Teen landscaper cited as leading entrepreneur Work began at age 8, selling pigs CENTRAL--Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg


Sporting a buzz-style haircut and a shy smile, Chris DeGasperi could be any other high school fullback, involved in clubs and worried about his grades.

But, unlike most of his peers, the Westminster teen-ager has already entered the world of work by starting his own lawn and landscape business.

"I'll do anything to make a buck," said Chris, who also does odd jobs for neighbors and works for his father, Chuck DeGasperi, at Interstate Batteries of Baltimore during the winter. "I've grown up working all the time."

Chris, a 17-year-old Westminster High School junior, was honored Friday by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED) as one of 10 outstanding young entrepreneurs in Maryland.

Each of the 10, chosen from 100 students nominated statewide, received a $100 savings bond from NationsBank.

"These awards are designed to recognize young people who have shown exceptional ability and dedication in starting their own businesses and sticking with it," said Marilyn Corbett, a spokeswoman for DEED.

DEED has been sponsoring the competition for four years, Ms. Corbett said.

Entrepreneurship began early with Chris when, at the age of 8, he raised and sold the pigs he showed each year at the Carroll County 4-H Fair. He now raises cows and cares for the family's four horses as well.

"I'd sell them to make money for the toys I wanted," he said. "Motorcycles, four-wheelers, stuff like that."

His latest "toy" is a snowmobile, just paid off during the first week of mowing season. "I'm starting to save for a bigger tractor and more equipment," Chris said. "I need to invest in the business."

The lawn care and landscaping business began about five years ago when he took over caring for the two or three lawns his older brother, Mark, had mowed regularly.

"I've been mowing our lawn since I could drive a tractor," Chris said. "I've just learned [landscaping] by experience around here, keeping our lawn mowed."

Since then, Chris said he's steadily built his clientele to 12 customers in Westminster's Kalten Acres and three of his brother's neighbors in Pennsylvania.

Prices are based on the individual lawn and the work required, he said.

"If you keep doing a good job, people will tell others that you mow lawns," said Chris, who has also promoted his business by distributing fliers to neighbors. "The people I mow for try to get more business for me.

"I try to do it cheaper than other people so I can keep their business."

His day begins at 6:30 a.m. during the week and earlier on weekends to care for the animals. After school, he does lawn work until dark.

"I try to work until I get the job done," he said. On Wednesday, "I was finishing cutting grass during the thunderstorm."

Schoolwork and extracurricular activities keep Chris busy as well. Chris is a member of Westminster's varsity football team, belongs to the 4-H Chevonaire Dairy Goat Club, is an officer in the school's American Marketing Students Association and manages the school store.

"Chris has so much integrity . . . it's difficult for me to describe," said Margaret Payne, Westminster High's marketing teacher. "He's absolutely trustworthy, extremely hard working and I'm very proud of him. I would trust him with my life savings."

Ms. Payne nominated Chris and five other students -- juniors Tonia Kave and Rachel Fisher, and seniors Angie Shipley, Amy Mullinix and Kera Foe -- for the award. All six are officers in the school's American Marketing Students Association.

Westminster High's two-year marketing program, the only one in Carroll County, teaches students about running their own businesses through classroom experience, internships and running the school store, Ms. Payne said.

About 70 students are involved in the program this year.

"This [award] goes hand in hand with what is taught in the classroom and the program's goals," she said. "We address the fact that doing is more important than objective tests."

Ms. Payne said Chris' integrity, his human relations skills and his drive to achieve his goals probably put him ahead of the other nominees. She also said that his father's business is a great inspiration for Chris to succeed.

"His biggest influence is his parents," Ms. Payne said.

As for role models outside the family, Chris said he doesn't really have any. "I try to be myself," he said. "I work hard to be the best I can be, and it's going to pay off in the future."

Right now, that future includes college and a career as a self-employed businessman or a veterinarian, Chris said. But the landscaping business will live on.

"When I go off to college, I want to keep the business going," he said. "I'll hire somebody to mow the lawns."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad