To commemorate their sixtieth anniversary, Sports Illustrated is sharing sixty of their best stories. This one landed in the higher education category.

Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated writes:

Higher Education: How Perry Reese Jr. changed an Ohio community forever

This is a story about a man, and a place where magic happened. It was magic so powerful that the people there can’t stop going back over it, trying to figure out who the man was and what happened right in front of their eyes, and how it’ll change the time left to them on earth.

See them coming into town to work, or for their cup of coffee at Boyd & Wurthmann, or to make a deposit at Killbuck Savings? One mention of his name is all it takes for everything else to stop, for it all to begin tumbling out …

“I’m afraid we can’t explain what he meant to us. I’m afraid it’s so deep we can’t bring it into words.”

“It was almost like he was an angel.”

“He was looked on as God.”

There’s Willie Mast. He’s the one to start with. It’s funny, he’ll tell you, his eyes misting, he was so sure they’d all been hoodwinked that he almost did what’s unthinkable now — run that man out of town before the magic had a chance.

All Willie had meant to do was bring some buzz to Berlin, Ohio, something to look forward to on a Friday night, for goodness’ sake, in a town without high school football or a fast-food restaurant, without a traffic light or even a place to drink a beer, a town dozing in the heart of the largest Amish settlement in the world. Willie had been raised Amish, but he’d walked out on the religion at 24 — no, he’d peeled out, in an eight-cylinder roar, when he just couldn’t bear it anymore, trying to get somewhere in life without a set of wheels or even a telephone to call for a ride.