University of Minnesota student leader Chris Pomarico amused his friends and professors, but was serious about what he wanted to do for a career.

Pomarico, a lifelong pet owner who had planned to open a pet store, died of a suspected heart attack in his St. Paul apartment on Sunday. He was 26.

Pomarico, who moved from New York to Mankato in the late 1990s, graduated from Mankato East High School in 1999.

While growing up in New York, he raised a lot of pets -- cocker spaniels, lizards, rats, turtles, tropical fish, tropical birds and a cat.

In Mankato, he was a sales person for pet and computer stores, said his mother, Evelyn of Mankato. "He could sell you anything," said his mother. "He could convince you of anything."

Pomarico spent Thanksgiving with his mother. She said he had been under a lot of stress, but didn't have a history of heart disease. On Sunday, he went home early from one of his part-time jobs, feeling nauseous.

Recalling their Thanksgiving together, Evelyn said he liked to kid people and get the laughter rolling. "He just loved to laugh. He laughed with such enthusiasm," she said.

Pomarico moved to St. Paul more than three years ago to finish the college degree that he had begun at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Last year he was elected president of the College of Liberal Arts Student Board, said Susan Hunter Weir, academic adviser to the board made up of 30 students.

In addition to leading the board members, he worked on issues such as textbook pricing and budgeting. He was the student representative on the college's budget committee.

"He had more energy than you can imagine," said Hunter Weir. "He was so much fun and a really nice guy."

Pomarico seldom took off his black baseball cap, and was often teased about it.

"We conned him into taking it off once, telling him we needed it for an election box," Hunter Weir said.

Pomarico planned on graduating in the spring, and had tailored his degree program around communications and management, with an eye to opening a pet store.

"He was absolutely certain what he wanted," Hunter Weir said.

Bethany Khan, a student board member, said he was a very effective student leader.

"It was really great to see how he brought people together," said Khan, a junior, majoring in journalism.

"He was always laughing, softspoken. He was a gentle leader, who didn't look down on others," she said.

As for his business plans, Khan said Pomarico wasn't going into the pet business for the money: "He had to do something he was intrinsically passionate about."

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father, Denis of New York City.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the theater in the University of Minnesota's St. Paul student center, 2017 Buford Av. Visitation will be from noon to 2 p.m, at the student center; call 651-222-6363 for information.