Serving in Winthrop’s town government changed the course of Peter Nielsen’s life. Now he’s ready to take what he’s learned in that journey and put it to work for the town that started it all.

Town councilors at the end of Monday’s meeting introduced Nielsen as the next town manager. His first day on the job will be Monday.

Nielsen will replace Town Manager Jeff Woolston, who will step down June 1 after a little more than four years on the job.

Nielsen, 62, has served as town manager in four communities since 1990. He held the office most recently in Oakland, where he worked for a little more than five years before stepping down last September.

Nielsen said his interest in working full time for town government was sparked in the late 1980s during his time on the Winthrop Town Council. He has sought the Winthrop town manager’s position ever since. This was the fourth time he had applied to be Winthrop’s town manager.

“Each time a more qualified candidate was found and hired,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen grew up in Cape Elizabeth. He and his wife, Mary Richards, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in October, bought the former Winthrop Town Farm from Richards’ grandfather in 1978. Nielsen worked as a custodian at Winthrop High School and has driven a school bus off and on over the years. He also drove a tractor-trailer for A.W. Chaffee for a year. Nielsen and Richards, a pre-kindergarten teacher in Winthrop, continue to work the farm. Nielsen cuts and hauls his own wood using his cow, Fern.

He and Richards raised two daughters on the farm and now have four grandchildren.

“We’ve done our best to put the farm back to the way it was many years ago,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen, who graduated from the University of Maine in 2001 with a master’s degree in administration, landed his first job in town government in 1990 when he was hired as the town manager in the northern Kennebec County town of Clinton. He left that job in 1994 shortly after developing a brain tumor.

Nielsen took over as Wayne’s town manager in 1996. He served there until taking over the same position in the Franklin County community of Wilton in 2001. He left Wilton at the end of 2009 for the job in Oakland.

“I’ve managed in four communities,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed each one. I’ve learned something from each one. I will use the experience I gained in each one of them for the work we’ll be doing in Winthrop.”

Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council, said that experience will serve the town well. Nielsen has a three-year contract with the town with a starting salary of $80,000 per year.

“He has a deep and obvious dedication to the community,” she said. “We’re really delighted to have him come back on board in an official capacity.”

Town Councilor Kevin Cookson served with Nielsen on the Kennebec County budget committee while Nielsen was manager in Oakland.

“Peter was always prepared and asked appropriate questions,” Cookson said. “More importantly, he always made good financial decisions.”

Cookson said people he spoke to in Oakland agreed that Nielsen’s strength was his ability to budget and to navigate finances, but he also was personally popular.

“He’s very likable and knows a lot of people in town,” Cookson said.

Fuller said she thinks Nielsen will listen to citizens, the staff and the council and work well with all three groups.

“He’s super-down-to-earth,” Fuller said.

Cookson hopes Nielsen will delve into some ancillary projects such as developing a life expectancy of equipment such as dump trucks and police cruisers. Cookson said the frenzy created by the budget process typically slows once the budget goes to a public hearing in early June, so Nielsen will have time to get acclimated.

“I think it’s a good time for Peter to start,” Cookson said.

Nielsen said the town has invested a considerable amount of money in equipment and infrastructure. Keeping both up to date is a constant effort.

“Taking care of the investments that have been made are important to me,” he said. “It’s important to recognize the people who carry out this work so well and appreciate their efforts.”

Fuller said residents throughout the search process urged councilors to hire Nielsen.

“I think there are many who are going to be delighted to know he’s going to be the manager,” Fuller said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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