Women are doing great things in Waco — and that includes right here in the offices of the WACOAN magazine. Month in and month out, for more than 20 years, a small team has put together the magazine that tells Waco’s stories.
From its beginning the WACOAN has helped forge connections throughout the community. It’s the moment someone stops you at H-E-B to say they saw your picture or read your story in the magazine and now, “You’re famous!”
There’s no better famous than WACOAN famous, and here are the women who make local celebrity happen.
For more than 20 years Michelle Johnson has worked closely with every aspect of the WACOAN.
“You can tell the enthusiasm in my voice when I talk about this magazine,” she said. “I can talk about it all day long, backwards and forwards.”
In May 2022, Johnson took over as publisher and editor-in-chief. It has been a challenging but exciting year as she adjusts to a new role with new responsibilities. Not many people know that for a year Johnson had to make the difficult decision to walk away and leave the job she loved as she and her husband, Robert, then publisher, went through a divorce.
“It was a hard time for the family and the staff at the magazine,” Johnson said. “The staff did an outstanding job keeping things going. I can’t thank them enough. During that year I kept in touch with them, with our contributors and advertisers. I really found the strength and courage to live in Waco without the magazine. It was a healing year.”
Johnson had actually taken a teaching job last May when she was called to return to the magazine and take over the leadership.
“I honestly thought I would never be back here. It has been exciting, overwhelming and awesome — yes, all those things — but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I am surrounded by amazing women on this team and with our contributors, especially Lonnie Bradley, of McKinleyBrown & Bradley. Lonnie designs our covers and most of our editorial layouts. Without his expert advice on design and computers, it for sure would have been a much harder road. As a team, we all tackle things as they come and grow each day. I was lucky enough to have a few women come back, and we have gained really fantastic ladies that bring so much to our team, with experience too. I am super thankful for Lisa Jaska, our account manager. She really pulled us through this past year and kept many of our advertisers.”
After graduating from Baylor University, Johnson was a teacher at South Waco Elementary.
“I’d have my students say, ‘I saw you in the magazine. You’re famous!’” Johnson said. “The magazine brought conversation immediately and organically. That still happens today.”
In 2000, with their business partner Hughes Dillard, the Johnsons purchased the building at 919 N Valley Mills Drive and Etc. magazine, which was rebranded to the WACOAN.
When Johnson started at the magazine, she was working two days a week on a private school directory and helping with editorial ideas. Before she knew it, she became sales manager. That job prepared her for her role today, as she helps the sales team with calling advertisers, going on sales appointments and coming up with ideas.
“It is such an advantage to my role, to pick up the phone and talk with an advertiser or serve as the point of contact for partnerships, such as our longtime ones like Baylor Athletics as well as our new partnership with Waco Moms,” she said.
Johnson says most readers would be surprised to learn that the magazine is produced by a very small team, and that each year 240,000+ yearly circulation of print and digital is handled by local staff.
“Our social media reach for this size city is quite impressive when you start researching other mid-city towns. It makes me happy to know that I can look at our 22k+ Facebook and 18k+ Instagram followers each week and see it growing and know it is legit!” Johnson said.
“We run with a really small staff, but it’s a local staff of nine. Everyone plays a role in getting this magazine done. And believe me, it takes all of us!” she said. “Lonnie Bradley is not on staff but is a huge part of our team. We all know Lonnie could have been pictured…but hey it’s the Women in Business issue!
The magazine also relies on Baylor interns. A total of 90 and counting have come through the WACOAN’s doors and have helped with everything from fashion to photography to writing to graphic design.
“If you’re capable and you can show you’re capable, we will put you to work,” Johnson said. “Working with interns is so rewarding. I always hate to see them leave right when they have really begun to flourish.”
Johnson says the biggest hurdle of taking over the reins has been learning the business side of things.
“But I ask for help, and I ask soon — ask the experts,” she said. “I can get the magazine out on time and help manage people, but it took longer to really understand the nuts and bolts of the business side. But I am getting there. The return of our office manager, Polly Brown — who knows our systems and flow — is a huge help.”
Right out of the gate, small changes were made to redesign the advertising profiles, with further changes made to the Guest List, as well as adding more photos into the monthly departments.
Johnson’s vision today for the WACOAN is to continue to be Waco’s Magazine with its finger on the pulse of the city. Johnson’s new push is to continue the magazine’s expansion from print into digital and beyond.
