Chances are, if the sun is shining (and even sometimes when it is not); Milford Klaassen of rural Hillsboro is out mowing. With dozens of customers to please, and jobs ranging in size from several acres to a few feet across, the JAMM family mowing company is a busy little business with a 25-year- history of good service in the area.
“When we first started this, we had about 20 customers and wondered how we would ever get it all done,” Klaassen said. “Now I am usually going full blast from the first of April to the end of October. I am pretty much gone from dawn to dusk.”
Klaassen’s wife, Janell, said she considers herself a cutter’s widow but takes an active role in the mowing business herself.
“He drives the big mower with the 66-inch deck,” she said. “Mine is the smaller one with the 60-inch deck. We all work together.”
Michael Klaassen, a junior at Tabor College, and Angela Klaassen, a farmer who raises calves, horses, and chickens at the family farm west of Hillsboro, join their parents to form the rest of the mowing company.
“Together, the first letter of our names make the name of our company, JAMM,” Janell said. “Michael has been helping with mowing since he was a middle-schooler, and Angela helps pick up flowers at cemeteries and deliver them to Et Cetera.”
The two weeks prior to Memorial Day is the business’s busiest time of the year.
“We have our 45 to 60 regular customers that we get to each week, but at this time of the year we also have to make sure to get the cemeteries done in time for the holiday,” Milford said. “It’s a lot of pressure but it has to be done. Our customers depend on us.”
Klaassen said the bulk of their mowing jobs were in Marion County within a 15-mile radius of Hillsboro.
“We cover Hillsboro, Lehigh, some in Marion, and then have some jobs out by Goessel and Durham yet too,” he said. “We used to go toward Newton, but gas prices made that not worth the drive.”
As it is, Klaassen works to schedule jobs with minimal driving back and forth, often combining those in the same area. This leads to additional jobs as neighbors to the work in progress sometimes approach him with a request for lawn care help.
“My motto is ‘What’s one more,’” Klaassen said. “We don’t do a lot of advertising, so the majority of our jobs come from someone approaching us when we are out mowing for someone else.”
Klaassen said that though summertime mowing schedules were difficult for his own family, his customers had often told him he was a good marriage counselor.
“I have had several customers who told me if I wasn’t taking care of their lawn, their marriage would be in trouble,” he said.
Dedication to customer needs may be what has made JAMM mowing successful over the years.
“I don’t get many complaints,” Milford said. “Most of our customers tell us ‘the lawn is yours, take care of it like it was your own’ and that is what we try to do.”
In addition to mowing grass, Klaassen is a full-time school bus driver for USD 410, working in mowing jobs between driving schedules.
“Since the mowing is seasonal, the two work well together,” he said. “It is hard work, and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have the summer off. It keeps me busy.”
There are some family perks to the mowing business. Janell said they often just happen to be in Durham around lunchtime when mowing in that area and do their best to keep local cafés and restaurants in business.
“Wendy’s also knows what we want when we walk in the door,” she said. “They often get it ready when they see us pull in the parking lot.”
The couple was able to take a vacation last summer and attend a wedding in Colorado, but that was only because of the drought.
“The drought cost us about $10,000 last year,” Milford said. “There just wasn’t as much grass to mow. But we are making up for it this year. The grass is growing a little too fast this year.”
Rainy days are not the expected bonus one might think for a lawn-mowing company.
“Rain just puts us behind schedule,” Klaassen said. “Often we can find somewhere to mow where it hasn’t rained, so that is not much of a problem.”
Janell said stormy weather was a problem as it was hard to communicate with someone on a noisy lawn mower.
“He has a cell phone, but he can’t hear it and the mower vibrates so that is not an option either,” she said.
Each family member wears a radio set to help keep track of severe storms, but most of the time they are at the mercy of the elements when mowing.
“I’ve had to wait out some pretty scary weather in the truck,” Janell said. “But most of the time it blows over quickly and we can get back to the job.”
JAMM mowing starts each week with a planned schedule so they know where and what the order of cutting should be.
“We make it work,” Janell said.