Palm Coast -- Nestor Abreu was 14 years old in 1973 when he went to work part-time at a meat packing plant in Hialeah, a blue-collar suburb of Miami, in order to earn money for college. He's been working ever since.

Abreu earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Florida International University and was hired as a product design engineer by a world-wide medical diagnostic equipment manufacturer.

In 1993, Abreu and his wife, Victoria, moved to Ocala, where he became an entrepreneur, starting a real estate investment and construction company.  He earned residential and mechanical contractors licenses in addition to full certification as a building official, building inspector and plans examiner. He became a Chief Inspector and Plans Examiner for Marion County and gained expertise in managing the entire permitting process.

After earning an MBA from Webster University in 2004, Abreu was hired to be the City of Palm Coast's first Building Official and Director of Building and Code Administration by Palm Coast's first City Manager, Richard Kelton. Subsequently, Abreu took post-graduate courses in human performance technology, a program designed to gain expertise as a workplace performance consultant to improve work processes, staff development, and technology. The knowledge gained from this program has been utilized since 2008, when the City reorganized its Community Development Department to add Planning/Zoning and Capital Projects.

Since 2014, Abreu has used the same human performance principles to maximize efficiency and work output to the various Public Works Department processes.

Abreu has announced his retirement as the City of Palm Coast's Director of Public Works, effective March 30.

"This is bittersweet," Interim City Manager Beau Falgout said in announcing Abreu's retirement this week. "He has truly been part of building this organization from the ground up.  He's very deserving of his retirement and we wish him the best."

Abreu has helped Palm Coast weather many storms and crises, something he has experienced in his personal life.

Abreu's family fled Communist Cuba when he was just 7 years old. Some of his family members were arrested, sentenced and incarcerated as political prisoners for decades. While still a child in Cuba, he witnessed public executions of friends and neighbors. He was present when the Communist Party Militia showed up at the family ranch with weapons drawn to confiscate his family's cattle ranch, citrus groves and sugar plantation, claiming it for the Communist State as part of Fidel Castro's Agrarian Reform.

"My family vehemently opposed the Communist revolution, the violation of human rights and the resulting decline of societal norms," he said. "Living in revolutionary Cuba was terrifying, as was the exodus. Arriving in the United States was a frightening and confusing time, but a hopeful time nevertheless."

After a rigorous immigration and vetting process, Abreu, his parents, sister and an uncle were permitted to board a "Freedom Flight" organized by the U.S. government; they arrived in Miami, Florida in 1966. Classified as "political refugees," the family settled in New Orleans.

"I learned to be an American - the language, the food, the culture," he said. "New Orleans was great; it was safe. As a child, I benefitted from Americans' generosity of spirit and the United States as a beacon of hope and the place for a new beginning."

"As part of the classic immigrant experience, my parents worked several jobs to provide opportunities for my sister and me," he added. "When I became 18 years old, with my heart full of pride for my adopted homeland, I joined the rest of my family as a naturalized American citizen."

Abreu has served on the City of Palm Coast's Executive Team for 15 years. As he heads off to retirement, he and Victoria are looking forward to new adventures and discoveries. They plan to spend more time with each of their sisters, a niece and two grand-nieces. They will split their time between Miami, Denver, and Palm Coast.