Retired Citadel music director Maj. Herb Day, a prominent figure in the local music community, died unexpectedly early Sunday morning at age 68.

He led The Citadel's music program for 20 years and didn't slow down after his retirement in 2004.

He remained active in community bands, including one that was scheduled to perform Saturday at a banquet for Medal of Honor recipients in North Charleston.

"He was a mentor to so many people, including me," Nancy Lefter said. The Citadel's choral director was relying on Day's trumpet skills for Charleston's Premier Big Band on Saturday night.

A host of local musicians and music teachers hailed Day as their mentor Sunday afternoon.

"It's just everywhere on Facebook because he touched so many lives," said Suzanne Reed, a music teacher at the Charleston County School of the Arts who played with Day in the Charleston Community Band.

Day was a retired Marine who wore his white hair in a crew cut. Friends described him as a perfectionist who exuded enthusiasm.

"He had a way of making you strive for excellence," Reed said. "He was pretty scary when you met him because he was very Marine. When he said stop, you stopped. But once you got to know him, his heart was just huge."

Music was his focus when he was in the Marines. During his 24 years of service, Day directed the Quantico Band, 3rd Division Marine Band, Marine Field Band and the Drum and Bugle Corps Program.

"He was one of the biggest influences in my musical career," West Ashley High School Band Director Eddie Shealy said. "Herb just had that personality that made anybody love music."

Band leaders across the state were mourning Day's death in a Web forum called Bandlink.

"This is a shock to all of us in the Charleston area, and I'm sure across the state, as he was an example of character, musicianship and professionalism to all of us," Charleston County School of the Arts Band Director Basil Kerr said in a post.

Day left behind a wife, Trish, and a son and daughter. Services will be announced later.