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Antonio E. Duran: Converted by the Book of Mormon

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 25, 2008

Sometime in the early 1930s, Antonio E. Duran came across two LDS missionaries preaching on a street corner in Harlingen, Texas (near Brownsville, just about as far into the southern tip of Texas as you can go and still be in the U.S.). Antonio was the only man who stopped to listen to the elders that day, and when they concluded their meeting he stayed to chat with them for a few minutes. He bought a Spanish-language Book of Mormon from them, they gave him some tracts, and all went on their way. Not long afterward, Antonio moved to the tiny farming village of Rangerville and the elders were withdrawn from Harlingen.

Over the next few years, Antonio read and studied the Book of Mormon on his own and taught its doctrines to his family. He attended services of several churches; many times he had the opportunity of giving a lesson or short sermon – which he always drew from the pages of the Book of Mormon.

Antonio understood from his reading that he must be baptized, and began hunting for someone who shared his testimony of the Book of Mormon to perform the baptism. He wrote to the mission home in Houston – the only address that appeared on any of the materials he had – but no response was ever received. He kept his ears open to hear of any Mormon in his corner of Texas. When he heard of a Brother Plata living in the country, he walked ten miles to meet him, only to discover that the Platas had by then moved to Corpus Christi.

Still, he continued to study his Book of Mormon until it was nearly worn out. He taught his family. He and wife Juanita Ronje Duran named one of their sons Helaman.

In the summer of 1939, Antonio learned that a Brother Gonzalez lived in Santa Maria, on the far side of the county. He again set out on foot, and this time he found his Mormon. Brother Gonzalez knew how to contact missionaries in nearby Hidalgo County and promised to send them to the Duran family.

Brother Gonzalez kept his word, he himself walking five miles to Mercedes, Texas, to leave a message for the missionaries. He wrote, “Come see me Sunday, Brother Gonzales, Santa Maria,” without explanation. On Sunday, two elders accompanied by a small group of Latter-day Saints went to Santa Maria “to see what was so urgent. Upon our arrival in Santa Maria, Brother Gonzales told us a man came to his door looking for a Mormon. Brother Gonzales and wife joined the party and we all journeyed on together some thirteen miles through farming and grazing community to a little town called Rangerville. Upon our arrival there, we found our man with a house full of friends and relatives. He welcomed us with arms open and invited us into the group.”

The elders, the Mercedes branch, and Brother and Sister Gonzalez held a cottage meeting that day for the Duran family and their friends, and they blessed baby Helaman. Antonio bought three more copies of the Book of Mormon to replace his own worn copy and to share with his family.

Once each week for the next several weeks, the Mercedes branch and the elders went out to Rangerville to meet with the Durans and hold branch meetings, and on July 30, 1939, Antonio and Juanita Duran were baptized.

Afterword: When I found the missionary report of the Durans’ baptism, I wanted to tell this story. But first, I needed to know whether the Durans had remained with the Church – sometime I will write about the disappointment of finding other unusual conversion stories, only to discover that people had dropped away soon after baptism. I could not find the Durans in the Church’s genealogical database, which is usually my first indication of whether or not someone had remained LDS long enough to leave a trace on Church records. That didn’t look good. But I had enough names and places and approximate dates to begin researching the family the way a genealogist traces people.

I discovered that Antonio and Juanita’s granddaughter, Estella Luna Duran, had been a gifted young journalist in San Antonio, where she inspired her community with her determination to return to school despite the incapacitating effects of severe asthma. Following her graduation from Texas State University, Estella interned with such prominent national newspapers as the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and the Washington bureau of the Boston Globe. She continued her education, but, one class short of earning her Master of Library Science degree, Estella passed away this July, at just 35 years of age. One of several glowing obituaries indicated that her funeral services were held at a chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I have since contacted another granddaughter of Antonio and Juanita Duran and shared this conversion story with her.



36 Comments »

  1. I look forward to the epilogue.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 25, 2008 @ 7:11 am

  2. This is wonderful! It makes me realize how slothful I have become because of the easiness of the way. What a great blessing it is to be a part of this people. =) Please do tell us anything more you find out.

