Donna Kellogg. Illustration by Claudia Escobar/KQED
Donna Kellogg. Illustration by Claudia Escobar/KQED

By Sarah Hotchkiss / KQED

Donna Kellogg could brighten a room just by walking into it.

The 32-year-old Oakland resident worked for Highwire Coffee Roasters at both the company’s San Pablo Avenue and Flowerland nursery locations in Berkeley and Albany. Prior to that, she was a longtime employee at Berkeley’s California Theatre.

Friend and former California Theatre coworker John Laux remembers Kellogg as “one of the kindest people.”

Laux and Kellogg played music together under the moniker Mouth Juice — him on bass, her on drums. “It was experimental music, kind of like weird noise jams, but we’d always turn them into something fun,” Laux says.

Donna Kellogg. Photo: Courtesy KQ
Donna Kellogg. Photo: Courtesy

Benson spent about a month in 2008 traveling and playing music with Kellogg in a bus converted to run on biodiesel — a project known simply as “John Benson’s Bus.”Kellogg’s friend John Benson remembers the California Theatre after-hours scene fondly. “Pretty much everyone who worked there would put on midnight shows and use the movie sound system to do experimental sound events,” he says.

“We gutted an Oakland AC Transit bus and took it on the road as a mobile venue,” Benson says. “Bands from whatever town we were in would come onboard and play.” Benson says sometimes the bands would play while the bus was on the move, and people would dance holding onto the roof for support.

The adventurous venue-on-wheels was a welcoming space for Kellogg. “Donna went through a really hard time,” Benson says. “When we went on the bus trip she had just lost a brother, but she remained such a positive person.” Kellogg’s younger brother, Nick Garber, died at age 18.

Artist and musician Aurora Crispin met Kellogg in 2006, when they both lived in Oakland. Their friendship was so immediate that they got matching tattoos one of the first times they hung out.

“I have three dots on the palm of my hand and she has two,” Crispin says. When the two friends high-fived, their tattoos would complete a five-dot pattern. “Certain people you get a hug from and it’s like you’re dancing with them,” Crispin says.

The marquee at Landmark’s California Theater in Berkeley after Kellogg’s death was confirmed. Kellogg used to work at the theater (Photo: Michael Deane)
The marquee at Landmark California Theatre in Berkeley after Kellogg’s death was confirmed. Kellogg used to work at the theater. Photo: Michael Deane

Though the friends were in and out of touch over the years, Crispin says they remained close. “Every time I would see her it would be like no time had passed,” she says.

Another friend, Bianca Foss, remembers Kellogg as similarly steadfast. “She was the only person I know who didn’t have Facebook or a smartphone and still remembered my birthday,” Foss says.

Laux and Crispin both remarked on Kellogg’s recent interest in nutrition studies. “She was going back to school,” Laux says. “She was really turning things around. Getting really serious about nutrition and her life. She was just on such a good path, it just breaks my heart.”

For all her friends and the Bay Area community at large, Kellogg’s absence is palpable. “The world’s not going to be the same without her,” Laux says.

“When I first heard about the fire,” says Benson, “I went down to the coffee shop because I thought she would be a good person to hang out with and talk to. I had no idea.”

This remembrance was first published by KQED Arts on Dec. 6.

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