“Every month you can pick us up or view at WACOAN.com. But in between, we are online, sharing stories and interacting with the community,” she said. “We have more people to tell stories about, and through our print, podcast, digital, video, newsletter, website and social media platforms, our magazine will jump off the pages. An added benefit to our advertisers!”
“We want our pages to come to life after the magazine comes out in print. If you are new to town, I hope you find your next pediatrician in our pages as well as learn about the cool things in our city. Use us as your guide to Waco!” she said. “Our brands — Best of Waco, Explore Waco, Reasons to Love Waco, Things to Do in Waco This Weekend, People of the 254, Women of the 254 and Love Waco — are all part of our WACOAN-plus campaign, across all our platforms.”
Johnson has three kids — Madeline, 25, who lives in New York City; Cooper, 23, who is in Cleveland; and Katherine, 15 who goes to Midway. When the older kids return home for a visit, with their significant others in tow, they like to take their little sister to Union Hall.
“We also love as a family to walk along the river walk by the zoo sculptures. Everyone has their favorite,” Johnson said. “Mine are the bats.”
“I’m so proud to be a part of a team of women. Women that have gone through a lot of similar things. It’s so empowering. We’ve really bonded. We don’t dwell on the negative. We send each other inspirational quotes and texts. I don’t know how we all came together, but we did, and we found each other at the right time, when we needed each other the most,” she said. “Previously, I was not able to make the final decisions in this business, but now it feels really good to be able to own my decisions. And more and more, we are sitting around the table and discussing issues and making team decisions. It is a group effort, and I love it.”
Brittany Ross wasn’t born in Waco, but she moved to Midway ISD in third grade and remained in the district through high school. From there, she went to Baylor University and received her BFA in Graphic Design. Her parents and three siblings live here, and her husband, Taylor, is a Waco native.
That means free time is frequently spent with family.
“We go to breakfast with my in-laws every Saturday, and rotate between George’s (their pancakes taste like marshmallows!), Brown House Cafe and The Olive Branch,” Ross said. “With my parents, more recently, we started having game night every Friday, with whoever is available.”
Ross and her husband enjoy taking their young kids — 3-year-old daughter, Adalyn, and 1-year-old son, Hudson — to Cameron Park Zoo, Little Land of Waco and Heritage Creamery in Woodway.
“We love going for ice cream and my daughter always requests ‘the ice cream place with the step,’” she said.
Ross and her family are members of Harris Creek Baptist Church where they are involved in a life group.
“Surrounding our kids with like-minded people is very important to us. The community we have at Harris Creek has been incredibly impactful in the way we are raising our children.”
Ross serves as production director, which means she is in charge of design. She builds the ads, the profiles and often the features. She may even help direct a photo shoot. Ross says she likes seeing the finished product when it’s all over town and people are picking it up.
More importantly, the staff has become like family.
“Michelle [Johnson], she’s been there for so many big moments for me; my engagement, my wedding, starting a family, ” Ross said. “She always says, ‘Family comes first.’”
Office Manager & Accounting
Polly Brown is a Marlin girl who now lives in Riesel. She says small town-life suits her, although she’s an active member of Waco’s St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.
“I kind of like living further out from the hustle and bustle,” she said. “I do all my shopping here in Waco.”
And shopping is something Brown definitely likes to do. Whether she’s hitting a Waco boutique or traveling around the state, she loves a good find.
“We went to Round Top, came back with a 250-pound amethyst boulder,” she said.
Brown and her husband, Robert, are both on the board of directors of the Palace Theatre in Marlin, a historic movie house turned community dinner theater. Robert writes many of the plays — usually comedies — and directs them. Brown acts. The upcoming May show will be a murder mystery with a humorous twist. Many people come from Waco and from as far away as Houston.
“Sponsors will pay to have their business written into the play, such as a dry cleaners or a coffee shop,” Brown said. “The audience loves that part.”
Her background is in music. She played alto sax and took private lessons with a Baylor professor, then studied music in college for two-and-a-half years. Later, she owned a retail shop in Marlin and eventually joined her husband as a co-owner of McKinleyBrown & Bradley, a graphic design ad agency in Waco, with their partner Lonnie Bradley.
She worked as a bank manager before coming to the WACOAN. Now she serves as office manager, which means she handles all things financial. She’s been with the magazine for seven years.
