By Shayna Mace | Illustration by Hello Madison
In our constantly-changing media landscape, it’s a feat to be around for 20 years. From the beginning, BRAVA Magazine has been a steadfast champion of women in the Madison area, and its legions of readers, contributors, supporters and staff can all attest to the impact the publication has made in their lives.
From covering tough issues such as domestic abuse, sexual violence and opioid addiction, to the lighter side of life, including fashion, dating and food, BRAVA has always featured a mix of relevant topics — all localized to our community.
So stroll down memory lane with us as we dig into some of our most impactful memories and stories from the last 20 years.
The first issue of Anew magazine is published. The publication was an offshoot of the annual Women’s Expo that founder, publisher and editorial director Kristin Erickson had launched and was already operating in the Madison area. Erickson wrote in her inaugural editor’s column that clients and readers would often ask if her staff would be starting a publication for women.
As Erickson wrote: “Like all good ideas, it refused to stay put. … I thought about the magazines I enjoy — InStyle, O, The Oprah Magazine, Vogue, People. They’re fun to read, but the local information is missing. Didn’t we deserve a high-quality magazine just for the community Ladies’ Home Journal recently named the best midsized city for women? Yes.”
Erickson owned the publication from 2002-2009.
The magazine commemorates the opening of the $205 million Overture Center in downtown Madison. Stories profile Carol Toussaint, then-chair of the Madison Cultural Arts District Board; articles on Overture’s staff; and a style spread dedicated to formal fashions.
Due to legal pressure from Avon, an international cosmetics and skincare company, Erickson changes the magazine’s name from Anew to brava. (At the time, “brava” was lower-case.) BRAVA staff solicited new name ideas from readers, with the promise of a deluxe weekend getaway in the Wisconsin Dells area. Suggested names included: Renew, Vitality, Refresh, Panache, Soar, A-Plus, Reflections and more.
However, Erickson reveals in her editor’s column that nine days(!) before publication, she came up with the name brava herself.
Local business owner Brad Zaugg purchases BRAVA from Erickson, and brings on co-owners Laura Houlihan and Michelle Reddington (now Kullmann). Houlihan left, and Kullmann and Zaugg own the magazine until 2016, when it was purchased by current owners Nei-Turner Media Group.
BRAVA publishes its inaugural Women to Watch list, comprised of 23 standout women in the Madison community. Editor-in-chief Sarah DeRoo and publisher Michelle Reddington wrote, “If you’re looking for women who are making their mark in Madison, there is no shortage at all. … They’re leading research and running nonprofits, growing businesses and broadening education opportunities, challenging the status quo and shaking things up wherever they go.”
As of 2022, BRAVA has featured 208 Women to Watch (with Reddington, now Kullmann, as one of them in 2022!). Today, the benchmark for women to be considered includes concrete, actionable plans the woman intends to accomplish in the coming year.
“A Fresh Start” focuses on Rick and JoMay Lacrosse, out of Oxford, Wis., who have fostered 15 teenage boys over a four-year span. The couple share their experiences on what it’s like to care for these children, shuttling them to school, appointments and jobs. “I want to show these kids that there can be a better life out there,” explains JoMay on why she fosters kids.
The article reports that at the time, there are 8,000 children in need of foster care on any given day in Wisconsin, and a number of agencies discuss the need for qualified foster parents.
The feature “Not Safe for Children” feels especially poignant today, 10 years later. Writer Jacob Bielanski talks to Jennifer Price, commander of the Crimes Against Children Task Force; June Groehler, detective lieutenant with the Madison Police Department; and Wisconsin assistant district attorneys Meredith Duchemin and Julie Pfluger about their work in investigating and prosecuting internet predators.
“We teach kids to look both ways when crossing the street, to put on bicycle helmets when riding a bike, but who is teaching them about internet safety?” states Groehler.
With the advent of many more social platforms since 2012 (hello, TikTok and others) that predators can utilize, internet safety continues to be a timely topic.
In “Deciding Factors,” three women detail their decision to undergo a BRCA test, which screens for a mutated form of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. These mutated genes can predict risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and women with the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with nonmutated forms of the genes. (The story’s timing coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)
Dawna McMillan, Mary Grundahl and Christy Lee Ward also explain their breast cancer surgery journeys and what life is like post-treatment. All three women continue to work and live in the Madison area today.
AUGUST 2014 & MAY 2017
In a pair of stories that still resonate today, “When the Pills Run Out” and “The Faces of Opioid Addiction” reports on several Madison women who dealt with addiction to prescription opioids and heroin. The women detail how their addiction took over their lives and how they decided to seek help.
Today, The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that deaths from opioids, including fentanyl, has increased nearly every year since 1999.
Writer Jenny Fiore shares the story of Heather McManamy, a 35-year-old woman from McFarland that was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in April 2013.
Fiore writes, “Having no family history of the disease and none of the usual risk factors, McManamy is comfortable with the fact that her cancer is random. Neither religious nor superstitious, she shuns the notion that her name was inscribed in some cosmic Book of Cancer as part of a grander plan. It’s just the way the cookie crumbled.”
After her diagnosis, McManamy penned a book for her four-year-old daughter, Bri, titled “Cards for Brianna: A Mom’s Messages of Living, Laughing, and Loving as Time Is Running Out.”
