Questions & Answers with community faces
Ashley Frost Nugent (34) grew up in a musical household, and now she helps to bring music into the homes of others.
Frost grew up in Lake Ann, attending Platte River Elementary, followed by Benzie Central Middle and High Schools—at each, she was deeply embedded in the music and theater arts programs, participating in every choir, play, and musical that was offered as a class during the school day or as an after-hours production. She had leading roles in the spring musicals during her freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years at BCHS; additionally, she was involved in many productions at Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City. At home sporting events, Frost could often be heard singing the National Anthem passionately over the loudspeaker to thunderous applause; then at halftime, she could be seen shaking her groove thang with the Dance Team, a school club that Frost co-founded. On weekends, she sang in the choir at Lake Ann United Methodist Church.
Music was her life, quite literally, seven days a week.
After graduating from BCHS in 2003, Frost continued to follow her passions, enrolling in The Young Americans College of the Performing Arts, a conservatory-style program for students who wish to combine intensive performance-arts training with service-based learning experiences to broaden understanding of the global community and to develop well-rounded artists. Performance opportunities begin in the first semester, and after three years, students obtain an Associate of Arts degree in performance.
From 2003-2006, Frost toured with The Young Americans throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, Whales, Germany, and Japan. After college, she landed in Indiana—near where her mother had relocated—which led to 10 years of teaching at Premier Arts, an award-winning theater academy that is recognized as a regional leader in providing diverse, professional performing arts education and entertainment that instills civic pride, confidence, and character building: it was a perfect fit, given Frost’s background with The Young Americans. At Premier Arts, Frost taught voice, piano, and dance lessons, and she was the chief choreographer during this time; she also performed various roles, including Mary Poppins, Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and Maria from The Sound of Music, to name a few.
Frost began dating Mark Nugent (BCHS class of 2004, just one year behind Frost) in 2008, and the couple were married in 2011. Like Frost, Nugent’s family legacy goes back several generations in Benzie County (her mother is from the very prominent Gray family). After high school, Nugent had attended Northern Michigan University and obtained a degree in applied science/automotive service.
In 2014, the couple’s first child, Eli, came into the world; in 2017, another baby boy, Chet, was born. By 2017, the family felt like it was time to relocate back to Benzie County, and they now own a trucking company, Nugent Trucking, which hauls for Blue Vase Book Exchange in Interlochen. Additionally, the couple work on the Nugent family farm with Steve Nugent, who took over operations recently when his father, Don Nugent, passed away. (Steve is Mark’s cousin; Don was Mark’s uncle.) The farm has been in the Nugent family since 1936 and has traditionally grown cherries as the chief crop, though they will grow corn for the first time this year.
In addition to her duties as Mom, trucking business co-owner, and farmer, Frost also finds time to satiate her performance and teaching needs: she recently has returned to Old Town Playhouse, she is about to be featured in a short film, and she gives music lessons locally.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Frost as she was in between afternoon music lessons.
The Betsie Current: When did you first get into music?
Ashley Frost Nugent: I started singing when I was three years old, and I began piano lessons when I was six. Dance and theater came shortly after—I never had a single other interest but music, music, music!
Current: Your mother, Sue Frost, was a huge supporter of performing arts at BCHS—she was the musical director for many years and the advisor for the school’s dance team. How do you feel like her work and dedication both to you and to other young people has shaped who you are and your need to teach, to give back?
Frost: Mom always met me and others where we were. If there wasn’t a program that we desired, she would start one and make it happen. She always let me be who I was, my biggest supporter, for sure. And she is still shaping lives; she recently—like yesterday, ha!—became the administrator at New Covenant Christian Academy.
Current: Tell us about your clientele—what is the demographic of people who are taking classes from you?
Frost: I teach piano lessons and voice lessons out of my home. People keep telling me that they are so excited that they don’t have to drive to Traverse City for lessons, ha! My youngest student is five years old, and my oldest student is 75. Some students do this for fun, and some really aspire to have this be their future.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What’s next?
