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Proudly Peruvian: Marcy Costello shares culture and handiwork from her homeland

LAKEFIELD -- Did you know that there are 7 1/2 million llamas and alpacas in Peru -- almost as many people as inhabit its capital city of Lima (8 1/2 million)? Or that Peru is home to the International Potato Center, where scientists from all ove...

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Marcy Costello and her daughter, Isabella, 17 months old, display some of the many items Marcy imports from her native Peru.

LAKEFIELD -- Did you know that there are 7½ million llamas and alpacas in Peru -- almost as many people as inhabit its capital city of Lima (8½ million)? Or that Peru is home to the International Potato Center, where scientists from all over the world come to study tuberous crops?

Those are just a few of the tidbits of information that Marcy Costello is likely to share with visitors to her home. A native of Peru, Marcy now lives in Lakefield with husband Patrick Costello, their 17-month-old daughter, Isabella, and her son from a previous marriage, Christian, 13.

Marcy is fiercely proud of her native land -- and occasionally a bit homesick -- but her permanent home is now the house on Lakefield's Third Avenue where she first came to live -- temporarily -- more than two decades ago.

"I was an exchange student 22 years ago in this house," she explained. "My (host) mom was Patrick's mom. She was a widow with three grown kids."

Although Marcy began to study English at the tender age of 4, her parents enrolled her in an exchange student program to better her language skills as a teen.

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"My father, he told me, 'You're going to Minnesota because nobody there will speak to you in Spanish,'" she recalled. "So he put me on a plane to Minnesota."

Living with Kay Costello, Marcy did indeed improve her English and forged a strong relationship with her American mother.

"She was so like my dad, that the connection was immediate," Marcy remembered fondly.

Over the next 20 years, Marcy made five return trips to southwest Minnesota, and Kay also came to visit in Peru. When Kay became sick a few years ago, Marcy hastened to her bedside.

"I did a sabbatical year, taking care of Kay, three years ago," Marcy explained. "During that time, Patrick asked me to marry him."

They wed, and soon Marcy discovered she was pregnant. Unfortunately, her American mother/new mother-in-law died before Isabella was born. Patrick and Marcy bought the Costello family home from his siblings, so she's once again ensconced in the home where she spent those exchange months.

Continuing the family trade

Back in Peru, Marcy's family is in the silver business. They own a silver factory and stores named Dellapina.

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"It's a family name and company," she explained. "My grandpa came from Italy, and my dad continued the business. My two brothers are now (in the business), and my dad is still there. He's 63 and tells me he's not planning on retiring anytime soon."

Peruvian silver "is the best in the world and has the highest purity," Marcy boasted, explaining that for many years she was employed as the company's international business administrator, attending trade shows around the world.

Now, she's a stay-at-home mom, but she's also continued those entrepreneurial urges by bringing a taste of Peruvian goods to southwest Minnesota. Marcy has started a business called Marcy Gifts, importing her family's silver jewelry and other unique Peruvian handicrafts.

"It keeps me busy here, and I can raise my kid at the same time," she explained.

Marcy has set up a makeshift showroom in the basement of their home. Tables are draped with the lustrous silver jewelry; woven baskets in brilliant hues are stacked around the room's perimeter; bears made from alpaca fur peer out from a shelf and a basket; crocheted flower belts form a curtain at the room's entry; a coat rack serves as a hanging place for knit hats and scarves; embroidered woven table runners are draped over a desk.

"It's different gifts from South America that are the high quality," she explained. "I didn't want to do the cheap stuff. I wanted to show the best of my country. My target is people who will appreciate the work."

Marcy's experience in sales and marketing takes over as she points out the distinguishing characteristics of her inventory, such as the ever-so-soft bears that can be washed with shampoo.

"Lots of alpacas die in the cold in the highlands. The alpaca there is like the cow here -- they eat its meat, use its skin. When there are high numbers (of deaths), they find more things to make from them, like the bears," she detailed.

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She's also proud of the workmanship and time her countrymen invest in the items she imports.

"These runners are woven and hand-embroidered," she said. "It takes a month to do one of these. The baskets are hand woven and dyed with vegetables and fruits. I thought with the colors these would be good for Easter."

Pilgrimages to Peru

For eight weeks each year -- generally from Christmas until early February -- Marcy returns to Peru to visit family, seek out new goods to sell and to lend a hand in the family business. She takes pride in helping with the jewelry designs and has brought back some unique items that represent the area she now calls home: paw print pendants and earrings for the Jackson Huskies sports teams; and Trojan emblems for the Worthington teams. They represent some of the custom work that Dellapina also offers.

From a folder, Marcy pulls out a letter that resulted from another customized silver piece.

"I got to meet Laura Bush, and I got this letter from her," she explained. "When the Bushes went to Peru, I was in charge of their delegation, of showing them the silver. We were going to give her an alpaca broach, but then the Secret Security man tells me how much they love their dog, Barney. So I asked what kind it was and went back and found an image of a Scottish terrier, and we made a broach and gave it to her the next day."

Marcy invites people into her home to view her wares and participates in select shows such as the Fall Marketplace event at the Historic Dayton House in Worthington. She's also begun selling wholesale to stores in the region and especially enjoys going to the Twin Cities, where she can absorb the adrenaline of the big city -- something she misses about her native city of Lima.

The enterprise has helped Marcy to acclimate to the region in which she now lives and to make some friends. She is also taking courses in stained glass and painting to broaden her interests.

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"I also give ethnic cooking Peruvian classes. If you ask my dad, he would say I had never cooked in my life," she added with a laugh, admitting that she grew up in the privileged class of Peru, with a maid to do the cooking and cleaning. "There is a new wave of Peruvian cooking, cooking with all the fruits and vegetables that are available."

Through the cooking class, she became friends with some people from Windom who later traveled to Peru and had Marcy as their personal tour guide. Marcy enjoys sharing knowledge of her homeland -- and learning about and visiting new places herself. A world map dominates an entire wall in the Costellos' basement, with color-coded stickers representing each member of the family and the places they've visited. Even young Isabella rates several stickers on the wall.

When longing for Peru and her family overtakes her, all Marcy has to do is turn on the computer to talk with and see her family via the Skype video phone system -- Christian checks in with his grandparents in this manner every morning before school and each night before he goes to bed, she noted -- or walk into her showroom and be surrounded by all the beautiful items from her native land.

"I don't want to just sell," she stressed. "I want to show my country. When people come here, it's more than a shopping experience. It's a historical and geographical experience of Peru."

Marcy Costello can be contacted at (507) 840-1689; or online at www.marcygifts.dellapina.com .

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Isabella Costello perches among the handmade woven tapestries and baskets her mother imports from Peru.(Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

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