The seven children, ages 3 to 20, sit politely with their parents in the modest living room of their Anderson home feigning interest in the conversation. Their lack of enthusiasm is understandable.
It probably isn’t the first time a stranger has asked questions about growing up with a house full of brothers and sisters. And even though they don’t say it, their body language as they sit on a couch and in surrounding chairs shows how comfortable they are having six siblings and being around each other.
Their mother, Marcia Murphy, warned beforehand that the well-behaved youngsters might not be forthcoming. They are, after all, kids.
Still, with dad David in the room as well, the portrait is complete. Doing things together is a family trademark.
As a parent, “There are always a lot of things you worry about,” David said. “We remind them how lucky they are.”
On Thursday, the Murphys — and children Madeline, 20; Xavier, 16; Julian, 15; Gilbert, 12; Isabel (Izzy), 9; Mathilda (Tillie), 6, and Eleanor (Ella), 3 — were named the Family of the Year by the Center for Mental Health.
The criteria for the award, in memory of Elizabeth McMahan, is a family that has contributed to the community in regard to education, triumphed over adversity and is involved with their church and family.
“They have organized their life around their children,” said CMC Family of the Year committee member Ron Cole, who nominated the Murphys for the award.
“You see them being present to their children, and they are always attending to their children,” he added.
“The family has really made a strong commitment to life and family values,” said Rich DeHaven, president of the Center for Mental Health at Thursday’s recognition program during the Wake Up Breakfast held by the Chamber of Commerce for Anderson & Madison County and sponsored this month by Central Indiana Orthopedics, “and they have encouraged their children to use their gifts in the community.”
When it comes to the family’s community involvement, it all starts at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Gilbert, Izzy and Tillie all go the parish school. The couple are baptismal preparation ministers, and Marcia and Madeline are lectors. Sons Xavier and Julian, who attend Blessed Theodore Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, are altar servers. But that’s only part of their outreach at their church.
Marcia, 43, also works in funeral ministry, serves on the Communion baking ministry and helps prepare children for First Communion. Julian and Gilbert are part of the parish’s Hispanic ministry group, and the younger girls are members of the folkloric dance group. David has also been an active member of the parish’s social justice committee.
“It gives us a sense of togetherness,” Marcia said. “There are so many things in life that pull us apart; this brings us together.”
Their pastor, the Rev. Robert Williams of St. Mary’s, said the Murphy’s were a wonderful selection and deserving of the honor.
“They are a tremendous family and a great asset to our parish and community,” he said.
The family moved to Anderson in 1992 when David, 44, was offered a teaching position at Anderson University. He had just completed graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and felt becoming an associate professor of history at A.U. would be a good start. Thirteen years later, he has no regrets.
“It’s been a very tolerant, open place. I’ve had nothing but good experiences there,” he said, adding that as a person whose faith is important to him he appreciates teaching at an institution that has a religious commitment.
After spending several years working at Anderson Public Library as children’s service manager where she was a favorite storyteller, Marcia last year moved on to Blessed Theodore Guerin High School to become their media specialist. She was excited not only to be close to sons Xavier and Julian, but also for the opportunity to grow.
“I love working at the library,” she said. “Personally, I’ve benefited more than I ever could have imagined. It’s great to go to work and celebrate the faith.”
Marcia is also an active member of the Leadership Academy of Madison County, and she is proud of what the group does to educate people of the area’s many assets.
“It makes you aware of the great things going on in the community,” she said.
A house with seven children may seem daunting to some, but David and Marcia wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They bicker, but most the time they get along great,” David said. “The girls, they’re always doing things together.”
David was one of five children growing up, but Marcia only had a brother. They were 10 years apart, and she remembers growing up alone.
“I always wanted to have a big family,” Marcia said, adding that as the years have gone by, she and her brother have thankfully grown closer. “We never talked the way we talk now.”
Madeline, who is a sophomore majoring in political science at the University of Notre Dame, said growing up with six brothers and sisters “is OK because I’m the oldest.”
“I’m close to home, but not too close,” she half-jokingly added when asked about why she chose to attend college in South Bend.
As a biracial couple, David and Marcia remember experiencing hostility when they dated as undergraduate students at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
“The hostility came from people in town,” David said.
The couple added they have never felt that at any time in Anderson.
“Society has changed. I really don’t think most people care,” David said.
Both Marcia and David said they believe there is a different perception as well when people are married.
David, who grew up Catholic, and Marcia, who converted to Catholicism in 1989, said their faith teaches them there is no such thing as race.
“It is irrelevant,” David said. “It gives you the chance to structure an image of yourself.”
“I want our kids to decide who they are and not the outside world,” Marcia added.
Their advice for today’s parents? Although they both love their children and like to have fun, Marcia said showing who is in charge is part of the job description. “There are times when they need to know you are the parent.”
“It’s not always easy and pleasant being the bad guy, but that’s part of the job,” she added.
“Don’t be afraid to be disliked,” David said.
“If you’re patient and loving, it’s amazing how well they return it,” he added.
— Writer MIKE KROKOS is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin ( www.theheraldbulletin.com ).