CHAMPAIGN — Introductory games — those getting-to-know-you icebreakers at seminars, classes, workshops and the like — can leave some folks nervously straining to come up with a response.
Piece of cake for Cassie Dumoulin.
“I already have mine. I know what mine is. I’m the oldest of 10.”
This University of Illinois women’s basketball player always relishes the reaction to that morsel of personal information. Typically, says Dumoulin, it’s along the lines of:
“It’s what? Wait. What did you ... ? Ten!”
Yep, you heard right. And there may not be a prouder oldest sibling on the planet. Dumoulin certainly is many things — stellar student, accomplished athlete, future civil engineer, even barn builder — but it doesn’t take long to learn that the Illini junior guard regards membership in her family as the absolute core of her identity.
“They’re my world, that’s for sure,” Dumoulin said this week at the Ubben Basketball Practice Complex. “I love every single one of them, and I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Far from being self-conscious about the size of her family, Dumoulin gets a kick out of the reaction that a full parade of the 10 siblings can elicit in public.
“I like the fact that when my family walks in, you can tell,” the Hampshire native said. “There’s always a few looks like ‘Two, three, four; Oh, my gosh, there’s a lot.’
“I like the fact you can make quite an entrance as a big family. Cause that’s my family.”
Pat and Lisa Dumoulin welcomed their first child into the world on Sept. 19, 1991. Since then, six sisters and three brothers have joined Cassie in a northern Illinois farmhouse that has been expanded several times to accommodate three generations of Dumoulins.
Pat’s parents raised three children there and currently live in an addition to the house. Cassie’s uncle, aunt and their seven children live in the original building.
About eight years ago, when Pat and Lisa’s family was outgrowing its farmhouse down the road, another addition was constructed on the house Pat grew up in, and that became their home.
In all, it’s home — or homes — to 23 people.
“It’s a little odd, but it works for our family,” Cassie said. “We’re really, really close to our cousins.”
In fact, Cassie’s family and her cousins’ family share a common area in this large duplex-like housing structure. A 60-foot-by-60-foot “party room” connects their separate living spaces and is a popular play area for the kids (there are two basketball hoops) as well as the gathering spot for holidays and other family get-togethers.
The Dumoulin family business is pig farming, and the kids are expected to help when schoolwork or school sports activities don’t interfere.
Besides feeding and tending to the pigs, Cassie has pitched in with erecting barns and even has learned to do some electrical work for farm structures.
“I can do a few things,” she said. “You have a few hidden talents thanks to farming.”
Domestic chores are part of the deal, too. Dumoulin is a veteran diaper-changer — “Not my favorite job, that’s for sure,” she says with a smile — and has long helped with preparing meals and with housecleaning.
“The nice thing is there’s a lot of us so we spread the chores around,” she said. “You have to remember that with numbers, many hands make light work. ... It’s just a collaborative effort on the farm.”
Lisa Dumoulin says her oldest child has been diligent about her family responsibilities from an early age. Among her tasks was to lead the younger children in getting out the door in time to catch the school bus. One year, when Cassie was in middle school, she organized a dry run days before classes started to get her siblings into the routine of waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, grabbing their backpacks and heading out the door before the bus arrived. According to Mom, Cassie wasn’t shy about letting her siblings know they were running behind schedule and needed to kick it into gear.
“She does have that secondary mom kind of mentality; always there to lend a hand; always very concerned about how all the little ones are being taken care of,” Lisa Dumoulin said. “Cassie’s always been a very organized and task-oriented person.”
It’s not just Mom who thinks so. Before transferring to the UI this school year, the former Elgin Community College All-American was honored by the NJCAA with its 2012 Lea Plarski Award. The honor is annually presented to the student-athlete who displays a commitment to academic and athletic achievement, volunteerism and community service.
When folks learn Cassie Dumoulin is one of 10 kids in her family, inevitably questions follow. Curious minds want to know: What’s it like?
“It’s chaotic,” she says. “It’s very busy. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.”
With many of the siblings involved in sports, it takes a Dumoulin Village to get everyone to practices and to games. Relatives are good about pitching in. Planning dinner times can be challenging.
“Trying to schedule everybody else’s schedules can be a very chaotic thing,” Dumoulin said.
In especially hectic situations, stress comes with the territory. Not everyone gets along all the time. But Dumoulin says any conflicts are short-lived.
“We’re not angels. We do have a few times that people don’t see eye to eye,” she said, “but we get along pretty well. Overall, we are really, really close.”
With a family background that ingrained teamwork, Dumoulin easily translates that quality to sports. If anyone understands the necessity of an all-for-one approach for a sports team to be successful, it’s this 5-foot-8 guard.
“Families work a lot like teams,” Dumoulin said. “You have to work together if you want to be successful and have a well-run house. I think you learn to rely on others, being in such a large family, and it’s the same thing in a team setting. It’s not what I can do; it’s what we can do that’s more powerful.”
This semester, Dumoulin is living away from home for the first time. When she is able to get back to the family farm, one of her many pleasures is reconnecting with the youngest of her siblings — 5-year-old Ben.
Cassie has dubbed the two of them bookends — the siblings who, as the oldest and youngest, bracket the others. It’s gotten to the point that names often aren’t even used when they greet each other.
“That’s all we refer to each other,” Cassie said. “ ‘Good morning, bookend.’ ‘Hi, bookend.’ ”
Dumoulin’s sentiment toward Ben comes from the heart, but it’s apparent that clear-headed thinking guides the 21-year-old in her role and responsibilities as the oldest sibling. Dumoulin says she understands her behavior sets a tone for her sisters and brothers, especially when they’re at a highly impressionable age.
“Setting a good example is probably the biggest thing,” she said. “There’s a lot of them that look up to you — the younger ones do — and so I think that I want them to have a good example to look up to and show them that hard work and dedication get you far.”
Dumoulin’s own aspirations include putting a civil engineering degree from the UI to work when she graduates in a couple of years. With her farming background, she’s most interested in making an impact in the areas of soil and water resources.
“Erosion control. Drainage. Basically allocate land to its best purpose,” she said.
And, when the time comes, Dumoulin has some specific plans, too, for domestic life. Given her own experiences, it should come as no surprise that Dumoulin isn’t thinking small when it comes to having her own family.
“I want to marry a farmer, and I want to have a large family,” she said. “I’m thinking whatever God blesses me, that would be awesome, but I’d like seven or something like that.”
Given that she has nine siblings, and that some or all of them one day will raise their own families, it’s doubtful the current “party room” will be nearly large enough in the future.
“It’s kind of exciting to see where the family is going to go because it’s only going to grow,” Dumoulin said. “I love the present right now, but where the family’s going to go, it’s going to be an absolute riot.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of.”