    Comment by Tatiana — August 25, 2008 @ 7:20 am

  3. I loved the story, and I know what you mean about the people who have good stories but leave the church. I did an internship for the New Era, and we often had to turn down stories that didn’t turn out.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 25, 2008 @ 8:26 am

  4. I worked for a time in this area – flying into the Harlingen airport on those Southwest puddle jumper flights, renting a car and spending one or two nights driving to schools and districts in the area. When I read of people walking miles in that area . . .

    That is dedication!

    Comment by Ray — August 25, 2008 @ 10:04 am

  5. Wow. This one strikes close to home. I drove through Harlingen several times during transfers, had one of the best companions in Weslaco, just after it and the Mercedes Ward changed from language to geographic based boundaries, and then finished my mission in the same general area after the two wards again covered the same geography, but were separated by language.

    It is indeed desolate country, but the grapefruit is delicious.

    Comment by Ugly Mahana — August 25, 2008 @ 7:51 pm

  6. I am another granddaughter of Antonio Duran. I want to let everyone know that he and his wife did remain active in the church, as have most of their grandchildren. He was a spiritual giant and left a great example for us to follow.

    Comment by AnaLisa Crandall — August 28, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

  7. AnaLisa, thank you for commenting. I have been exchanging notes with one of your uncles, who has been giving me additional information about the legacy Antonio and Juanita Duran left for your family and for the church, and I’m looking forward to writing a followup post to share that here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 29, 2008 @ 6:34 am

  8. Just thought you should know that AnaLisa is actually the daughter of Antonio & Juanita’s son who has been sending you additional stories. I am her mother. And truly their legacy will continue to live on through the sharing of this conversion story! Again, thank you for providing a forum for doing so.

    Comment by Susan Duran — September 8, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  9. I am from Harlingen and know some Durans. My dad knew Antonio and our families have kept in touch.

    Comment by Jared T. — February 10, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  10. I am yet an another grand-daughter of Antonio Duran. I’m truly grateful for the example my grandfather showed me and his never ending love of the gospel. As a child we would visit my grandparents in Texas during the summers because we lived out of state. He had recorded himself in spanish reading the Book of Mormon, (long before scripture cassettes and cd’s). We would awaken to scripture recordings and at the time I didn’t understand most of the words and often thought he must have mistakenly left his recorder on. But the spirit was felt. Over the years my heart has beamed and tears flowed as I have understood the love he had of the scriptures and his need to share them with family, friends, and strangers at any opportunity he had. Thank you for sharing his conversion story-it helped to piece information together that not all of the Duran family was aware of.

    Comment by Sandra Soliz — December 28, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

  11. I’m the youngest son of Antonio & Juanita Duran, I to remember the Love my parents had for the gospel, I remember walking to the church in Harlingen church, with the whole family, my father’s and mother dedication, we never had much of the material things but we never knew it we Had love so we were blessed! I thank God to this day! for my father finding the Gospel!

    Comment by Adam R. Duran — January 4, 2013 @ 11:45 am

  12. I am another grand daughter of Antonio Duran. I am the daughter if his 12th child Adan. I have heard this story before and it gives me the chills everytime. My pride overflows.

    Comment by Victoria Duran Schneider — January 5, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

  13. I am the first granddaughter Rosalinda, daughter of Sara Duran. I have fond memories of my grandparents and very fortunate to have been raised a Mormon.

    Comment by Rosalinda Garcia marin — January 5, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

  14. My name is John Duran Garcia born ’56 I am also LDS and grandson of Antonio Esteban Duran Son of Sara Duran, My wife and I have been togeather since 1978 and 5 kids later my son Estevan Adan Duran Garcia was born we have 5 kids Raymond is the oldest then Little Johnny followed by Sonya Lynn Duran Garcia Baptised on 12-29-12 and her son was baptised (John Cody Robert Garcia Copper) on 12-8-12 at our LDS ward in Killeen Tx. our forth child is Isaac Duran Garcia Followed by the youngest Estevan.I am so proud to add that I was ordianed an elder by Heleman Duran and that my grandson was baptised by my uncle Heleman also,Soon my wife will also be baptised and some day lord willing we can be sealed in the temple.

