Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 | 2 a.m.
When students at C.C. Ronnow Elementary School lined up for lunch, they got a lot more than a tray of chicken tenders or a cheeseburger and fruit cup.
The best part of lunch may have been the big smile and hug they got from cafeteria manager Ronaldo Cesa.
Cesa, who knew most every one of the 700-plus students by name, reveled in being able to brighten a child’s day.
Tragically, Cesa contracted COVID-19 and succumbed to the disease on April 2, one of more than 2,500 people in Nevada lost to the pandemic. He had just turned 53.
"None of us got a chance to see him or say goodbye," his friend Mai Macapagal-Malimban said.
Cesa was on high blood pressure medication and came down with flu-like symptoms toward the end of March.
He quickly became too weak to stand, suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma. He was on a ventilator at the hospital for two days before he died, friends said.
Cesa, who worked for a decade at Ronnow, won’t quickly be forgotten at the school.
Principal Michelee Quiroz Cruz-Crawford had the words “The Ronaldo Cesa Cafeteria" painted in the lunchroom, along with a large mural of Cesa’s face on the wall.
"I wanted some way to memorialize him and the kids to see him and go through the grieving process," Cruz-Crawford said.
After schools shut down in mid-March because of the pandemic, Cesa worked at Desert Pines High School passing out meals to needy students.
"It is always fulfilling we can provide smile in children's faces which give us sense of belonging and made me feel more whole as a person," Cesa wrote in a Facebook post on his birthday, March 20.
Cesa moved from the Philippines to the United States in the 1990s, and his parents and a sister remain there. He sent them money every month and had plans to go back to visit in June.
Macapagal-Malimban said Cesa, 20 years her senior, was like an older brother to her.
She met him at the California casino in downtown Las Vegas, where Cesa worked a second job in the food and beverage department and she worked at a retail shop.
Cesa had recently been promoted to train cafeteria managers across the Clark County School District, and he was finally going to be able to quit working at the casino, Macapagal-Malimban.
Cesa was training Macapagal-Malimbanto to take his place as cafeteria manager at the school. She said she plans to keep everything the same way it was when he ran the kitchen.
"I didn’t change anything because this is how Ronaldo organized his kitchen. This is how he wanted it," she said.