Her popularity is captured among dozens of photographs displayed prominently on three giant poster boards: Snapshots from a lifetime spent cultivating friendships that will never fade. Kara Marie Lalumiere had a gift for making those around her feel special. Gracious, kind and compassionate, she greeted passersby with a smile and made a habit of acknowledging almost everyone she knew by name.

"She was a very vibrant, loving person. She kind of left an impression on people," Kara's father, Frank, said.

Those who were closest to Kara, who died last month at the age of 23 from an uncommon and aggressive form of ovarian cancer, will always remember the influence she had as an honor student, three-sport athlete and, most importantly, a devoted and loyal friend.

"Talking to everyone these past few days, we agreed there was one reason we all stayed friends -- Kara," teammate Tyler Parker said in her eulogy. "Kara was the glue that kept us together because she was everyone's best friend."

And those friends transcended typical peer groups. She served as a section editor for the Woodbridge High School newspaper, set records as a middle school track star, was a forward in soccer, a defender in field hockey and a community volunteer who often bowled with the mentally handicapped.

"There are so many people who are going to miss Kara," teammate Stefanie Barnes said. "She was the best friend anyone could have asked for. I know a lot of our close friends went to her when they had a problem. She would always listen without judging and only give advice when asked."

Kara's opinion always mattered, even if that meant being on the receiving end of her favorite saying: "Ugh! Whatever."

She spoke her mind with sincerity and honesty, refusing to be swayed by outside pressures or the latest passing trend.

"Kara had a mind of her own and wasn't afraid to express it," her mother, Kathy said. "She would tell you what she thought."

Sincerity was perhaps Kara's greatest attribute. She was an older sister who devotedly watched out for her two brothers -- John and Daniel -- and a daughter who once walked out of a movie to make sure her mother made it home safely during a thunderstorm.

"While friends and teammates were a big part of her life, nothing mattered more to her than family. She was very protective of her family," Parker said. "Kara wore her emotions on her sleeve. You never had to guess when she was happy. and everyone definitely knew when she was annoyed."

DETERMINED TO SUCCEED

Kara was rarely happier than when she was with friends, whether it was watching her favorite soap opera -- General Hospital -- eating chicken fingers from Famous Dave's Barbeque or checking out an independent movie from the Sundance Film Festival.

Kara could blend in just about anywhere.

Among the photographs displayed at her wake is one of Kara standing on a pool deck with her arms wrapped affectionately around childhood friend, teammate and college roommate Caitlin Smith. In another, she is standing cheek-to-cheek between Parker and Barnes.

"She was the most loyal friend anyone could ever wish for. We went to school together just about everyday, even well into our college years," Smith said. "In college, Kara and I were basically inseparable. We went everywhere together, ate just about every meal together, went out at night together.

"Kara was fun loving and had no shortage of friends. She was always up for an adventure."

One of Kara's favorite adventures was exploring new restaurants. She rarely passed up an invitation.

So her mother instinctively knew that something was wrong the night last March when Kara told her she didn't feel like going anywhere.

"That's when she said she had abdominal pain," Kathy recalled.

Kara was just out of college, had moved into an apartment in Arlington and was already making an impression in the business community. Target offered her a position in the company's executive training program following her graduation from James Madison University in 2005 and she'd quickly earned a promotion to human resources manager in Burke.

She was just beginning to figure out her place in the world -- still deciding whether to pursue a management career or a master's degree so she could teach.

Then, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

According to her mother, the illness struck so suddenly and advanced so quickly that the doctors who examined Kara said there were no previous clinical studies to match the aggressive form of cancer they discovered.

After initially believing that appendicitis was the source of Kara's stomach pain, doctor's found a malignant cyst that wound up doubling in size within a week.

By mid-April, she'd been to three hospitals -- Potomac and Fairfax for surgeries and, finally, Johns Hopkins for outpatient chemotherapy treatments.

"She was frustrated and, at times, she was angry, but she was determined," Parker recalled. "I remember sitting across from her one day at lunch and she said 'I am going to beat this.'"

WHISKERS

Few things in life ever stumped Kara. She was an avid reader who enjoyed Nicholas Sparks novels and had a passion for Coca-Cola, candles and shoes. The challenges that crossed her path were always met head-on.

The one time she did try to quit the field hockey team, her walkout lasted less than an hour.

"Kara didn't show up for tryouts sophomore year because she didn't want to be on JV when a few of us were probably going to be on varsity," Barnes recalled. "But [coach Kelly Sanders] called her and made her get out of bed and come to tryouts.

"Although she did not make varsity, she did get moved up and by the end of our senior year was one of our best defenders."

Winning and losing never mattered as much to Kara as the camaraderie that sports provided. Still, she worked diligently to excel on the field.

She practiced soccer skills in her front yard until she perfected a move that became her trademark -- dribbling to a corner flag, stopping the ball, pulling it back and then using a crossover to dart past an opposing player.

"We used to tease her because she frequently used the same move against defenders," Parker said. "And she consistently beat them with it.

"Kara did not give up on anything she wanted."

In middle school, after failing to make the soccer team, Kara was undeterred. The same tenacity was evident in field hockey when she earned a mid-season promotion from the junior varsity team as a sophomore.

"By that time her skill was right there with everyone else, if not better, because she had worked so hard on JV to improve," Parker said. "The more frustrated she was with something the more determined she became."

Kara was rarely intimidated by fear or potential embarrassment.

Her field hockey teammates fondly called her "whiskers" after a wayward ball opened a cut underneath her chin that required several stitches and, in one memorable game, she continued to attempt a free hit after missing the ball with seven consecutive swings.

"We were all laughing, but she just got madder and madder at herself and more determined to hit the ball," Parker said. "Even though I am sure she was embarrassed, she kept with it until she hit it. It would have been very easy to let someone else take the hit for her, but she didn't give up."

Kara battled cancer with similar resolve.

When her hair began to fall out, she held a head-shaving party at the Smith's house and then wore a t-shirt to her next chemotherapy session that read "Best Hair Award, 2006."

"You could always read what Kara was thinking and that made her an easy target to poke fun at, but she knew this and was always a good sport about it," Smith said.

"Kara and I were very close having grown up next to each other. I can honestly say that Kara was more than a neighbor, teammate, best friend to me. She was an older sister and one that will never be replaced and doesn't necessarily need to be because I know she is still with me always."