Regan McCleary, a University of Maine student from Buxton who died Saturday evening, was a quiet, driven athlete and student who excelled in math and opened up around his close circle of friends, his family said.

McCleary, a 19-year-old sophomore, drowned in the Stillwater River in Orono on Saturday evening. A rescue effort with boats and a helicopter retrieved him from the river around 7 p.m., and an investigation by the Orono Police Department is ongoing.

Regan McCleary Photo courtesy of the McCleary family

His family remembered him as a quiet, highly motivated student and athlete whose playful side came out around his close friends.

“He had a good balance,” Kendra, his mother, said in an interview. “He was conscientious, but he also spent a lot of time with friends. The boys.”

In his first year, McCleary earned several academic awards from the University of Maine, including the Alton S. and Adelaide B. Hamm Scholarship, given to select engineering students who display “excellent scholastic attainment, character, and integrity.” He received Dean’s List honors in fall 2019 and spring 2020, and helped his intramural soccer team to the college championship in its first season, his parents said.

In a message to the University of Maine campus Sunday, school officials said the community was “deeply saddened” by McCleary’s passing. A sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, he lived off campus in Orono and was remembered by community members as “a motivated and dedicated student, kind and friendly.”

“Our entire university community is grieving for the loss of a young life,” UMaine Vice President and Dean of Students Robert Dana said in the campus message. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends, his classmates and the College of Engineering community. Our thoughts are with them. This tragedy is a loss for all of us at UMaine and beyond.”

McCleary spent the summer after his freshman year working 50 hours a week at a landscaping business, raising money to pay for his studies. All that hard work meant he entered his sophomore fall with no debt from the prior year, his father, Matthew, said.

“He was a gifted young man, and he had a good work ethic,” Matthew McCleary said. “He was willing to work hard, sweat it all out.”

McCleary was also known for his fashion sense, which leaned toward high-end streetwear. He kept an extensive sneaker collection, the crown jewel of which was a pair of high-fashion sneakers by Yves Saint Laurent in collaboration with an independent designer.

“He liked unique finds,” Kendra McCleary said. “He was not a mall shopper.”

His classmates at Bonny Eagle High School voted McCleary the senior with “best style.” For his senior picture, he wore several looks through downtown Portland, posing as a photographer took portrait shots of him to mood music.

At Bonny Eagle, McCleary took every math class offered, was a member of his class’s prom court, and played saxophone in the jazz band. A four-year varsity soccer player, he excelled at a variety of positions, moving from forward to defensive midfielder and eventually captaining the Bonny Eagle team. He played for private clubs, too, including Seacoast United Maine and Rosevelt Soccer Club.

Eric Curtis, the athletic director at Bonny Eagle High School, first met McCleary when Curtis was teaching seventh grade social studies. He said McCleary was “one of our best students” and a dedicated athlete.

“He always went above and beyond,” Curtis said. “He was a super nice kid.”

During his time at Bonny Eagle, McCleary was known for wearing a white headband while playing soccer. The soccer boosters have been gathering white headbands to give to the soccer team to wear during their first home game on Tuesday. Before the game against Gorham, a moment of silence will be held to honor McCleary and Gorham graduates Jacob Dupuis and Henry O’Neill, who died in a car crash last week.

McCleary also enjoyed hiking and watching NBA games, his parents said. The last time they saw him, he was wearing a throwback NBA jersey – for John Stockton, who played from 1984 to 2003 as a point guard for the Utah Jazz.

Kendra McCleary said her son was quiet and unflappable – “Nothing really upset him,” she said – but also tender toward his family. Along with his parents, McCleary is survived by his brother, Aidan, and sister, Fiona.

“We never left each other without saying ‘I love you,’ ” Kendra said.

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