    Comment by John Duran Garcia — January 7, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  15. I write these words on behalf of my Aunt Petra Duran Garza:
    Daughter of Antonio E. Duran and Juanita Ronje Duran
    I would like to thank him for everything that he has done for us to make us know the importance of the gospel, I’m greatful for my father bringing the gospel into his family and the legacy to preach the gospel in every place we live.

    Comment by John Duran Garcia — January 7, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

  16. John, that would be a happy ending to the story, but it’s not an ending. That’s even better. Thank you.

    Comment by Carol — January 7, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

  17. Hi! I am a granddaughter of this dear man you have written about. My name is Maria Lillian Cooley. My father is Samuel Ronge Duran and my mother is Maria Alba de Anda. My dad is the eldest son of this Duran family of which you write of. Yes! My grandpa Duran left a great legacy! How proud I am of him! My dad served bis mission in Houston, Tx. Mu wonderful uncle Tony served also…I believe he served in Colorado. His son Jeremy also served a mission! Thus far one of our sons has served in South Africa. His name is Christopher Ryan Cooley. Chris is Esteban’s great grandson! My Aunt Esther’s daughter Sandy also served a mission as well. My Aunt Esther is also a daughter of this special man. Esteban Duran. And Sandy is his granddaughter. Another son Is Raphael Duran who lives is Bakersfield California. His son also served a mission.

    Comment by Lillian Cooley — January 12, 2013 @ 2:34 am

  18. This is Lillian Cooley again. Would like to share this very special experience I had while I was out visiting teaching in La Feria Texas. La Feria is a little town right next to Harlingen, Tx. I was visiting a sister Flores. When I arrived I noticed she had company…her father was visiting. She introduced me to him and he sat there with us. He said that after I delivered my message that he had a message for me. I’d never met him or seen him before so it puzzled me. So i proceeded and gave my message. He then said to me that he knew who I was. That he had known my grandfather Esteban many years ago. Said to me that my grandfather was a great missionary. That he would gather groups for the missionaries to teach. That he remembers being one of those who being rather young would delight with his friends in playing practical jokes on such assemblies of people…with the intention of distracting or even disturbing the meeting. And it was at one of these such gatherings that he and his friends were up to this type of mischief. I don’t remember what he said they were doing as a distractor but I remember he said that as they sat and listened waiting for a moment to pull their prank…they were so taken in by the teachings of the meeting and a testimony they heard by this man Antonio Duran that they forgot all about the prank. In those days they had these meetings consecutively each evening…so this brother Flores told me the next evening he and some of those other mischievous ones returned w their friends and families…to listen and learn about this church and this restored gospel. He said to me…sister your grandfather was a great missionary! Because of his influence and effort with those missionaries in those days I joined the church along with my family and many friends and to my knowledge from my family alone at least 400 more have joined the church. Your grandfather, sister, he said, was a great man. I hope you realize this. And he said this was the message he had for me. I feel very very blessed to have such an example in my life.

    Comment by Lillian Cooley — January 12, 2013 @ 3:08 am

  19. I am his great granddaughter I was raised in the gospel and was blessed to be born into this eternal family. I heard of this story from my great Uncle Antonio Duran. I currently reside about 45 min away from Harlingen. I’m married to a wonderful man Samuel V. Ayala we were married on Dec. 19 th 2008 in the San Antonio Temple. We have one son named Samuel Nephi Ayala and we look forward to raising our family in the gospel. I am extremely blessed to have such great heritage.

    Comment by Anna Lisa Duran Ayala — January 12, 2013 @ 9:20 am

  20. I am delighted to hear from so many Duran family members, both recently and when this article was first posted. This is a real testimony to the widespread, long-lasting influence of one couple on their posterity.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  21. I love to hear things like this! Thank you.

    Comment by Carol — January 12, 2013 @ 9:51 am

  22. My name Alberto Duran and my father was Samuel Duran, the eldest son of Antonio Duran. My grandfather changed his name to Esteban because he had another brother also named Antonio. I grew up with him living next door in Edinburg, Texas. I was blessed to spend a great deal of time with him and even went on home teaching visits with him. I didn’t really didnt know this story and many other stories until he had passed away. It is amazing what one person’s faith and actions can do to influence whole generations. My four children will be the 4th generation born into the covenant because of my grandfather’s incredible determination.

