Sean Cheng could be found regularly in one of two places. He was either sitting at Table 1, drinking a glass of milk and eating lunch hosted by Senior Coastsiders or facing a competitor at the ping-pong table.
An active member of the senior community, Cheng volunteered every Thursday in the kitchen, helping with dinner provided by the organization Table of Plenty.
An immigrant from China, he first came to the United States to do research at various universities on the East Coast. After a career as an engineer, he later moved to Half Moon Bay and resided in Ocean View Plaza.
Besides his volunteer work, he was busy writing a book about Neo-Confucianism and spending time visiting his son and grandson.
So, it came as a shock to many to learn of Cheng’s sudden death. On Jan. 24, the day after he assisted cooking the Chinese New Year’s dinner for Table of Plenty, Cheng was found dead in the water off the shore in Half Moon Bay. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office did not release details of the cause of death, but speculated it appeared to be accidental. Cheng was 75 years old.
“He was nice to people and was just out of this world. Everybody loved him,” Half Moon Bay resident Yvone Loze said. Loze sat with Cheng at lunch often. Loze choked back tears sitting in the dining room at Senior Coastsiders last week as she talked about Cheng’s death.
A tall, lean man, Cheng spoke both English and Chinese and was well-known at Senior Coastsiders as being the best ping-pong player in the building.
When Half Moon Bay High School senior Noah Nemiccolo first started volunteering at Senior Coastsiders he met Cheng because both shared a passion for the game. Nemiccolo said the first game they played together got very competitive and Cheng was left sweating from all the back and forth.
“He was enthusiastic and energetic,” Nemiccolo said. “He will be very missed.” Nemiccolo said Cheng left such an impression on him that he wrote about their relationship as part of his college application essay.
Chris Keeney, a longtime volunteer at the senior lunches, often played ping-pong against Cheng. The two debated over who was the “best” player.
“He was so much fun to play with and he was happy,” Keeney said. “I served him lunch every day… I can’t believe he is gone.”
In addition to attending the daily lunches at Senior Coastsiders, Cheng went to the dinners provided by Table of Plenty. About a year and half ago, volunteer Angela Mark approached Cheng and encouraged him to come and help cook and serve each week.
“He did all the cutting of the vegetables and stayed until all the dishes were cleaned,” Mark said. “… He was so helpful, kind and joyful. I have not met one person who did not like him.”
Director of Table of Plenty, Sister Jeanette Braun said Cheng was one of the most dedicated volunteers.
“He had an infectious smile,” Braun said. “… He was willing to do everything and anything for us. He had a twinkle in his eye.”
During a recent Thursday dinner, Braun announced to the dinner attendees that Cheng had died. Braun
passed around photos of Cheng that night as a way to remember him. She said
one man held the photo in his hand and said a brief prayer over it.
“The photo got passed from one table to the next and then the next. It was such a gesture of loving respect for him,” Braun said. “He was a gift to us.”