Frost: I am doing music lessons because I absolutely love teaching people who want to learn music. There wasn’t as much opportunity for learning music when I was young, and I’m so excited to be able to give this to the kids and adults here in Benzie County. I used to teach full-time when I lived in Indiana, but life has changed a lot for me since then. I currently teach 26 students. I keep it limited and am careful not to overextend myself, because I’m mostly Mom to the boys now: that’s priority number one.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you? Is there a busy season, or is it pretty constant year-round?
Frost: During the fall, winter, and spring, I teach three days a week, while the boys play on the farm with Mark—and I take summers off!
Current: What are some ways that you and/or your business give back to the community?
Frost: I think individual lessons with anyone gives them that one-on-one attention that is so key to developing your skill. I am for sure having just as much fun being with these wonderful musicians as they are—maybe more!
Current: You seem to have a lot going on—what, with two kids, a farm, a trucking business, a music business. How do you balance everything?
Frost: We actually have found a lot of balance here in Northern Michigan in comparison to our lives in Indiana. We put God first, then family, then work. It seems to help everything slow down and keep life in order for us.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Frost: I have recently been working on a filming project with the organization Single MOMM. My role being the “Single Mom”: what an amazing organization for moms who find themselves in this situation. It’s a nonprofit that works with women who never married or who are divorced or widowed—single moms from all economic and social classes, and single moms who want to move forward. They helped 621 single moms over the last year, and the group’s mission is to change the way that our culture perceives single moms and to cultivate communities to ignite hope, healing, and confidence through story-based awareness, mentorship, and guidance. I’m really excited about that project, and it should be live for the public to view on the website SingleMOMM.org very soon; Mark and I are actually going to private viewing of it tonight! [This interview dated June 6, 2019.] I also got to be a part of the Old Town Playhouse production of Mamma Mia last fall in the role of Donna. Outside of performing, I love to run, read, get coffee at Ursa Major in Beulah. But honestly, my three- and five-year-olds are the best entertainment I could ever find. When they are at T-ball or Taekwondo, I could just get my popcorn and Coke like its a blockbuster hit!
Current: What did you miss most about this area while you are away? How have you seen Benzie County change since you graduated high school? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Frost: Oh, I missed my family! I missed the blue water. Mark and I both had wonderful childhoods here in Benzie County, and we hope to give our kids that same gift. I feel like there is more opportunity to do anything you want here—except maybe attend a Broadway musical! I’m grateful to everyone who is opening doors and starting new businesses here, allowing us all to enjoy.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Frost: Honestly, I knew what I was getting into moving here. I love the slower pace and was very ready for it. I like that kids get to be kids. I am all for excellence and working hard. I think if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it, give it all ya got! I just appreciate that there is white space on the calendar to play. The most rewarding part of my job is that all 26 of my students are so kind. They say “thank you,” “yes, ma’am,” they practice hard. They are grateful.
Current: What kind of impact do you think that you have been able to have, as a young person, on the community? We like to use the term “Benzie Boomerangs” to describe young people like yourself who go off to gain a skill set and then bring that back here to share with this place.
Frost: I hope to impact, but mostly I’m just glad to give back.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people back to this area?
Frost: People want their kids to have opportunity. Things like Vickie Slater’s dance studio in Frankfort, Kimmee Wenkel’s COGNiTiON in Beulah. I was so happy to see places like this when we moved back.
Current: What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Frost: Chinese take-out at midnight, a Starbucks—just joking, but I’d be okay with it!
Current: What is your all-time favorite song? Yes, we are making you pick just one!
Frost: Oh, that’s so hard—if you made me pick, and you are making me—I’d say “It Is Well with My Soul,” a hymn from 1876. Without the principles of this song, I’d struggle to choose joy every day.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots? What does your perfect spring day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Frost: I love walking to Beulah beach. Add an East Shore sub and Ursa Major for a good cup of coffee, maybe a nice run through Beulah, and a lazy day with my Mark and boys down the Betsie in our kayaks… Even if the boys start getting stuck in the trees and complaining.
For those who are interested in taking music lessons from Frost, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on her waiting list. Additionally, her sons will both be attending the New Covenant Christian Academy next fall, so she will be teaching music lessons for students who attend school there during the day.