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Elder Kevin R. Duncan: Learning to work set stage for life


Elder Kevin and Nancy Duncan, he was called to First Quorum of the Seventy, April 2010, Photo by Shaun Stahle

Shaun D. Stahle, Church News

Elder Kevin R. Duncan: Learning to work set stage for life


Elder Kevin and Nancy Duncan, he was called to First Quorum of the Seventy, April 2010, Photo by Shaun Stahle

Shaun D. Stahle, Church News

Since being called to the Seventy, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, at age 49, has had his own private moments of reflection — wondering what he might offer the Lord in his new calling.

"I love to work," he said. "If the Lord wants a worker, then I can work."

Elder Duncan was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 3. He brings to his new assignment a broad range of international experience, gospel knowledge and a wealth of personal experience.

Elder Duncan's earliest recollections in life come from growing up on a farm in West Point, Utah, where he joined his two brothers and a sister in caring for the family's 60-70 head of cattle.

The boys were young and inexperienced, but their stepfather knew their capacity and wasn't shy about teaching them to perform the tough tasks. Mending fences, branding new cattle or healing an ailing calf were the work of life and demanded their finest effort.

It wasn't easy, and it wasn't glamorous, but Elder Duncan thrived on the challenge.

In this setting of a happy home, sustained by loving parents and surrounded by devoted friends, he developed a vigorous testimony and longed to serve a mission.

"I was never homesick a day on my mission [to Chile]," he said. "I loved the work. We enjoyed unbelievable success. We tried approaches that were unconventional, like setting up a white sheet as a movie screen in a plaza and projecting Church movies to hundreds of people. We circled through the crowd taking names of those interested to be taught." Elder Duncan returned home brimming with the faith and confidence that comes of seeing the hand of the Lord, a testimony that would sustain him in the next months.

Several years after being married to Wendy Wallentine, the young couple was driving to his grandmother's funeral in 1984 when a young driver missed a stop sign and crashed into the passenger side of his car. His young wife died several days later, leaving him to tend their nearly 7-month-old daughter.

In his grief, he felt it better to replace pain with purpose and, against tough odds, enrolled at Brigham Young University as a single father.

"These were very hard years," he recalled, describing the challenge of caring for a baby while teaching at the Provo Missionary Training Center and being a full-time student. He socialized, but most dates were uncomfortable with a teething baby in the back seat.

In the next seven years he would earn three degrees, including a juris doctorate in 1991 from the J. Ruben Clark Law School.

But one day, nearly two years into his studies, he was attracted to a petite blonde in biology. She was guarded when he asked her name and simply introduced herself as "Nancy."

The daughter of a faithful family, Nancy radiated a love of the gospel that attracted others.

"My eyes were soon opened to the caliber of person that he was," she said, and accepted his proposal. For Elder Duncan, finding Nancy was as if he could finally breathe again.

After a "fun courtship," they were married June 27, 1986, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Two children were soon born, then came the twins, born prematurely under 2 pounds. They were not expected to live through the night.

"While giving a blessing, the Spirit prompted me to bless them with whatever my heart desired," Elder Duncan said. "I took advantage. …

"It's one thing to say you believe in the power of God, it's another to rely on it when you have nothing else," Elder Duncan said.

Sometime later, Sister Duncan wrote her feelings in a booklet where she spoke of a benevolent hand that allows all to learn and grow through refining trials, with the tender assistance of atoning power.

The twins soon regained health and began to grow.

In the next five years, Elder Duncan retired after selling a business that he'd started with more toil than money. His company eventually received international recognition for expediting the gathering of legal information.

Though his family was still young, he offered his legal skills to the Church and, with Sister Duncan, was called to assist with Church legal counsel in South America as service missionaries.

There, in their new home of Santiago, Chile, the twins entered kindergarten.

"When I walked off the plane, it was winter and cold and wet. I wondered, 'What have we gotten into,' " Elder Duncan recalled.

In contrast, Sister Duncan "felt at home from the moment I stepped off the plane. I loved every second of our five years there. We loved the cultural differences. Neither the kids nor I wanted to return home."

After assisting with Church legal counsel for two years, Elder Duncan was called as mission president of the Chile Santiago North Mission in 2005.

His leadership was based on the simple faith that if a prophet of God says it — "it will happen."

"We challenged the missionaries to do as Elder M. Russell Ballard counseled, to make 10 extra contacts per day," Elder Duncan said. As a result, baptisms doubled.

One of the privileges Elder Duncan enjoyed was to return to the land where he'd served 25 years earlier to reap the reward of seeds sown as a young missionary.

He helped his missionaries capture a vision of the work by telling how a branch of 50 people in Puente Alto where he served is now home to four stakes, and soon a fifth.

He told his missionaries about a man who, 25 years earlier, was a young married with a baby when he was baptized. When they renewed their acquaintance after all those years, the man spoke of his large family, then pulled a picture from his wallet that he'd carried of Elder Duncan as a young missionary.

As mission president, Elder Duncan told his missionaries how he coincidently met a man entering the temple to be sealed to his family that he'd taught. Elder Duncan remembered the man would not give up smoking to be baptized with his wife. But over the years, gained a testimony.

“The same experiences will happen to you,” he told his missionaries, “if you work for it.”

Biographical information

Family: Born Oct. 6, 1960, in Ogden, Utah, to David Cook and LaRene Read Cook. Married Wendy Wallentine, July 1, 1982 in the Ogden Utah Temple. She died in 1984. Married Nancy Elizabeth Smart on June 27, 1986, in the Salt Lake Temple. She is the daughter of Grant Smart and Lucille Hulme Smart. They are parents of five children: Aubrey (Tyler) Ruby; Steven; Kelly; Lacey and Lindsey.

Education: Bachelor of science degree in accounting, master’s in taxation and a juris doctorate in law from BYU, 1991.

Employment: He began his career as an associate attorney and later founded a corporation, from which he retired in 2005.

Church service: Full-time missionary in Chile, bishop’s counselor, ward mission leader, ward executive secretary, high councilor, Church service-missionary as Associate International Legal Counsel in South America, president of the Chile Santiago North Mission, member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy in the Utah South Area.

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