The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 24, 2013

New Ulm journalist begins business of storytelling

By Amanda Dyslin
The Free Press

LAFAYETTE — Like many new mothers, Serra Muscatello’s life completely changed when she had a baby, as did her priorities.

She was a full-time journalist at the New Ulm Journal, and she found herself wanting badly to be home with her daughter much more than she was.

Years before, Muscatello had been kicking around an idea she had for a business. At the Journal, she had the opportunity to meet all kinds of different people and tell their stories in the newspaper. She thought there might be a market for that outside of work — people who want their life stories to be written professionally as a keepsake for their families.

There was such a market, she learned. Muscatello wrote her first story in the summer of 2010 on the life of Norma Gag, for Gag’s daughter, Judy Sellner of New Ulm. And her business, Treasured Heritage Keepsakes, grew from there.

“It was an idea that kind of kept coming up,” she said. “It was kind of a feeling within me. I just felt like I wanted to do something different, something more.”

So having gotten some experience in her side business, and with her newfound motivation as a mom to leave her full-time job, Muscatello decided to pursue Treasured Heritage Keepsakes full time.

“I got my feet wet, and I enjoyed it,” she said. “And this is something I could do from home and still be with my daughter more.”

More than two years later, Muscatello has written numerous stories of people’s lives, which she coordinates with photographs and has printed in spiral-bound books. Clients also receive a disc with the story that they can print or electronically send to whomever they wish.

Muscatello loves the idea of honoring someone’s legacy, and the feedback she’s received from clients is validating, she said.

Lynette Hopp of Lafayette hired Muscatello to write her mom Ruth Farnum’s story. Farnum served in the Navy during World War II, and she had so many other interesting life stories that Hopp wanted to get down on paper for their family.

“I’ve been after my mom for a number of years to get her story written down herself,” Hopp said. “I gave her three or four or five journals, I can’t remember.”

Ever modest, Hopp said her mom didn’t think her stories were important enough to write down. What impressed Hopp most was Muscatello’s ability to draw those stories out of Farnum. She took her time and listened carefully over a couple of hours to what she had to say about her life.

“Serra did an excellent job of interviewing her. She’s just wonderfully patient and caring,” Hopp said. “And she just did a really super job getting it down in writing.”

In addition to the positive feedback from clients, Muscatello said she had a moment of clarity during a car accident on Highway 15 outside New Ulm in January 2012. With her daughter in the backseat, she hit black ice and her car veered off the road into the ditch.

“I thought, ‘I want to be living my life the way that I want to live it. I want to honor myself by following this dream, and I want to honor other people,’” she said.

Many of Muscatello’s clients are family members of seniors who want help to preserve their loved ones’ stories.

Business has come her way through word of mouth and circulating flyers and brochures. She’s in the process of creating a website as well.

“I think the people I’ve helped so far, they have wanted it for their families,” she said. “One lady gave it to their family as a Christmas gift.”

The stories have ranged from 15 to 45 pages, depending on how much clients wanted to tell and how many photos they wanted to submit. Cost has ranged from $75 to $600 or more, depending upon length, the time put in on the project, and the number of copies printed.

The stories are tailored to the vision of the clients, and are proof-read by the clients to ensure the story is exactly how they want it.

“It’s been very rewarding for me. It’s been inspiring to just sit with people,” she said. “It’s heartfelt when you talk to someone and get their story, and they tell you later that we feel really grateful that you’ve done this and we’re so glad we have the story now.”

Muscatello is also offering classes and workshops on journaling techniques and writing a life story. She gives talks to groups as well, and she’s been working on developing a line of products, including keepsake boxes and jewelry.

She also plans to reach out to funeral homes to offer services of writing life stories for people who have died, as a remembrance for their families.

For more information on Treasured Heritage Keepsakes or upcoming workshops, call 507-276-4219.