    Comment by Alberto Duran — January 12, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  23. Today I’m happy to announce that my wife Debra Lynn Tafolla Garcia was baptised at our LDS ward in Killeen Texas
    Thank you Grandpa and family.

    Comment by John Duran Garcia — January 12, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

  24. The legacy goes on! Thanks for telling us this,John.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2013 @ 3:36 am

  25. I married Antonio’s 11th child, Antonio, otherwise known as Tony or “Crow” to his many cousins and friends. We have been married for 39 years and the first 17 were blessed by the influence and love of my father-in-law. Our 3 children, Jessica, Jeremy, and AnaLisa, have wonderful memories of time spent with Grandpa Duran, his wonderful sense of humor, laughter, and some craziness (like the time Grandpa took them to buy fireworks for New Year”s eve and AnaLisa, who was just 5 yrs old, came back with a huge rocket to set off!) I only wish I could have gotten to know my mother-in-law, Juanita, for I think she was an amazing woman to have raised 10 wonderful children and left such a legacy (unfortunately she died a little more than a month after we were married.) I will always be grateful to them for raising such a fine son. The whole family (all the nieces, nephews, and their families as well as numerous cousins) has always made me feel a part of la familia, a part of something truly special, and I will love them all forever!!

    Comment by Susan Duran — January 14, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

  26. What a beautiful story and how wonderful to have so many people bring that additional information about Antonio and the life and example he lived!

    Comment by Julia — January 15, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  27. Hi, I am also the granddaughter of Esteban Duran. I am truly grateful for his conversion to the gospel for if not for him I would not be a member of this great church. I will be forever grateful for the legacy he has left behind because his legacy will continue to live on for generations to come. He was a great man and I have many fond memories of him. I look forward to the day when we can meet again and to see my grandmother Juanita for I never had the pleasure to know her. Thank you for reminding us where it all began.

    Comment by Jessica Ruggles — January 15, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  28. I’ve really enjoyed this post and the responses to the story from Antonio Esteban and Juanita’s family.

    I teach in the Young Women in a ward on the East Coast, and on Sunday the lesson topic was “Who am I, and who can I become,” so I shared this story as well as several of the comments, including Lillian Cooley’s story (18), and what Alberto Duran (22) said about, “It is amazing what one person’s faith and actions can do to influence whole generations.” I agree! It’s a beautiful story.

    Comment by Amy T — January 15, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  29. I too am a grandson of Grandpa Duran and remember as a young boy when I would stay in Edinburgh to visit, grandpa would come over early in the morning and call me by name to let me know he had breakfast for me: a Coke and carne asada tacos! Those memories have remained with me and will forever be a reminder of the spiritual giant grandpa Duran was. I have served a mission and remain faithful in the church. I am married in the temple and sealed to my wife and children and will continue to carry on Grandpa Duran’s legacy.

    Comment by Jeremy James Duran — January 15, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

  30. I’m Esther Duran, eighth child of Antonio and Juanita Duran. Yes, I remember my father’s love and dedication to the gospel. As a 4 year old I remember living in Tamps. Mexico where my father had relocated to homestead some land. I remember holding meetings in our back yard. I remember Brother Domingo Flores, (who is related to the Flores in Lillian’s story) also Brother Guzman Trevino, Brother Villegas, Brother Refugio Reyes. All these brothers would meet in the back of our yard and hold church meetings for members and nonmembers. Sometimes the Elders would sleep at our house. At times nonmember neighbor men on horses would pass by and throw stones and break our windows because they did not like the Mormons. In spite of those persecutions, those days were good times because the spirit was felt when we gathered together to learn the gospel. My father strengthened our testimony on tithing. There was a time that a hail storm ruined the crops of our neighbor farmers, but the hail skipped father’s crops. He would credit this blessing of his crops being spared due to his paying tithing. I love this story and still cherish to this day. We never had much of material belongings, but we had love and happiness in the gospel and we are all still faithful and active members.

