As an Anoka High School senior in 1955, Koryne Kaneski dated the class president and quarterback of the football team. She hoped it might enhance her chances of becoming prom queen. It didn't work.
But three years later, at 21, she married that quarterback, Bill Horbal. He became a water and sewer contractor, and she a suburban housewife.
"I fit in the '50s," she told the Minneapolis Tribune years later.
That made her transformation all the more amazing two decades later when, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to be the U.S. representative to a United Nations commission on women's global status.
By then, Koryne Horbal had become a feminist powerhouse and pioneer.
"Koryne is not nationally known, but she should be," feminist giant Gloria Steinem said in 1977, asserting that Horbal played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in establishing Minnesota as one of the most highly organized hotbeds of feminism in the country.
Horbal — an advocate for abortion rights, pay equity, child-care funding and the Equal Rights Amendment — helped launch the Minnesota Women's Political Caucus and the DFL Feminist Caucus and participated in watershed women's rights meetings in St. Cloud and Houston.
When she died last May in Arden Hills at 80, Steinem said of Horbal: "It's very important that we know what she's done so we don't lose her wisdom, humor and understanding. We need her knowledge and understanding to stay with us."
Koryne (pronounced ko-RINN) was the third daughter of Stanley and Emma Kaneski. Census records show he was a truck driving son of Polish immigrants and she was a daughter of Scandinavians named Jamtoos. By the time Koryne was born, her family had moved from the northern Minnesota township of Fredenberg to northeast Minneapolis.
With the smell of red cabbage cooking, Horbal's blue-collar childhood home resembled a boardinghouse with relatives coming to look for work in the city, she recalled in 1977.
During World War II, her older sisters went to work in factories "fending for themselves," she said. "And then the men came home and they clung to their husbands again in the same old way and … that rubbed me the wrong way."
She began volunteering for the DFL Party in the 1960s, and recalled how her early foray into politics included ringing doorbells and sewing curtains for the party's headquarters. She said in a 2016 interview that back then women were treated "as sort of an auxiliary. They didn't get into issues as much as they did volunteering and campaigning for men."
Her activism once prompted her frustrated "macho" husband to yank the distributor wire from her car to prevent her from attending a political event. She made sure to carry an extra wire after that.
While they clashed on issues from gay rights to the women's movement, Bill Horbal grew to admire her tireless advocacy — though he "could never understand why I spent all that time in politics and never got paid for it," she said.
"I tried to slow her down a little bit," he told a reporter in 1977. "But it didn't work."
"He would love it if I waited on him all the time," she told the same reporter. "And I do wait on him sometimes. I've polished his shoes. I'll get him a beer. I don't think that violates feminism. It's just having respect for one another."
Korbal climbed to the top of DFL politics in 1968, becoming the party's chairwoman at the age of 31. By 1972, she was speaking to a national TV audience at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, backing Sen. Hubert Humphrey's failed run for the presidential nomination against George McGovern.
Four years later, she worked behind closed doors to win feminist concessions from Carter, whom she visited at his home in Plains, Ga., to urge him to appoint women to top jobs in his administration.
As Carter's appointee to the U.N. women's commission, Horbal shuttled between her split-level in Columbia Heights and a guest room at Steinem's tony Upper East Side home in New York City.
While at the U.N., Horbal met the first female Russian cosmonaut, who gave her a pin that said: "Women should make policy not coffee." That prompted her to give the cosmonaut a button that said: "Women hold up half the sky." The exchange brought tears to the eyes of both, the Tribune reported.
After Horbal's U.N. stint, she worked for the Wonder Woman Foundation in New York providing grants to women in their 40s who had put off careers to raise families. She kept an aluminum Wonder Woman lunch box in her senior apartment in Arden Hills in her final years.
Unable to have children of their own, the Horbals adopted a son and daughter and helped raise some of their three grandchildren. "Life is a circle," she said in 2002, when she was 65. "I've been almost all the way around."
After 57 years of marriage, Bill Horbal died in 2015. Koryne suffered three stokes but pushed on, campaigning for Hillary Clinton at her seniors complex during the 2016 election.
Although Horbal couldn't afford to go to college in the 1950s, Augsburg University granted her an honorary degree in 2008 after her work there as a consultant with the women's resources center.
"Hers was a life we might all aspire to imitate," Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow said when she died.
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book "Frozen in History" at startribune.com/ebooks.