Country music star Rory Feek experienced tragedy in 2016 when his wife and music partner, Joey, died from cervical cancer. But the star continues to be inspired by the woman he was married to for 14 years. Here’s a look at how Feek came to a decision that would change his young daughter’s life forever.
Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1965, Rory Feek grew up listening to country artists Merle Haggard and Don Williams. He first took up the guitar aged 15 and after time in the U.S. Marines, began performing professionally on the Dallas nightclub scene. His big break arrived when he moved to Nashville and landed a publishing contract in 1995.
He first caught attention four years later when he penned Collin Raye’s hit, “Someone You Used to Know.” Feek later wrote Clay Walker’s “The Chain of Love” and Blake Shelton’s number one, “Some Beach.” He also worked on album tracks by Terri Clark, Kenny Chesney and Randy Travis, and in 2004 founded his own label, Giantslayer Records.
Feek became an artist in his own right in 2008 when he teamed up with his wife Joey Martin to form an eponymous duo. Joey + Rory finished third on CMT’s Can You Duet and subsequently signed with Vanguard Records. They scored their first hit that same year when “Cheater, Cheater” peaked at No.30 on the U.S. Country charts.
The pair went on to record eight albums including 2008 debut The Life of a Song, 2011 festive LP A Farmhouse Christmas, and 2013’s gospel-influenced Inspired: Songs of Faith & Family. In 2010 they were crowned Top New Vocal Duo at the ACMs. Rory also penned and produced an American Civil War film named after one of the duo’s songs, Josephine.
Rory had married Joey in 2002, ten years after divorcing his first wife. Tamara Gilmer and the country star married in 1985 and had two children, Heidi and Hopie, before splitting in 1992. In 2014 Rory welcomed his third child, and his first with Joey, Indiana Boon.
Sadly, shortly after giving birth, Joey discovered that she had cervical cancer. After various treatments, she was given the all-clear but just a year later was informed the cancer had not only returned but had spread to her colon too. Tragically, despite undergoing an intensive surgical procedure and chemotherapy, she was then told the disease had become terminal.
Joey began receiving hospice care in November 2015. She lived to see daughter Indiana celebrate her second birthday, spend a final Valentine’s Day with Rory and receive a Grammy nomination for the Joey + Rory song, “If I Needed You.” But she eventually succumbed to the illness in March 2016, aged just 40.
Joey was buried on the family’s Tennessee farm in a private ceremony. Shortly after, Rory announced the release of To Joey, With Love, a film he began making as an anniversary gift. The couple’s final album, Hymns That Are Important To Us, reached No.4 on the Billboard 200, and in 2017 won the Best Roots Gospel Album Grammy.
In 2017 Rory bought his daughter Indiana, who was born with Down syndrome, a 1926 piano for her third birthday. The gift was a way to honor his and Joey’s dream of “Indy” learning to play a musical instrument. Just months later, Rory was back in the news for giving the three-year-old a much bigger educational tool.
Indeed, while repeatedly driving to and from Indiana’s school, Rory started thinking of what changes Joey would have made regarding their daughter’s education. It was here where he came up with the brainwave of building Indiana her very own schoolhouse in the family backyard. “Home and school… at the same time,” reasoned Rory in a post on his official blog.
Rory went on to add in the blog post that Joey would have approved of the two schools that their daughter currently attended. He applauded the High Hopes Development Center for helping Indiana with her speech and walking. He also praised the Ferntop Nature Preschool for being a hands-on facility.
But Rory believes that ultimately Joey would have wanted their daughter to be homeschooled. He posted, “She would be way more interested in Indiana learning to be a good person than being a good reader. In her mind, home is the best place to learn those things.”
Rory didn’t just come up with the idea of the schoolhouse, he also decided to build it. Drawing inspiration from a similar building in Kentucky that he and Indiana recently visited, Rory started on the construction with some support from friends, family and neighbors. The schoolhouse sits opposite the field in which Joey was buried.
Rory explained in his blog why he opted for the D.I.Y. approach. “We could have just hired some folks to come build the schoolhouse. People who do it for a living and [that] would [be] fine. Probably easier in some ways. [But] I believe that ‘how you do something’ is almost as important as ‘what you do.’”
Rory also blogged about how one particular classic Hollywood movie proved to be an inspiration. “Since Joey and I and our older girls are big fans of the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, we thought we’d open it up to the community. Make it something that isn’t just a beautiful moment and memory for us, but for others too.”
And thankfully Rory’s local community fully embraced his vision. The country star revealed in his blog how 50 people turned up at 7 a.m. at his parking lot one Saturday morning armed with tools, food and “hearts full of love.” He posted, “They were here to help build something big for someone little.”
Rory hopes the school will be ready to welcome approximately a dozen students aged three to four by January 2018. Although reading, writing and arithmetic will still be on the curriculum, rural life skills will also play a big part. Kids will be able to access an adventure playground, planting garden and concert hall, which doubles up as a gym.
The young students will also gain plenty of experience caring for and working with animals. They will help to raise chickens in the school’s very own barn/henhouse and enjoy birdwatching in a special hut. And they will also learn various equine skills thanks to the family’s stable of horses.
Rory has high hopes for the school’s future and the impact it will have on his daughter. He blogged, “Who knows, maybe someday when she grows up, she’ll want to teach there. I have no idea where it will lead. Just hope in where it might lead. To be a blessing to her, and to other little ones like her.”