QHS Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Burnett ‘98

By: Katie Rodemich ’02

Ashley Burnett, QHS Class of 1998

Ashley Burnett ‘98 connected with the fine arts and A-Building in Quincy Senior High School from an early age, even before reaching high school. She had the benefit of growing up with teachers as parents, who other alumni had the privilege of being taught by in the Quincy Senior High Music Department and the Quincy community. This inspiring entrepreneur also learned from empowering generations of women in her family. She forged her own path and created a business to help encourage other women to find their ingenuity.

“It was fun because I grew up in the high school. My dad, Tom Burnett, was the Theater Director. Some of my earliest memories are in the QHS theater, laying on the red chairs at three years old and hearing the high school students singing songs from West Side Story. I remember getting to experience all those kids going through their high school experience and getting really excited about that. When I got to senior high, I was ready, and it was just the place that I wanted to be because I had been involved in a lot of theatrical productions from a young age. The QHS theatre was our daycare. It was the after-school experience for my brother, Dustin, and me.”

Ashley played ‘Polly’ in the production of ‘Crazy For You’. Pictured with bestie Annette Tortorige.
Ashley pictured with other seniors for the High School Senior Dance piece choreographed by Kathy Burnett.

Ashley not only had the joy of learning from an amazing theater mentor, but she also grew up with an incredible and creative dance teacher who ran her own dance studio in Quincy. Kathy now teaches dance at QDance Center in Quincy. You can also follow QDance Center on Facebook.

“It was pretty cool to have my parents as teachers. My mom, Kathy Burnett, is an incredible dance teacher who is still teaching and dancing to this day. It was challenging at times to have my parents as teachers, but it was also an honor to have them as my mentors in that way. They both were great teachers. I learned different skill sets from each of them. Hard work was one of them! They always supported me with any of my dreams to go into the performing arts and elsewhere.”

Ashley with her brother, Dustin Burnett, and mom, Kathy Burnett
Ashley with her brother, Dustin Burnett, and mom, Kathy Burnett
Ashley and her dad, Tom Burnett
Ashley and her dad, Tom Burnett

Ashley also had many other mentors and teachers that influenced her in her journey.

“Of course, Kathy Dooley, Dan Sherman and all those folks too have been huge influences. Then also some additional mentors that come to mind, Cynthia Oliver at the University of Illinois was one of my core mentors there. In the business coaching world, I worked with a woman named Joanna Lindenbaum for a couple of years who also trained me in this earth based-ritual work. So, I must give a shout out to her as well.”

When Ashley reached high school, she had a goal and was focused on achieving it.

 “When I was in ninth grade, I was still at Junior High. I had become a Q-City Pommer and I was the captain of my JV squad. I was going over to the high school for practices. Once I hit sophomore year and actually attended high school, I didn’t want to be involved with Pom so I could devote myself to theater. I quit Pom because theater and A-Building was the dominant focus for me.  Of course, I kept dancing with my mom and fully focusing on the musicals, theater, and music. I was also the president of my choir senior year. I played the violin, but I wasn’t very good, because I didn’t devote myself. You can only do so many things! I also took art classes, and was interested in art and photography, but that was definitely not my medium.  It was more the performing arts, dance, singing, music, and theater.”

Ashley pictured with the QHS Show Choir in 1998
Ashley pictured with the QHS Show Choir in 1998.
Ashley pictured with Dan Sherman at a QHS Choir Banquet.
Ashley pictured with Dan Sherman at a QHS Choir Banquet.

After Ashley graduated from high school, she attended the University of Illinois and majored in dance, which was a significant change from her previous plan.

“That was a big decision for me because I was given scholarships to universities for musical theater. I ended up going down a different path, majoring solely in dance performance which was a contemporary modern dance track. I was resistant to doing the dance audition and my mom was like ‘just audition’, and it was the path I followed. I’ve always done things a bit against the grain. If I look back at my life thus far, I like doing things that aren’t usually the traditional path. So that was my first step of wanting to do this thing that feels a little edgy and a little different. I loved my experience at U of I.”

After graduating from college, Ashley pursued a professional dance career in Chicago for three years. She then felt a desire for change and relocated to San Francisco.

“I danced professionally with a lot of different companies in Chicago and San Francisco. I had an incredible opportunity to dance with Sonya Tayeh, who was one of the original judges on So You Think You Can Dance and is now a world-renowned choreographer who choreographed Moulin Rouge on Broadway. I went to LA and performed in Hollywood with her. She and I were in a dance company right after college in Detroit. That was a really cool experience.”

Ashley comes from a strong lineage of empowering women and entrepreneurs, which helped lead her to her successful, innovative creativity. Once again, she embraced a new adventure and tried something new and different.

“About 29 to 30 years of age, I felt like there was something more calling me. I felt like I wanted to get in front of people and speak more. At that time, I became interested in health and wellness and taking care of ourselves. I became a health coach and started the coaching journey as a health coach.

