After years of leading the school's marching band, drum-line orchestra and instrumental ensembles through competitions and concerts, in 1999, Hatanaka took time off from work to undergo a quadruple-bypass surgery and then a heart transplant.
He returned to teaching in 2001, and in September 2002, took a job directing the Toll Middle School music program, where he stayed until his death.
"He was an incredible musician," Toll Principal Jan Canfield said. "He could play any wind or string instrument. But above all, he was an incredible teacher. When you saw one of his classes, you wanted to join."
Hatanaka's classes ? which included advanced and beginner orchestra, band and guitar ? were always packed, and there were waiting lists to sign up for them, Canfield said.
"He was the conductor of it all," she said. "It was an incredible program that one man took from nothing to a spectacular program at our school."
After being diagnosed with cancer in April, Hatanaka, of Arcadia, took a leave of absence from the school, but still kept officials posted on his health.
On May 10, he returned to the school for its teacher-of-the-year celebration, in which he was the honoree, Canfield said.
And then on May 18, Hatanaka revisited the school one more time, as a special guest at its spring music concert, she said.
"He looked very ill that day," Canfield said, adding that Hatanaka had also recently developed diabetes. "The man, I believe, was fighting many battles on many fronts. He was so brave, but there is only so much he can battle."
The news of his death hit his students and colleagues hard.
"It was really hard," said Toll eighth-grader Eric Briggs, who worked closely with Hatanaka in the band. "Something is missing."
Despite his passing, Hatanaka's legacy lives on in the students he inspired, Lee said.
"Just for me and my brother, he fostered a love for music in us," she said.