For 22 years, Morris Long and the Severna Park Middle School concert band packed the house for Christmas and spring concerts.
But a stroke last February and a diagnosis of bone cancer a week later forced the 50-year-old band director to retire.
Now, current and former students, parents, and colleagues are saying "thank you" with hundreds of cards and bouquets to a man who has only days to live, according to his doctors.
"He was one of my favorite teachers," said Larry Serio, 29, a percussionist for Mr. Long 15 years ago. "He took the time to make sure you understood what he was teaching."
Mr. Long retired shortly after doctors discovered bone cancer had spread through 95 percent of his body, said Beatrice Long, his wife of two years.
Eleven months later, he cannot talk or recall names or faces, Mrs. Long said. However, the family's pain has been eased by the more than 500 get-well and thank-you cards, she said. About 30 bouquets and fruit baskets fill the Long home on Old County Road.
"Everybody's been great," she said. "The support has been overwhelming."
People who know Mr. Long said it is easy to understand the outpouring. Many remembered him as a fun-loving man who spent most of his adult life teaching the beauty of music to children. Others recalled how he tirelessly organized fund-raisers to help buy sheet music and finance field trips.
And although many students remembered Mr. Long as a strict disciplinarian, they also noted he was ready to flash a smile.
"Sometimes he'd joke around," said Carrie Swartout, 15, who played clarinet for two years at Severna Park Middle School under Mr. Long. "He was mostly really happy. I never really saw him angry."
Mr. Long, the first male drum major at Virginia State University, played several instruments and taught his two sons piano and saxophone, his wife said.
Music was a constant presence in the Long home, she said. That, combined with his love for children, led him to teaching.
"He loved working with his students, getting them prepared for the concerts," she said. "And after the concerts, he would always tell them how proud he was and how they had done a fantastic job."
Before disease erased her husband's memory, Mrs. Long read him a letter from a parent thanking him for his years of hard work and service to children.
"He stood there in the kitchen and cried," Mrs. Long said. "He said, 'I didn't know so many people cared that much about me.' "