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Our Losses

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Beloved friend, relative and mentor,

Kenneth Christopher Gilliland,

born in Alameda on September 2, 1957 passed away

in his home the Cohen Bray House in Oakland on May 6, 2021

surrounded by friends and family.

Make a donation or a charitable donation in his memory to one of the non-profit organizations to which he dedicated his life: The Crucible, Bay Area Bike Rescue, and the Cohen Bray House.

Ken's Story

Ken was a caretaker for the Cohen Bray House where he lived for 30 years. In addition to his many duties, he could also be found in the kitchen, assisting in the many special events by  cooking and fixing the delicate tea sandwiches and sweets which were served to our guests for our fundraising event.

Born to machinist Kenneth Gordon Gilliland and artist Helen Howen Gilliland, he is part of a lineage of American machinists and engineers. Embarking on his own, he started off his machining career in the medical device field, then later expanded into defense contracting just like his father and uncle, heads of The Gilliland Instrument Company. His technical expertise moved him into making tools and dies for the forging industry, and later heading the second-operation department for a local screw machine shop. As a self taught poly-math with a passion for antiquarian books, Ken dedicated himself to excelling in his craft as well as sharing his immense knowledge by teaching and mentoring youth and adults in machine shop practices


A pillar of his Oakland community, Ken passionately engaged with non-profit organizations such as The Crucible where he headed the machine shop department, growing its capabilities and dazzling Bay Area kids with his model engines and his fascinating “doohickeys.” There, he developed curriculum for machine shop classes and instructed thousands of artists and emergent technicians into how to think like a machinist. Always working to bring out the hidden instrumentality within every person, he volunteered with Bay Area Bike Rescue non-profit, where he donated countless hours fixing bicycles and machining custom trike parts.

Growing up in the historic Cohen Bray House in Oakland, Ken was the last of the original family members to live in the iconic estate and was the steward of generations of memories and stories about the family and grounds. There, in the family workshop, he worked and played with his vast collection of tools and books shaded by the great oak tree that he flourished under.


Board member John Michael "Mike" Reidenbach died unexpectedly at home on December 2, 2020.

Mike was the oldest  great-grandchild of the Cohens, and the only one to be born in Emma Bray Cohen's lifetime. When her daughter Emelita informed Emma of his birth, she replied "Now I'm Granny the great!" His grandmother was the second Cohen daughter, Marion Cohen Gilliland.


Mike realized as Emelita grew older that the question of what would become of the house would need to be addressed. Using his expertise as a lawyer, he rallied all the various family owners to keep the house and contents intact, and form a non-profit to protect and preserve it. Without his firm vision the house would not exist as the treasure it is.


He was the first president of the VPCO during its formative years. After a long break, he rejoined the board two years ago after his retirement. He had hoped to help the organization reach the level necessary to sustain the house through the years ahead. His children have requested that any memorial gifts be given to the Cohen Bray House. 

John Michael Reidenbach

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