“A couple months to a year into that process, I had people coming to me asking how I started my business? How did you build your business? Can you show me how to do it? Can you help me build my confidence? Very quickly it turned into the business and leadership coaching work. All the wellness kept coming into that work, but there was also this drive to help other women entrepreneurs. I think part of that was because my mom, aunt and grandmother were entrepreneurs. My mom owned a dance studio in Quincy for many years, Burnett Dance Center, and we had the whole experience of having grown up with my mother who was running her own business.

“My grandmother, Margaret Schweitzer, lost her husband two days before her first child was born. She was a single woman in the 1940’s who had to figure out what to do with her new baby. She went to school, traveling from Chicago to Joliet every day to learn how to become an optometrist so that she could reopen her late husband’s practice. She was one of the first females to fit people with contact lenses in the United States and one of the first female optometrists in the Chicagoland area. She had a lot of grit, gumption, and tenacity. She promoted the entrepreneurial spirit infused into my mom and her sister, Georgia, who was also a textile artist. That entrepreneurial spirit infused into me.”

In keeping with the tradition with her family, Ashley is a women’s business and leadership coach, as well as a women’s circle and retreat facilitator. She primarily works with women entrepreneurs in the creative and holistic realm, supported by a full team that assists in coaching her clients.

“I just feel really called to support women in building their businesses, getting them expanded to the next level of growth and helping them to stay accountable to their goals. I love to help rewire their mindset and get them to believe that they can reach those goals and to take action. I actually give them the practical how-to of building a business and what you need to do.”

Ashley pictured with Kenyetta, Quincy Chamber of Commerce PR Director, at the Chamber’s Women Empowered Event where Ashley gave a talk entitled “Balancing Act”.

Ashley offers The Rise & Thrive, a four-month mastermind program for women’s business coaching. This program provides private coaching with her and her team over the phone with workshops and materials to help create and expand businesses. Participants will learn new marketing tools and receive support through live group calls, allowing them to brainstorm and mastermind together. Additionally, the program includes a retreat to support their journey further. She also organizes stand-alone retreats, as she thoroughly enjoys leading them.

Her favorite, among her programs, are leading retreats.

 “Retreat leading is my jam. I created a 6-week online course called Unleash Your Impact, which focuses on how to lead retreats and group programs. For the most part, I’m doing group work. I’m also doing one-on-one work phone coaching. I do find that in a group, participants don’t feel so alone because the entrepreneurial path can feel super isolating. It’s about getting clear on strengths, skill sets, and what lights one up so they can really shine in the area that they excel in.”

Ashley also offers Replenish Retreats for women, entrepreneurs, and busy working mothers. These retreats don’t just focus on entrepreneurial work, they are more attentive to wellness and self-care, which provides the perfect encouragement for those who tend to overdo, over-give, and feel overwhelmed.

“I love doing those retreats because I believe that all of us, as human beings, are working too hard. There’s not enough time for doing the things that we really want to do and focus on self-care and enjoy our lives. So, Replenish is really the idea to reset! It’s a reset to return to yourself, your center, and your goals instead of everyone else’s agendas or priorities. It’s about coming back to yourself through different self-care practices such as meditation, yoga, journaling, and/or mindful movement. We can come back to a place where we feel calm, centered and grounded.”

Ashley leading a Replenish Retreat at Studio 125 in Quincy.

Ashley is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Replenish Retreats this year.

“Ten years ago, I led my first retreat. After attending a couple of retreats and business events, I felt motivated, inspired, and excited. I had new ideas and beliefs in myself. I wanted to create something bite-sized for people to try. I decided to do half-day retreats, an extended workshop, to provide a pause and timeout.”

Aside from being a performer, dancer, entrepreneur, and leadership coach, she has recently added a new title to her resume: author. Her debut book was released this year, Your Spacious & Seasonal Year.

“I had been thinking of writing a book for a good six years, but it just never was the right time. The task of writing a book felt daunting. Where do I start? How do I begin? It’s kind of the exact same thing as starting a business when you want to do a project like that or do something that you don’t know how to do.

“I would say to anyone out there that is entrepreneurial minded, Don’t hesitate to ask for support. Don’t hesitate to share your mission and your vision with other people and see how they can get involved. Whether that be monetarily or sponsoring something or offering guidance or whatnot. Get the support needed to make the investments to get your project off the ground. It really helps when there’s people that can believe in your mission, and I wouldn’t have been able to write my book in three months if I hadn’t invested in a program called the Tiny Book Course. Making investments in your future, in your projects that you want to get actualized, pays off. Now, I have a book that is going to open more opportunities for me to get my work out there on a bigger level.”

Ashley with her book “Your Spacious & Seasonal Year”

Even with support and help, Ashley recognizes writing her book was a large lift.

