Rory Feek Is Raising Child with Down Syndrome Alone & Built School on Farm to Keep Promise to Late Wife
Rory Feek hasn't had any smooth sailing in his adult life, having to raise two daughters alone as a single father. During his second marriage, he welcomed another daughter, and the mother wanted the child to be homeschooled; Rory only fulfilled his wife's wish with the help of fans.
Rory Feek's life trajectory has been a hard one. In his 2017 autobiography, "This Life I Live," the musician revealed that his first marriage had left him with two daughters he raised as a single parent.
The singer married Tamara Gilmer on August 3, 1985, and their relationship ended in divorce on March 25, 1992. During that union, Rory struggled with finances, according to his book.
Rory Feek of Joey + Rory performs during the first day of the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California, on April 24, 2010. | Source: Getty Images
He admitted that his family often lacked money and couldn't afford health insurance. So "being sick wasn't allowed" because the family "couldn't afford it," with the star noting how he'd never said it out loud but that his children knew.
He finally had a partner to help him raise his daughters when he met Joey Martin, the woman who became his second wife. With him, she became his musical partner when they formed the band called Joey + Rory.
In 2017, Rory and Joey's band won a Grammy Award for Best Roots Gospel album. Before he met Joey, the star gave his sister, Marcy, money to open a store, and it hosted songwriters' nights.
One day, Joey came in, but she and Rory were seeing other people at the time. The songstress had been dating her boyfriend for a year and a half, and she thought she might marry him one day.
Speaking to Rory over the phone, Joey confessed that if the timing had been different, she would've dated him. However, despite seeing other people, the pair still went on a date to a truck shop.
They spoke now and then until 2002's Valentine's Day when Joey called Rory to inform him that she'd left her boyfriend and asked the star to meet with her. When he dropped the phone, Rory called the woman he was dating and broke things off!
Sadly for the country star, Joey disliked babies and spent the first ten years of her marriage to Rory avoiding holding a baby, even her nieces or nephews. She'd made it clear that she didn't want children of her own.
However, after ten years of marriage to Rory, Joey told her husband she was willing to live her fate to God. The vocalist said she was open to getting pregnant and welcoming a baby, even though it scared her.
She told Rory that she didn't want children but wished for what God wanted for her life. After being married to her husband for eight years, the singer confessed that their relationship worked because they were best friends.
She said they'd known from the get-go that they were meant to be together every minute of their lives and were blessed. After Rory's friend John Bohlinger heard Joey singing at a restaurant owned by the country singer, he suggested the duo audition for CMT's "Can You Duet."
The pair came in third place, and in 2008 they released their first album as a duo. Their Joey + Rory band became so famous that they built a large fan base and became famous in the national country music scene.
Joey's change of heart led her to welcome a child, Indiana Boone, in February 2014. The couple discovered the difficult news that their baby girl had a chromosomal disorder called Down syndrome.
Sadly in November 2015, Rory had the challenge of announcing that his wife had terminal cancer. He shared the shocking news that he and Joey had decided to enter her into hospice care, where nurses would look after her at home.
The singer explained that his wife's pain had become unbearable. He revealed that doctors said the pain was from tumors that would continue growing before urging the couple to make Joey comfortable, with Rory stating:
"Not the answer we hoped for ..., but the answer He has given us."
Joey's initial cancer diagnosis was in 2014, and at the time, she had cervical cancer. She underwent surgery to remove the growth, but in June 2015, it came back and spread to her colon, turning it into stage 4.
In a blog post, Rory revealed that his wife spent her early days with her terminal diagnosis tending to her garden. He said she stuck to her guns whether they were having good times or not, adding:
"She's always been this way. I wish I was more like her… and that it came easy to me. I have to work at it. It's just part of her… like breathing air, or loving Indy."
On March 4, 2016, Joey took her last breath, surrounded by loved ones in the barn she had converted into a performance space with her husband. A month before the first death anniversary, Rory told Today that he still referred to his late wife in the present tense.
He said the reason for that was because she still felt present in his life. The widower appeared to be working on healing, with him saying, "Joey is at peace with where she is and where she's going. So am I."
PARENTING INDIANA AS A SINGLE FATHER AND DEALING WITH HER SCHOOL LIFE
After losing Joey, Rory had the difficult task of raising a young Indiana and her two older sisters alone. In a blog post, the country music songstress said he believed his late wife would've wanted their daughter to be homeschooled so Indiana would be with her.
However, that was difficult for Rory to handle on his own, and he decided to take the little girl to change Joey's plan by taking their child to two schools. Soon enough, the singer wanted to fulfill his late wife's wish.
The star started building a school close to the Tennessee field where Joey was buried. The farm school was inspired by an 1892 one-room Kentucky schoolhouse that Rory and Indiana toured.
The Hardison Mill School, based on Rory's family's farm in Columbia, accommodated about a dozen children who studied alongside Indiana. Speaking about the first day he walked his daughter to school, the artist said it was a day he could've "never imagined" when his wife died.
Joey's husband noted that he was a "big dreamer" and had been blessed to be involved in unforgettable stories that unfolded throughout the years; the farm school was beyond his wildest dreams!
He said the dream was realized partly due to Indiana needing the best school for her and Joey's death. Rory was able to build the school because after his musical partner died, he received thousands of letters and cards from fans sharing their sympathies and prayers.
She'd [Indiana Feek] also gotten him a gift and a card, and Rory [Feek] said the recording was his and his daughter's present to other fathers.
The envelopes included donations of $5, $10s, $20 bills, and checks which amounted to almost $100,000! Family, neighbors, friends, and more gathered together to help build the schoolhouse, which cost exactly the amount of money donated to the Feeks!
In a July 2019 blog post, Rory shared the news that his daughter and the other first batch of children to attend classes had graduated from pre-school at Hardison Mill School!
PARENTING INDIANA AND HOW THE LITTLE GIRL STILL REMEMBERED HER MOTHER'S VOICE
In March 2020, Rory told People magazine that he was raising Indiana to be anything she wanted. All the little girl needed was some "love" like anyone else, and he said raising the child wasn't different from how Hopie and Heidi were brought up.
Rory also shared that he was doing so well that the special needs child wasn't even aware that she was different! Even though her mother passed when she was still very young, Indiana recalled her!
The country musician said during a dining outing with loved ones, Indiana heard faint music in the background and recognized it as her mother's voice! The child sang along until her father and the guests realized it was Joey!
A year after his wife had been gone, Rory lovingly confessed that he still felt married to her. For 2022's Father's Day, the country star shared the sweetest clip of him and Indiana singing together while he played the guitar.
He explained that the first thing his daughter did that day was to wish him a Happy Father's Day. She'd also gotten him a gift and a card, and Rory said the recording was his and his daughter's present to other fathers.