Oak Forest teen a cut above when it comes to business sense

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Jacob Toppen, an Oak Forest High School junior, who started his own lawn mowing business when he was 10, pictured at the school in Oak Fores. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Jacob Toppen is no ordinary teenager. Like many, he likes to make money, but he is not content to do it on a small scale.

Toppen is the proud owner of Cut Nice Lawn Care, of Oak Forest, boasting 25 customers and maintaining the lawns of several single-family homes as well as apartment complexes and businesses.

With an eye toward paying for college, he recently had his business appraised. It was valued at $30,000 — not bad for a 17-year-old senior-to-be at Oak Forest High School.

Before Toppen could buy his own lawn mower, he collected scrap metal and recycled pop cans to earn money. With cash in hand, he bought his first mower and started the business — with two customers — at age 10.

It wasn’t a one-summer gig. Sticking with the job, he bought his first commercial lawn mower as a seventh-grader.

“It cost $1,000, and I had to buy a truck before I could even drive so I could (have someone) transport it,” Toppen said.

The truck cost him $10,000. Two years ago, he bought another lawn mower for $7,000.

Toppen works daily throughout the summer. In the spring and fall, when he has school, he works only weekends so he can do his homework at night.

“We didn’t have a TV when I was growing up, so I was always doing things outside,” Toppen said. “I wanted to do something to make money because my parents don’t have a lot of money. A lot of other kids have parents who will buy them a car and pay for college, but I want to do it myself.”

Toppen plans to sell his business when he goes to college next year. He wants to use the proceeds to buy a Corvette and put the rest toward his education.

Toppen is a good student, too, ranking in the top 20 percent of his class. He also is involved in his church, ecology club, mathletes, science club and golf. One time, he and his best friend, Jake Lawrence, also of Oak Forest, built a motorcycle.

Toppen concedes that owning a business can cut into one’s social life.

“I had to skip Homecoming and stuff, so it isn’t always fun,” he said, “but having money is fun, and mowing lawns is fun when you have a good mower.”

Toppen said his parents, Jeff and Chris Toppen, of Oak Forest, are his role models.

“They taught me so much about the value of money and not to spend it on junk but invest it in stuff that will be more helpful,” he said. “They also took me to church my whole life.”

Despite the boost it has given his spending power, Toppen doesn’t plan to make landscaping architecture his career. He’d like to become a surgeon or an engineer.

“I’m leaning toward orthopedic surgery,” he said, “but I’m also considering becoming a mechanical, electrical or possibly a nuclear engineer.”

If he decides to pursue medicine, he would like to attend Northwestern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the University of Illinois.

Until then, he expects Nice Cut Lawn Care to continue to generate new business.

“I’m definitely motivated by making money. Being able to have nice stuff is a motivator, and I want to have a nice family some day,” he said. “God keeps me motivated, too. God motivates me to keep doing the right things.”