“Years went by, and I didn’t write the book. When we moved back home to Quincy, I needed something to anchor me during that transition. It was a massive decision for me, and I had been grappling with whether to stay in California forever or move back to Quincy. I wrote the book over three months while I was in the process of moving. The book’s content is based on what I’ve been teaching for the past seven years in a women’s circle called The Soulstice Sisterhood. It focuses on how to align with the natural cycles, seasons, and rhythms of the world, which is also an essential aspect of my entrepreneurial work. The book is not just for entrepreneurs but for anyone looking to work with the seasons intentionally, using journaling prompts and small rituals to honor the seasonal shifts in their lives. This helps us feel more connected to the natural world, which we are a part of and not separate from. Additionally, the book includes fun, seasonally related recipes, and activities.

“The intention of the book is to help people create more presence in their lives. It aims to help focus on yourself, your loved ones, your creative projects, and avoid being distracted by outside influences. For me, even in entrepreneurship, I think the goal is to create a schedule that’s going to feel spacious. I believe the five-day, 40-hour work week, is just too much and not sustainable. One of the exercises in the book, is how to schedule your time so that you create these sacred time off moments where no one else is getting your time.

“I think for me, the main goal is sustainability for folks to create more pockets of rest and pause. The book ties into the replenish retreat idea, which really is an extension. If you come to a retreat, we’re going to take some of the aspects of that book and do it in a longer format, focusing on whatever specific season we’re in. When I was writing it, I wanted the reader to be cozied up with a cup of tea and a blanket on their couches, reading the book, doing some journaling, and maybe even creating a little mini retreat for themselves to honor the current season. They could make their own herbal tea blend or whatever the recipe is showing at that time and just to feel like the sense of comfort, nourishment, and calm.” 

Ashley reading an expert from new book at EFB in Quincy

In addition, Ashley is considering the concept for her next book, which has been hinted that it will be along the lines of the theme of calm.

“Whether it’s related to entrepreneurship or not, I believe we all need a deeper dose of calm in our lives.”

Ashley moved back to Quincy after twenty-four years, reminiscing about her youth and reflecting on her experiences as an adult since her return.

“I’m glad to be back and I also am super stoked to be just reignited in the arts world. It’s interesting, I’ve lived in Champaign, Chicago, San Francisco, Petaluma and even LA for a bit. Even though I was connected to the arts, there is still a vibrancy to Quincy’s art programs that I love so much, and I feel like it is really special and unique to this area of the country. I’m excited to experience all the arts programs and events again from an adult lens versus a child’s lens and to be able to share that with my 4-year-old son, Quintin. It is fun to see him get excited about some of these things I loved so much as a kid that were arts related.”

Ashley, her husband, Dave, and their son, Quintin.
Ashley, her husband, Dave, and their son, Quintin.

Ashley’s advice for current high school students would be, “Go after your dreams, follow the road less traveled. If that’s the path that you’re being called to take, find other people that have done that to give you advice. You matter, your dreams matter. If there’s a thought or a dream inside of you to build something, create something, don’t discount it, go for it. I know some parents won’t support that kind of advice, but from a person who has taken the road less traveled, it’s worth it. I’ve learned so much over the years. I’m 44 years old now and I don’t regret the decisions I made to go learn, do new things, and now come back with a new perspective.”

Plans for future-

Ashley has two upcoming Replenish Retreats this summer, a Half-Day Summer Solstice Replenish Retreat in Quincy, IL., on June 20, a Half-Day Replenish Retreat in Petaluma, CA., on August 15, Chicago on October 18-20, and experience the Summer Replenish Retreat in the South of France, in June 2025. This luxurious 5-day, 4-night retreat is designed to help you embrace your authentic self, ignite your creative spark, and reconnect with your inner essence.

You can purchase a copy of Your Spacious and Seasonal Year at ashleyburnett.co, on Amazon, on Bookshop.org, soon locally at Enchanted Books – as well as at Estuary in Petaluma, CA. You can also check out a copy for free at the Quincy Public Library.

Ashley is also launching her Wellness & Creativity Studio & Retreat Space, The Gathering Ground in 2024. Her own personal Retreat space on her property,

The Gathering Ground at Dogwood Farm (an ode to Quincy’s historic Dogwood Festival) will be a Lavender, Herb & Cut Flower Micro Farm & Creativity Retreat Oasis in the Heart of the Heartland. The studio space that Ashley’s husband will be building on the nearly 3-acre property will be a celebratory place to immerse oneself in all things wellness, creativity, self-care, and self-development. We will open up the studio space, and the grounds when weather is favorable, a few times a month for intimate and intentional gatherings that will help folks access a deeper sense of joy, wellbeing, prosperity, and create clear pathways to help them actualize their full potential.

Visit Ashley’s website to learn more about her work and her upcoming events!


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