Kenneth Jesse Duran, a cowboy on a motorcycle, rode off into the heavenly sunset on December 23, 2023 in Stanardsville, Virginia, weeks after making his last ramble to visit loved ones in North Dakota, Montana, and Arizona. Kenny was born to the late Charlie “Sonny” Duran and Maria Angelina “Angie” Baca Duran on Christmas Day in 1958, in Snowflake, Arizona. Angie, a holy water and rosary totin’ Catholic mother, was born in Belén (Bethlehem), New Mexico. She named her son after Jesus, replacing it with middle name of Jesse in order to trick the gringos. Like Jesus, Kenny was a desert wanderer and a carpenter. He built many landmarks in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and all over the Arizona-New Mexico territory, where the Duran family has lived for over 400 years. Unlike Jesus, Kenny grew up in the White Mountains of Arizona in an adobe ranch house with eight brothers, Ruben, Louis, Michael, Jerry, Richard, Peter, Paul and little Roman.
Kenny struck out on his own at 16, hitchhiking to California to see the ocean, surviving sandstorms, earthquakes, and living off of free tortilla chips at roadside Mexican restaurants. His work took him to North Dakota, where he was a beekeeper and met his sweetest honey, Jacki Evans. He sent for her to live with him in Northern California and married her in October 1977. They welcomed their firstborn, Mishaela, into a home filled with macramé plant holders, green shag rugs, and a record player spinning Fleetwood Mac, the Steve Miller Band, Steely Dan, the Eagles, and the Rolling Stones. There, he claimed to have seen a UFO that restored his eyesight, after which point he never wore eyeglasses again. Kenny told tall tales, and you were never sure what what was true and what wasn’t. He said he was related to Geronimo, and also that he met John Wayne on his ranch in Arizona when he was a kid. He told many tales of alien abduction in the family. His daughter believed all of them, both true and untrue, even when Kenny said there would be a lunar eclipse that would obscure the sun for three days and that the new name of the school sports team was going to be the Chicano Bears.
Kenny moved back to Arizona with his family to be closer to his ailing father. He restored the ranch house there and took care of Mishaela along with his teenaged twin brothers, Peter and Paul. In the course of a few months, those hellion twins crashed in quick succession Kenny's car, then his motorcycle, then his bicycle. Somehow, they survive him. That was at least in part because of Kenny, who bravely defended them one day when the family’s bull charged Peter. Ken swept into action, grabbed an iron fence post and clubbed the bull on the head. From that day forward, the bull meekly chewed its cud with a horn hanging down the side of its face, never bothering anyone again. Ken also brought the ranch to glory. He built a beautiful fence around the ranch and orchard, chopping down trees, skinning the bark, assembling the fence, and adding antique farm implements and bullheads found on the ranch.
In the late 80’s, Ken moved his family off the grid, settling on 15 acres in the middle of nowhere, hauling in water from a local communal well and running a little black and white television off of a car battery to watch his favorite show, MacGyver. MacGyver was his hero, someone who was an ally of social and environmental causes who could get out of any jam with common tools and a Swiss army knife. Ken’s constant refrain was to “MacGyver it” and he worshipped him over the years, using massive amounts of duct tape. His son Kolten Jesse was born when the family lived at the one room cabin with a potbelly stove in 1987, with Nathan Hazen following in 1989.
He moved to Montana in 2010 and lived there for a decade, working as a roofer with his son, Kolten and cousin, Frankie Dominguez. There, he developed a love for country music and spent his free time riding his motorcycle from Billings to Red Lodge and onto the infamous Beartooth Highway. He lived a very simple life in a remote area, hanging out mostly with deer while listening to Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, George Strait, and Kenny Chesney.
Kenny moved to Stanardsville, Virginia in January of 2021, to be close to Mishaela and his three grandchildren. There he lived at the family’s creekside antique cabin on acres of meadows and woods. He loved the local flora and fauna, even though it was very unfamiliar to him. He once called and said he was looking at an “armadillo without any armor.” It turned out to be an opossum. Another time he told everyone he had seen another UFO, but it turned out just to be a firefly night -- a phosphorescent experience he never had as a lifetime dweller of the West.
He taught his children to be generous and kind, to think independently, to be leaders and not followers, and to sometimes question authority and stick it to the man when necessary. He taught his children and grandchildren to find peace and beauty in nature, whether in the juniper and pińon dotted landscape of Concho, Arizona, the tall pines and babbling brooks of the Arizona White Mountains, or the Piedmont foothills of Central Virginia, where he made friends with opossum, turtles, birds, and other animals. He taught everyone that his preferred method of starting a fire was to douse it with a generous amount of combustible liquid and to roast marshmallows to an unrecognizable blackened state, chasing them with a swig of Fireball. Despite this proclivity, he was an excellent cook. His greatest culinary achievement was green and red chile with pork, refried beans, and enchiladas. The heat of his chile was how he measured the worth of a man or woman, whether it be his future son-in-law, family members, or future friends. His last supper, which he shared with friends during the Thanksgiving holiday, was a fiery red chile with pork that had to be eaten with frijoles and tortillas. If not, you would find yourself in trouble.
Left to divvy up his black t-shirt and denim collection, cowboy hats, and fringed leather are his daughter, Mishaela Jo (Brent Bickley) of Washington, DC and his sons, Kolten Jesse Duran of Billings, Montana, Nathan Hazen Duran of Oakland, California and Alex Torres (Molli) of Burley, Idaho. He delighted in his grandkids, who visited him most weekends, Hazen Durán Bickley, Amalea Luz Durán Bickley, Asa Isandro Durán Bickley and his dog, Rose, who he found in the local shelter. Left with many a colorful memory are his ex-wife Jaqueline Lee Evans Duran of Dickinson, North Dakota, his brothers, Ruben (Sandy) Duran of Concho, Arizona, Jerry (Samantha) Duran of Concho, Arizona, Richard Duran of Grafton, Wisconsin, Paul (Cathleen) Duran of Concho, Arizona, and Peter (Diana) Duran of Hereford, Texas, along with 23 nieces and nephews on the Duran side and 14 on the Evans side. The family forever is in debt to the kindness and generosity of our neighbors, Madeleine (Madi) Ledford, Grant Poznick, and Whit and Martha Cullander Ledford, owners of Cair Paravel Enterprises in Stanardsville, Virginia.
There will be a celebration of life at the Duran Family Reunion at Big Lake in Apache County, Arizona June 21st - 23rd. To share a memory of Ken or a condolence to the family, please visit www.preddyfuneralhomes.com. If you would like to honor his memory, please make donations to Old Concho Community Assistance Center in Concho, Arizona or Feeding Greene, Inc - the Food Pantry of Greene County, Virginia.