A family man who put faith first, Dave Armendaris loved to be surrounded by people.
"He was one of 10 kids himself," said Charity Casey, a family friend. Dave and his wife of over 10 years, Elsa, had seven children, ranging in age from 5 to 15.
The Clifton resident, who worked at Fairfax Auto Body for 21 years, lost his battle with leukemia on Monday, Feb. 4, and friends say his absence will be felt for years within his large family.
"Dave was a big teddy-bear type of guy," Casey said. "He wrote a song called 'Dad is Great' that his children sang at the memorial service, it was pretty funny. Everything was larger than life with him."
Dave Armendaris was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in April 2005 and was given a 35 percent chance of survival. But with his faith and his family to support him, he had only a few more treatments left when the cancer came back.
"It was so fast," Casey said. "He had three more once-a-month treatments. There was no sign of the cancer, but he started having problems sleeping. The doctors started to think about treating him for sleep apnea when they found the cancer had returned."
Three weeks later, he died.
His wife and children stood by his side those last three weeks, Casey said, praying with him and saying all the things they needed to say. When he died, it was with them by his bedside, praying and peaceful.
William "Doug" Moss said he knew Dave Armendaris when they worked together at Fairfax Auto Body. Dave Armendaris was his boss, Moss said, a practical joker that could tell any story with a straight face and make you believe him.
"I noticed during the slide show at his memorial service, he was making faces at the camera in many of the pictures," Moss said. "He was always joshing you."
And while his belief in God was a source of strength during his illness, Moss said when the two worked together in 1998, Dave Armendaris was "one of the staunchest disbelievers" he knew.
Moss gave Armendaris a Bible as a going away present a few years ago. When he visited the family recently, he was pleasantly surprised to see it sitting in the family's living room.
"The first thing Dave said to me was, 'How is your walk with Christ?,' and I just couldn't believe it," Moss said. "I know that he went in peace."
Val Chappell, the pastor at Community Bible Church in Fair Lakes, where the Armendaris family are active members, said Dave Armendaris returned to his faith after a viewing of the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ."
"Dave grew up in a spiritual household and that movie made him reexamine his roots and decide to come back to his faith," Chappell said.
Dave Armendaris saw that movie only a few months before he was initially diagnosed with cancer, which Chappell said Armendaris believed was part of God's will to return to faith to battle the illness.
"Dave showed tremendous courage and faith through his long fight with cancer, his main concern was who would care for his family if he didn't make it," Chappell said. "I think all of us who know them and their relationship with the church know they'll do quite well with their support system of family and faith."
Casey and other friends from the Community Bible Church are setting up a calendar for donated meals or time to visit the family, hoping to keep their spirits up as they adjust to life without their husband and father.
"Right now, it's so important for us to be there for Elsa and the kids," Casey said. "I was with her today and she said the reality of it all is just starting to hit her."
Dave Armendaris is survived by his wife Elsa and their seven children: Diana, 15; Matthew, 12; Kyle, 10; Tyler, 9; Lisa, 8; Samantha, 7, and Laura, 5.
Anyone wishing to help the family may do so through the Community Bible Church Web site, www.cbcweb.org.