In December 2015, McManamy passed away, and her story went viral globally after her husband, Jeff, posted an open letter on Facebook written by McManamy that was a wry, humorous take on her life and love for her family.
McManamy shared at the time, “You just see this clear realization of what’s important and what’s not, and it’s just really awesome. Just being so grateful and so appreciative of everything — of how wonderful life really is.”
Christy, whose name was changed in the story for her privacy, details her story of verbal and domestic abuse by her husband in “Voices Carry.”
“If I did or said something he didn’t like, he wouldn’t talk to me for a couple of days. He’d say that was my punishment. I would think, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I always tried to smooth things over and move on past his bad mood,” Christy shares.
Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, and Jennifer Parker, psychotherapist at Harmonia, also share insights about abuse victims and what they, or loved ones, can do to encourage victims to seek help.
In “Empowering mothers and saving babies” assistant editor Julia Richards writes about Black women who are working to lower infant mortality rates in the Madison area.
“… Wisconsin’s disturbingly high rate of Black infant mortality — over three times the rate of white infant mortality here — returned by the late- 2000s and has remained elevated,” writes Richards.
A number of programs were highlighted, including Harambee Village, which provides community- based doula services, breastfeeding support and other services to lower-income women and marginalized populations. Dr. Jasmine Zapata and Lisa Peyton-Caire (both former Women to Watch) are also interviewed.
Darcy Luoma, a longtime BRAVA contributor and speaker at various BRAVA events from 2013-2019, shares her own story of personal heartbreak and how she emerged from her experience stronger than ever in “Walking the Walk.” Editor-in-chief Marni McEntee details how Luoma’s husband was arrested in March 2016 and eventually convicted on federal charges of possessing child pornography. He is serving a 10-year sentence in prison. Luoma was cleared of any connection to the case and was considered a victim. She filed for divorce within days of his arrest.
The story exploded on our website, and is the magazine’s most-viewed story to date.
Luoma shares: “In May 2019, I decided to share my story in a very public way in BRAVA. Choosing not to hide any longer felt like a huge risk. While I trusted BRAVA wholeheartedly to share my story, I had no idea what the reaction from others might be. It turned out to be a turning point for me, personally and professionally. We all have hurdles to overcome, some are more expected than others, but that article created conversations with others who want to share their stories, and continues to do so today.”
In “Solidarity in the City,” BRAVA talks to five community members about their experiences during the social unrest in the spring and summer of 2020. Local artist Lilada Gee, Short Stack Eatery owner Alex Lindenmeyer, Madison police officer Alex Nieves Reyes, community rights activist Brandi Grayson and the Boone family share perspectives on race and life in Madison.
“It’s been really disheartening to see how many people are shocked by the violence against Black bodies when the Black community has been shouting, and we haven’t been listening. Time has run out and we have to get our act together. Black people have been tired, so this is our work to do, and it’s endless,” says Lindenmeyer.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020 & NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020
BRAVA interviews several local business owners and female restaurateurs in a pair of stories titled “Back to Business?” and “Head of the Table,” focused on life during the pandemic. In “Back to Business?” women share the struggle of keeping their businesses’ doors open and the worry they face making ends meet and staying healthy.
Marcia Casto, co-owner of The Old Fashioned, muses about the pandemic’s effect on restaurants: “What does our country look like if we don’t have our restaurants to celebrate in? It’s about anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and all of the memories created.”
Although we read a lot about mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, it’s not often you read about women sharing their experience with having a “serious mental illness,” which is termed as “a mental, behavioral or emotional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or major life activities.”
In “A Mental Health Shift,” BRAVA talked to four women who shared first-person accounts of what it like to live with paranoid schizophrenia, PTSD and more. It’s an eye-opening account of life with a serious mental health struggle.
It’s Olympics season! BRAVA talks to a number of past and present Madison-area Olympic athletes about their experiences and hopes for the 2021 Tokyo Games. The games were delayed one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former UW-Madison swimmer and Olympic hopeful Beata Nelson shares: “I’m just excited to have an opportunity at a shot to represent the United States. I’ve been putting in the work every single day to make my dream become a reality.”
When we decided to tackle the topic of infant and child loss in “Portraits of Loss,” we knew it would be a difficult one to write about. We spoke to four area women who lost babies and teenagers, and what the aftermath of that experience was like for them.
Two of the women, Kristin Erickson and Michelle Bauer, were former BRAVA staffers. Both were gracious enough to share their heartfelt memories of their sons, Sean and Jesse. After the story, BRAVA received many comments of appreciation on social media and via email, thanking us for writing about the tough topic.
As Bauer shared about her experience, “The grief never changes; it’s always there. It just hurts less often.”
Coverage of people with disabilities is still lacking in our media landscape. In “ Truly Accessible,” we talk to three Madison-area women with a range of disabilities about their experience navigating the city and their daily routines. Disability advocates also share what it takes for buildings to be accessible to differently-abled people.
“People don’t realize sometimes what’s accessible until they’re in a situation themselves … or they’re helping me … and they realize what I can and cannot do,” explains Jennifer Diedrich, who has Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair.
As a result of this story, the ARC- Dane County, a nonprofit serving adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, honored BRAVA a 2022 Support in the Media Award.