“I like the tightness of the group. We all get to know each other, our strengths and weaknesses. We get along well, work well together,” she said.
Advertising Account Manager
Lisa Jaska was born in Amarillo and moved to Waco, attending kindergarten at Peter Pan School. She has always loved selling, from her enterprising childhood days of selling rocks door to door, to selling Camp Fire candy, to her years as a Pampered Chef senior director, winning many awards and trips.
Jaska studied marketing at McLennan Community College and Stephen F. Austin State University. She worked for a small local paper in California and then at the Waco Tribune-Herald.
She had always loved the WACOAN, so when a friend recommended an open sales position, she jumped at the opportunity.
“The magazine is beautiful, beautiful covers, beautiful photography. It tells the stories of people in our community, stories worth hearing that might not have gotten out otherwise,” she said. “Our print and digital combined platforms are truly the perfect vehicle to get your message out to the community. If you advertise with us consistently, be prepared to get consistent results. Our reach is crazy good!”
Jaska and her husband, Chris, live in Lorena and have three grown daughters, all married, with five grandchildren who are “our pride and joy!”
When Jaska and her daughters get together in Waco, they enjoy all things coffee, chocolate and wine. You might find them shopping at Spice Village, celebrating milestones at Saltgrass Steak House, Poppa Rollos Pizza or take-out from Helberg BBQ. They also enjoy listening to live music at the newly opened Lounge ‘93. The grandkids really enjoy making memories at the Mayborn Museum and Cameron Park Zoo with their Lubby (Jaska) & Poppa (Chris).
Jaska especially loves travelling with family and good friends, specifically cruising. Last year, they had 18 family members travel together to St. John Virgin Islands.
Emily Ober is from Waco — she graduated from Bosqueville High School — but she has a bit of an international flair. After receiving her bachelor’s in English from Baylor University, she earned a master’s in creative writing and publishing from City, University of London.
“I finished just before the pandemic hit. I graduated in January 2020, then did a big trip through Europe. I was home by February 1, when everything started shutting down,” she said.
One of the things Ober likes about Waco is meeting people from far away.
“I meet people here from around the world. I’ve met someone from Denmark,” she said, adding that visiting other countries is still important to her. “I’m always wanting to travel. It’s important to get out of your bubble.”
Ober says her favorite restaurant is Clay Pot Waco, but she loves to grab a breakfast burrito from El Norteño on the weekend. As a lover of words, she frequents Fabled Bookshop & Cafe, and she recently joined their book club. On Saturday mornings she can be found at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.
“I get to take my dogs there, walk around, see local vendors, get treats,” she said. “I have an Australian shepherd named Livvie and a teacup Yorkie named Bruin.”
Ober took on the role of assistant editor in July. She says her job has a variety of aspects, but in general it’s about “making sure the magazine reads like it’s supposed to and looks good,” she said.
She also gathers editorial ideas, assigns stories and edits them, and she writes stories herself, but she prefers writing about the fictional world in her free time.
“I’ve really liked sharing these amazing stories with readers,” she said. “It’s awesome to be in this creative environment and have this beautiful magazine in our hands that the team has created every month.”
Advertising Account Executive
Like a lot of people born and raised in Waco, Kylie Owen left town to attend Texas A&M University, worked elsewhere for a while, and then returned to find her hometown totally changed. After moving back, she turned to the WACOAN to see what was new in town and the best places to go.
Owen grew up in McGregor but attended school at Troy ISD, where her mother taught. Most of her extended family still lives in the area. She and her fiancé, Weston, are getting married in May.
Now that she’s back in Waco, Owen enjoys a Big O on the patio at George’s in Hewitt and visiting Fabled, especially as a Sunday treat to end her weekend.
“I just love the whole downtown area, all the cool little places you can walk to,” she said. “My mom and I love to go down there and shop around.”
Owen joined the WACOAN team in November, where she works as an advertising executive. She’s worked in sales for years, but never for a print publication, so she’s enjoying learning that side of the business.
“A huge reason I wanted to work here was to get more involved with the community, now that I’m back after several years. I wanted to meet new people, connect and network. She said. “The WACOAN is such a staple in the community, I couldn’t have found myself in a better place.”
