 in Florence about 20 years ago because he liked the location and the setting, adjacent to One Horse Creek with interesting natural features. Years later, he thought he might be able to do something there that incorporated two of his interests: sports and nutrition. He published a letter in local media asking the community what they might like to see there and how they might want to be involved. He held a public meeting, and although he got numerous responses, he ended up pushing forward on his own. “I had about $100,000 to start,” he says. “I just kept putting some extra in every year.”
Three and a half years later, he has a beautiful gym with four pickleball courts inside and three outside. He’s added restrooms, changing rooms, and is now renovating the restaurant that was on the place when he bought it. On one side, the gym is decorated with mounts of elk that he shot with bow and arrow, and on the other side is sailing memorabilia related to his boat ”Bread and Roses,” for which the place is named.
He has opened the gym for pickleball play three nights a week, free of charge for now. He says it’s limited to 26 people per night, 12 years and up, with no spectators at this time. Torrey says he tries to match skill levels among players. “Everyone will have equal opportunity here.”
“I envision this as a community wellness center,” says Torrey. “I want to encourage families – young people and their parents – that’s who I’m trying to get out here. There’s almost zero opportunity for these people to get out and do this. It’s not something that has been presented as much as it should be.” He says he’s contacting all the local schools to invite them to bring students here. “It can be a fun thing for younger people if they just had the opportunity.”
Torrey has construction skills, having built and maintained a number of rental properties for years. He said that by doing all the work himself, with help from his children and grandchildren, he has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said he works on it about six hours every day. He estimates that he will be fully open sometime around September, with a restaurant serving simple, nutritious meals like hearty soups and wraps for around $4.00 to cover the cost of the food. He also plans to rent the facility out for weddings, anniversaries and birthday parties.
“I’d really like not to have to charge,” says Torrey. “I want this to be available to everyone.”
He acknowledges, however, that there will be fixed costs, like utilities and staffing that will have to be paid for somehow. “Making a profit just doesn’t mean much to me,” says Torrey. “I have faith that people are going to start chipping in. I’m trying to get the place finished up first. Then maybe people will be willing to invest in this. I have faith that it will come through.”
Torrey says his children think he’s crazy for doing business the way he does. But, “All my kids and grandkids seem to want to stay around. When I’m gone, this will be around for them.”
He says his philosophy of life is “really very simple. I listen to what everyone has to say. I try to figure out what’s right and wrong. And I treat people fairly.”
For more information on the pickleball sessions, contact Silas at 369-2710.