COLORADO SPRINGS — FOX21 is celebrating remarkable women in southern Colorado by spending the next few weeks sharing the stories of four women who were nominated by their friends or loved ones.
You’ve most likely seen her around the Pikes Peak Region, but what you may not know is how she got here.
“It truly is a Cinderella story and I think that’s the funniest part,” said Luisa Graff. “I was born into a family of wealth and I had a lot of opportunities.”
Graff was born in Peru, which was war-torn at the time. She said Peru’s dictator at the time did not want her father in his country and one day her life changed forever.
“My father was American, my mother was a Peruana and so was I,” said Graff. “Peru’s dictator didn’t like Americans. I could say he hated Americans. The soldiers came to our house and took my dad away.”
Graff and the rest of her family had no idea where her father had been taken. Three years later, just before her 12th birthday, Graff escaped by herself.
“Dad was able to get out and go to Costa Rica. My sister was able to get out with my Auntie and come to America. But my mom and I were trapped because Peruvian’s were not allowed to leave the country,” said Graff. “When I did escape, the only thing that my mother was able to save from the dictator was the family jewelry.”
Loaded down with the family jewels under her clothes, she went to Panama, changed her name and found her dad in Costa Rica.
“My dad brought me to America,” said Graff.
Her whole family reunited and eventually moved to Colorado Springs. When asked how she got into the jewelry business Graff’s response was, “I don’t know, God had a plan.”
But something about saving her family’s jewelry stayed with her far beyond Peru, proving this diamond can’t be broken. One day she walked into a jewelry store with her mother, and then she never left.
“At 14 I started working and look what God has done,” said Graff. “I came in every Saturday and asked them if they had a position open.”
When she turned 15, she got the job.
“So I started cleaning the counters, cleaning the showcase, cleaning the jewelry,” said Graff.
A few years later, she became the first female gemologist and youngest gemologist in the western United States, and Luisa Graff Jewelers has now been in business for over 20 successful years.
“To me, providing jobs was the biggest gift,” said Graff. “By giving people the benefit of the doubt, you will find that people are a whole lot more beautiful than you ever thought.”
She’s a child of war, an immigrant, and one remarkable woman.
“All I ever want is to make a difference in someone’s life. A positive difference let’s put it that way,” said Graff.
The top winner for FOX21’s Remarkable Women Contest will be announced on March 6.