Advertising Account Executive
Leandra Humphreys is an artist at heart. She utilizes her talent in every endeavor whether it’s a personal project, helping a client, designing a home or event or painting a commissioned piece.
“I’m proud to be a native Wacoan,” she said. “My parents moved to Waco to attend Baylor shortly after marrying. I’m lucky that my entire family now resides in Waco.”
Humphreys attended Waco High and received a BFA in Graphic Design from Baylor University. After college, she worked as a graphic designer in the printing industry.
She has two children — McKenzie, 23, who recently moved to Dallas, and Evan, 21, a junior at Baylor University.
Humphreys has also volunteered in the Waco community over the years, including the Junior League, National Charity League, Young Men’s Service League and the Festival on the Brazos.
In 2011 Humphreys opened Coreopsis, a local gift and home decor store but had to put the shop’s future on hold after Covid.
“I asked God to put the right opportunity in front of me that would not only utilize my diverse background, experience and connections, but also allow a positive environment that valued what I had to bring to the table,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys became an account executive at the WACOAN in November 2022. Coreopsis, which recently reopened inside Sironia last month, had successfully and consistently advertised with the WACOAN for over 12 years.
“It was an easy decision that felt right,” she said. “I love the diversity of working with different types of businesses and clients along with the freedom I have to bring in my own business,” she said. “I love learning about everything that Waco has to offer and helping my clients promote their business while building relationships with them.”
And Humphreys enjoys the women she works with.
“It’s a true team! Everyone works together, empowers and genuinely cares about each other.”
Like Polly Brown, Tori Hager lives in Riesel. She went away to school at Texas A&M University for horticulture and eventually returned home. Her mother also lives in Riesel, and her three sisters are in the area, too.
“As Waco has grown, more people are moving there. It’s a small, close-knit, nice little community,” she said. “Everything is oriented around school and the kids.”
She and her 11-year-old son, George, are frequently in Waco, whether for his select basketball practices or to explore the city.
“Since everything I do is centered around my kiddo and his friends, most of our things are like Topgolf, Main Event,” Hager said. “He’s a big foodie, so I took him to Pivovar downtown, the new Czech restaurant, spa, hotel. Food’s amazing. Emily [Ober] in our office has been to the Czech Republic, and she says it’s the closest to the food she had over there.”
Next on the to-try restaurant list is the weekend brunch at Oak & Ivy.
“They serve Waco pancakes, with Dr Pepper syrup and Big Red butter,” she said.
At the WACOAN, Hager works as advertising coordinator, which she describes as a behind-the-scenes position. But the monthly turnaround means her job is fast-paced.
“For my part, I do a lot of keeping things organized, setting up spreadsheets and calendars. It’s like playing Tetris — putting puzzles together and making sure everything flows as easily as possible,” she says. “I’ve had paying jobs since I was 11. This is the first job I truly love, and I don’t ever mind getting up and coming to work. Somehow God has brought us all together, this group of women. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.”
After Hurricane Harvey, Breanne Johnson knew she needed to move from her hometown of Port Neches. She still liked the beach, especially Galveston, but she had ties to Waco from family members who attended Baylor.
“We wanted to get away from hurricanes,” she said.
Johnson attended school at the University of North Texas and Lamar University and then worked to build a school with her husband in the Amazon, on the borders of Colombia, Peru and Brazil. It was there she received her first camera.
“An acquaintance gifted me my first DSLR camera. He said I had the eye for photography,” she said. “Photography was a gift because I wasn’t seeking it. I didn’t know it could be a job or a career.”
Now she owns Breanne Johnson Photography and tells people’s stories through pictures — from family photos to headshots to weddings.
Johnson and her family enjoy hiking and, just recently, biking in Cameron Park, as well as at the Waco Dam. For date night, they like Moroso Pizzeria. And her office away from home?
“I love Milk Bottle Cookies. It’s my favorite place to work out of, editing pictures. I gotta get my coffee and cookies!”
Johnson homeschools her two children, ages 7 and 8, and runs a homeschool group. You can also find her literally running up and down the fields at HOT Soccer Complex, where she coaches three teams and plays soccer with Waco Texas Sports & Social Club.
The WACOAN has given Johnson her first chance to work in print media.
“I was looking at the magazine the end of October, and I said, ‘I’m gonna figure out how to take pictures for them,’ and that week they called me for an interview,” she said. “I meet people doing incredible things in our community.”