Editor’s note: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is generally expressed in numbers of cases and deaths. But each data point represents a human life whose loss is felt by countless other people. We are chronicling some of them in an obituary series called Lives Remembered. If you know someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing newstips@seattletimes.com with the subject line “Lives Remembered,” or by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.

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When Bennie Aranas was being treated for COVID-19, video calls from his hospital bed were filled with more than 100 friends and family members.

“At the end of the day, family needs to come together. You’re there for one another,” said Aranas’ oldest son, Byron, describing a family of 40-plus nieces and nephews. “And he truly was a family guy. Family first.”

When Aranas tested positive for the new coronavirus at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, doctors asked his family if they’d like him to participate in their early clinical trials for remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective against COVID-19.

Byron Aranas, 47, said he didn’t know if his father had been given the drug or a placebo during that trial, but in the first week, his condition started improving.

Then, on the 11th day, his condition worsened. By the 12th day — April 25 — he was gone.

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His family said the 73-year-old was born and raised in Taal, a city in the Philippines. That’s where he met his wife, Carmelita, who says he “already had a crush on (her)” in elementary school, although they didn’t start dating until they were grown.

Aranas was the third of eight children, with one older brother and six sisters.

He joined the Navy in 1968 at a U.S. base in the Philippine province of Cavite, his wife said. He wasn’t an American citizen at the time, but was allowed to live in the U.S. as part of the military, she said. Three years after he joined the Navy, he applied for U.S. citizenship, she said.

“He was the pioneer for all of us getting here,” Byron Aranas said, noting the many sacrifices his father made to better his family members’ lives. “He was the leader of the whole big family … His ultimate goal was to bring his whole family to the U.S.”

During his military career, Aranas served on a mine sweeper ship, which was designed to find and destroy mines and clear a path for bigger ships, said his longtime friend Eddie Ferrer Jr., who also served in the Navy. 

Aranas’ primary job was to cook for the crew, 66-year-old Ferrer said, though he was also a leading petty officer who helped operate equipment, extinguish fires on board and assist the damage-control crew.

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Aranas was stationed in several spots, including Maryland — where Byron’s younger brother, Jeffrey, was born — Virginia and Alaska, before he was sent to Sand Point, in Seattle. He and his family stayed in Washington for the rest of his life.

“I got to know him in his last two years of service in Sand Point,” Ferrer Jr. said, though he added the two initially met in their local church community. “He was well-liked by the crew and officers on board, known as a very reliable person.”

Aranas served in the Navy for almost 21 years before settling in Kirkland with his wife and two sons and beginning a job with the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

“He started out as a janitor to get his foot in the door. But he told himself he didn’t want to do that his whole life. So he took classes and worked on getting a promotion to do something different,” Byron Aranas said, describing his father as a go-getter. “… That’s what he always said: Don’t settle.”

Aranas ended up working in a warehouse with the public utility district, his son said, though he also worked a handful of other jobs, including one at the King County Jail. He retired in 2015.

“He was one of the hardest-working people in my life,” Byron Aranas said.

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He was a giver, a stickler for punctuality and a natural leader, his son said.

When they were younger, Ferrer Jr. said, the two would spend time with a couple of other retired Navy members playing pick-up basketball and going crabbing. In his later years, Aranas enjoyed playing bingo with his wife and listening to music — especially Lionel Richie and Elton John.

He would also consistently step up to help out around his church, St. John Vianney Church in Kirkland, by leading choir groups and organizing community events, Ferrer Jr. said, including one of his favorites: Flores de Mayo, a ritual pageant held in the Philippines in May.

And he loved to cook for the church community, Ferrer Jr. said. His specialities were chicken adobo, beef nilaga, pancit and other Filipino dishes, Byron Aranas said.

But Aranas’ top priority was always his family.

Last year, Aranas and his wife built a house back in the Philippines, envisioning it as a family gathering spot.

“He doesn’t really show his emotions on his sleeve, but deep down, he has different types of love for his family members and friends,” Byron Aranas said.

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Aranas is survived by his two sons, Byron and Jeffrey, and his wife, Carmelita.

“He was a very reserved guy, and (didn’t) really like to gloat,” Byron Aranas said. “It was always more about how he could impact and help others as opposed to helping himself.”

(Design by Frank Mina / The Seattle Times)
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