BERLIN — A Hiland High hat sat on a lone chair in the back of the school's gymnasium where about 800 people gathered Sunday for a memorial service for Hiland basketball coach and teacher Perry Reese Jr.
Reese, who was diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous brain tumor in June, died Wednesday.
"Our God weeps with us today," Fr. Ron Aubrey of St. Peter's Catholic Church at Millersburg said. "Our God laughs with us when we laugh... and shares our sorrow when we are sad."
Aubrey said there is no doubt in his mind where Reese is today.
"I am confident that Jesus stood at Perry's side and wept — and that he reached out his arms and said, 'Come. Rise,'" Aubrey said. "Perry was a man of God."
Aubrey told those who gathered that they could enrich each other's lives by sharing stories of Reese.
"We thank God for his presence in our lives — his presence this day and his presence always," he said.
Mark Lonsinger, a close friend of Reese, spoke about "the ultimate odd couple" — an African-American Catholic man and a mostly Caucasian, Amish and Mennonite county — and how well they worked together.
Lonsinger said that "teaching is an art, and it is not confined to a classroom."
"Perry Reese Jr. was a teacher in every sense of the word. He led by example, and he had the incredible ability to make you want to follow," he said.
Lonsinger said Reese's final gift to his students was to donate a large part of his estate to help establish the Perry Reese Jr. Foundation that will provide two four-year scholarships.
"Perry was not a saint," Lonsinger said. "He was a human being... but what made him so special was the way that he lived... a man with faith as solid as a stone who quietly and without fanfare gave thanks before every meal, no matter where he was."
Lonsinger said that even during his illness, Reese never wanted to be the center of attention.
"So, on a quiet snowy morning before the season he loved so much... Perry went home," he said.
Through tears, Lonsinger said good-bye to his friend.
"We admired Perry Reese Jr. the basketball coach and the teacher, but most of all we loved Perry Reese Jr. the man. He was a good man with good friends. God bless Perry Reese Jr.," he said.
Rob Moser, Hiland technology coordinator, and Pam Oswald, a Hiland graduate and assistant girls' basketball coach, created a video in Reese's memory.
Through the darkness the audience cried and laughed as they watched the piece, which included photographs and video of Reese teaching, spending time with friends, cutting the last thread of a basketball net after a game, attending weddings and graduations, challenging referees, showing off his fishing catch, and stepping aside as his players lifted a championship trophy into the air.
One of Reese's sisters, Aubrey Johnson, spoke of her brother's enduring qualities.
"No matter what, no matter when, you're going to hear Perry in the back of your head," she said.
She also thanked the community for their support.
Nancy Mishler, a Hiland parent whose children were coached by Reese, read a letter she'd written to the coach but had never had the opportunity to give him.
In the letter she thanked Reese for being there for her family and for "showing me true unconditional friendship."
Principal Matt Johnson presented a letter Reese wrote that was to be read upon his death.
"I truly believe that God has a purpose for everyone in life," Reese's letter stated. "My role was to teach, to love, to care for and discipline our young people."
Reese's letter reminded the community of the ideals he held dearest.
"Honor, love, trust, belief, God — live life, have fun."
John Harris, Hiland choir director, and Moser presented two songs during the service, "His Eye is on the Sparrow," and "Flyin' High."
Shelly Miller and Amy Miller, friends of Reese, also presented a duet in his honor, and the Hiland choir sang the benediction.
Reese was a Canton native who graduated from Canton Timken High and Muskingum College. He was head coach at the former Guernsey Catholic High before he joined the Hiland Hawks as head boy's basketball coach in 1984.
In the subsequent 16 years Reese posted a 304-85 record. Under his leadership the Hawks advanced to the Final Four in 1986, 1992, 1998, 1999 and 2000, winning the school's only state championship in 1992.
The family has requested that contributions be sent to the Perry Reese Jr. Foundation, Hiland Academic Booster, Box 275, Berlin, OH 44610.