Joe Don's Bittersweet Homecoming

Posted by amyclark on 08/06/2008

7/31/2007 Stephen L. Betts   With his group’s demanding schedule, Rascal Flatts’ Joe Don Rooney doesn't make it back home to Picher, Oklahoma much these days. This past weekend, however, with a tour stop in Oklahoma City, he got close (183 miles separate the two towns). The experience remains bittersweet for him, however. In a recent interview with The Oklahoman newspaper website, Joe Don says he has watched from afar as his hometown has crumbled, his high school has closed, and his neighbors have moved away. According to the story, Picher is riddled with sinkholes due to years of mining. The town, in effect, is dying. And Joe Don experiences it all the way in Nashville. "I'm kind of anxious to go back there,” he says. "I've told people the story, and it's hard to make them understand.” In addition to buying his parents a home in nearby Baxter Springs, Kan., on a golf course he used to play as a teenager, in 2005, Joe Don took his bandmates, Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus, to visit Picher when Rascal Flatts played at Buffalo Run Casino in nearby Miami. They sat on the Picher Gorilla statue that sits outside the old high school and climbed the chat piles to look over the dying town.  "I'd described that area to them so many times, and they were blown away by how small it was,” says Joe Don. "They both grew up in Columbus, Ohio.”  Joe Don’s parents still own their house in Picher, and his sister still lives in Picher. Since Picher High School closed, his nieces and nephews have to attend school in a nearby district instead..  Joe Don says he’s proud to come from Picher and doesn't hide his roots.  "When I go back, I'm just normal Joe Don,” he says. "Nothing's different.”