SALT LAKE CITY -- Tears streamed down Vernon Kunz's face as he picked up the Play-Doh and talked about his son.
"He always kept a smile, no matter what," said Kunz, valiantly remembering his oldest boy, John McKay Kunz, who died last week at age 16 from brain cancer.
"He died on his brother's birthday," quietly chimed in Lori Kunz, now the mother of one.
Grief and gratitude mixed openly among the people who piled the Play-Doh and other donated toys in the foyer of the Primary Children's Medical Center.
What surrounded the Kunzes and their tears on Monday was an exuberant group of Bountiful High School teen leaders who spent months collecting items to honor John McKay, a BHS junior.
"It really united our school," said Nicole Allen, a BHS senior, describing the multilayered effort to gather the donations, which included an $8,000 check to the hospital for charity care.
All of his high school life, the baby-faced John McKay had been battling the cancer.
His father is a high school math teacher; and for a short while, father and son were teacher and student at Bountiful.
"It was just this year, and he could only come to a few classes," said Kunz about the daily struggle his son faced for three years, once the diagnosis arrived for the eighth-grade student.
Death, the teachers told them, can be a reminder of what is precious in life.
Yet John Mckay's high school friends and supporters used his situation to rally in joy and fondness for a good cause.
"I am amazed and humbled at what you brought in," said hospital representative Kate Crawford as she stared at the gifts, which included more than 1,000 cans of the modeling clay, more than 700 Hot Wheel cars and hundreds of DVDs -- all the items the hospital will use to help other children cope with hospital life.
The list of student activities to raise the cash mightily impressed the Kunzes, including a movie night, Play-Doh sculpting, a pinewood derby, an improv show, caroling, and even carrying around jars for people to donate their lunch money.
"We tried to involve as many people as possible," added Aticus Peterson, a BHS senior.
The classrooms will not be the same as the new year begins, they added. But Kunz finds hope and promise in the students as he returns to a school without his son.
"If anyone is pessimistic or doubts the future, just look around, at them, what they made positive," he added.
The Bountiful teenagers who made the drop-off at the hospital described John McKay as a quiet and genuine student, a model for when they face adversity.
Around them, on the floor, were boxes and boxes of goods that will become an everyday legacy at the hospital for John McKay -- a reminder, they said, of the goodness in people.