Over the last few months, I’ve enjoyed a friendship with a member of the custodial staff in Kendall Hall. Through a series of candid conversations, I have learned about his diverse life experiences outside his employment at Chico State. He faces each of life’s victories and challenges with zen-like acceptance and a penchant for reinvention— traits that are not just impressive, but inspiring.

Esteban Duran’s first job was selling tamales on the streets of Albuquerque at 9 years old. With the town plaza as his playground, he got to know all the shop owners and made friends through daily conversation.

“I had the opportunity to do like I do here, to mingle,” said the Chico State custodian.

For the last several months, Duran’s jingling keys and warm greeting have sounded his arrival into Kendall Hall offices. He calls out a personalized hello, having made a point to learn every employee’s name, from the student workers to the top administrators whose trash he empties on a daily basis.

“As I get older, I want to try to continue to challenge myself and my aging brain,” he explained. “… And it’s important to make a connection, especially with who you see every day.”

Estaban Duran, who currently works as a custodian in Kendall Hall, has also done other jobs learning kung fu and being an artist on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Custodian Esteban Duran pushes his cart through Kendall Hall one afternoon.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Desk by desk, Duran makes his custodial rounds, carrying on conversations about marriage, mortality, births, art, and a multitude of other topics. Often, he tells stories of his diverse past.

His second job was as a shoeshine boy, talking up tourists as he earned a few dollars. Next came food service, where as a teen he worked his way up from dishwasher to assistant chef in world-class restaurants.

After graduating from high school in 1973, he enrolled in the University of New Mexico. But when his best friend died of a heroin overdose and he began to lose other friends to drug addiction, Duran reconsidered his future.

“The arts, I believe, saved me from a different path,” he said.

Through the years, Duran moved repeatedly, with stints as a martial arts student and teacher, studying under Bruce Lee’s assistants; a professional artist—earning a place in the permanent collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art; a sculptor and composite technician for production designer Michael Curry, crafting pieces for international Disney productions and stars such as Cher and Britney Spears; as well as an aircraft loader for FedEx, a checker at Trader Joe’s, and self-employed housepainter.

Estaban Duran, who currently works as a custodian in Kendall Hall, shows his kung fu form after he talked about his other jobs learning kung fu and being an artist during an interview on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Duran demonstrates his kung fu abilities. He was a student and teacher of martial arts prior to his hiring at Chico State.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

With a curious mind and open heart, he embraced each new change and job as an opportunity.

“My DNA is that I have to be busy,” he said. “The job does not define me, but I can chalk it up to experience.”

In 2014, Duran was hired as a custodian at Chico State. With R&B, Motown or flamenco tunes playing in his earbuds, he hums through Kendall Hall and Laxson Auditorium as he runs the floor machine and vacuum after hours.

Attentive and memory-minded, he picks up on people’s personal habits by noticing the teabags in their trash, those who consistently munch pistachios or consume the same Trader Joe’s salad every day. He admires pictures of pets and children, and inquires about people’s families when he passes by.

He also has a big heart. A passionate cook, Duran often brings leftovers of his homemade meals to give to student workers.

“Sharing food is something I learned from my mother and my aunts,” he said. “If I have extra, it’s good to extend an offering, and I know students are always hungry.”

Sometimes, he opens up about his art.

Specializing in found objects and tinsmithing, his works have shown at 1078 Gallery, the Chico Art Center, downtown businesses and at Sin of Cortez, where he was the primary artist for nearly 14 years. One of his pieces also hangs in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on campus.

Estaban Duran, who currently works as a custodian in Kendall Hall, talks about his artwork "Everyone is Welcome" which resides in the Diversity office on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Duran talks about his artwork “Everyone is Welcome,” which resides in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

“As an artist and designer, you always want your work to evolve. I’m very experimental,” Duran said.

His own evolution includes an unexpected move and forthcoming chapter in his work history. As his divorce finalizes this month, he will return to New Mexico to care for his aging mother, build a relationship with his granddaughter, and pursue his art while working as a contractor.

“As a human being, we all make sacrifices and we just have to roll with the punches,” he said. “It’s taught me a huge lesson in acceptance, accepting what comes your way and staying positive.”