    Comment by Esther Duran — January 20, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

  31. Dear Sister Parshall, i am Kristy Duran Keers another Granddaughter of Esteban Duran. My Dad is Rafael R Duran 6th child born to Juanita & Antonio Esteban Duran. Thank you for this article it has prompted us all to stir up old memories. I was in my teens when Grandpa passed away. My Dad and two of his sisters had moved & now lived in California. Therefore I was not able to visit our family in Texas much. I was very young & I remember sitting in someone’s living room while the adults talked. I heard the adult’s grandpa my aunts &uncle talking and grandpa or my dad recalled a story of how Antonio was so committed to the scriptures and lead by example. He once threw his mothers things, which were considered to be idols in the fire place. When his mother seen what he had done she was so mad at him & proceeded to punish him. She asked him why he did that and showed her & quoted the scriptures of our heavenly father being a jealous god. “ thy shall not worship any others/ idles” There were other story I heard them all talk about. The importance of tithing and how he would tell his children blessing had been bestowed on them. One summer it had been so hot, the land dry and being farmers all in the area they all needed the rain. Then it rained and it only seemed to rain on his land/property. The surrounding lands were hardly wet or not at all. So he would go on about the blessing of tithing and prayer. I heard many things even my family & cousins chuckling under there breath “oh no there goes Grandpa” “don’t get him started, he will have a scripture for that”….but I loved being in his presence whenever I could. He would be… (I know he is) very proud of his family. I would also like you to know his great grandson, my son Christopher David Keers is currently serving a mission in Perth West Australia, and another Grandson Matthew is preparing for and a waiting the call.

    Comment by Kristy J Duran Keers — January 22, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

  32. I am Rafael, son of Juanita & Esteban Duran i remember living in valle hermoso, Tamps. Where my Dad would host gatherings and people would come from all around the area. I was about 7years old i recall one of many gatherings of mutual we held outdoors on our farm. Neighborhood kids at times adults would gather in front of the farm across from ours and would mock us and throw things at us even with sling shots. One time my brother Helaman was struck on the head, to this day he still has the scare on his head. I am a active member of the church and i have many memoies & stories of those days.

    Comment by kristy for Rafael R Duran — January 22, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

  33. I’m the seventh child of Antonio Duran and Juanita Ronge Duran. I would like to say a few words about my mother. It comes to my mind that behinD every great man there is a great woman. This great woman was my mother. We came from a big family and in those days it was very hard for our parents to give us everything we needed and both of them did everything they could to take care of us. My husband remembers that when she used to visit us she was always ready to preach the gospel to anyone who took the time to stop and listen to her. I remember that we were so dedicated to go to church that we would walk an hour and a half to get there. Her testimony of the gospel was so great that when she would visit us in los angeles, california she would take a bus by herself to get to the temple in an unfamiliar city that she didnt even know. Behind her she left a legacy that was memorial to us and we will continue to take part in it. I was born of goodly parents and i have a strong testimony of the gospel.

    Comment by Petra D. Garza — January 23, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

  34. Petra, what a lovely addition to all the Duran family reminiscences! Thanks for taking the time to write this out — and thanks to the other family members who continue to comment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 23, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

  35. My name is Lillian J. Duran, daughter of David Antonio Duran son of Samuel Duran, eldest son of Antonio Duran and Juanita Ronge Duran. I never knew my great grandfather but this story is beautiful and uplifting, because of his faith and diligence, myself and my family are members of this great church and I never knew until today how that came about. My great Uncle Tony, son of Antonio Duran, shared this article with me and has made me realize that this path has been carved out by my loved ones, a path which required hard work and long-suffering, so that I could one day walk smoothly down this path without fear. I am truly a blessed daughter for having such an incredible great grandfather.

    Comment by Lillian J. Duran — December 1, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  36. My name is Daniel Staples. My son served a mission in San Antonio sometime around 2007 and my son got to know Antonio Duran who is the 11 child of Esteban Duran. I am in the Utah National Guard as a Spanish Translator and was sent on an assignment to San Antonio to translate Spanish for the US Army for an Army Exercise called Fuerzas Amigas dealing with future earthquakes in California near Tijuana. I had the opportunity to meet Tony (Antonio) Duran during my assignment to San Antonio. It was a great pleasure to meet Tony while I was there. Tony is a very special person and I am grateful for his kindness toward my son while my son served a mission in San Antonio. I do not know Esteban but I am sure that Tony is walking in his footsteps and I am grateful for the kindness Tony and his wife showed toward my son on his mission. Tony apparently was the Bishop of one of the wards where my son served.

    Comment by Daniel Staples — March 6, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

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