On an August morning in 1963, Zetta Feder and a group of 57 Minnesotans left the Twin Cities on a trip that would make the history books. They were among tens of thousands of people headed for the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would give his "I Have A Dream" speech.
Feder, a longtime St. Paul resident and Jewish community leader, was a fierce advocate throughout her life for civil rights and civic engagement.
"I remember her clear understanding of the need for social justice and equality and her willingness to be outspoken about it, no matter where she was," said Josie Johnson, 90, a local civil rights icon and a lifelong friend. "Zetta was smart and very direct and understood deeply what we were fighting for."
Feder, of Boulder, Colo., died there on March 7 of natural causes. She was 93.
Born in 1927 in St. Paul, Zetta Fisher graduated from the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota before starting work in child welfare. She married Harold Feder, with whom she had three children.
Johnson, then the chief lobbyist for Minnesota's first Fair Housing Bill, recruited Feder along with civil rights activists Katie McWatt and Matthew Little to lobby legislators to get the bill passed in 1962. The next year, the two friends joined other Minnesotans, including Max Fallek, in the March on Washington.
Feder "was very progressive and very active," Fallek said. "She took it upon herself, as being Jewish, to fight against all kinds of discrimination."
Feder was the state director of foster care programs and instrumental in developing the state's policy for out-of-home care for adults and children.
"She was always concerned about those less fortunate," said Don Mains of Mendota Heights, a childhood friend. "She did her best to make this a better world."
Feder and her husband also were involved in the Jewish community. She sat on the board of the St. Paul Jewish Federation and led the women's division, while he was president of the Jewish Family Service of St. Paul.
She was a trailblazer, an independent woman at a time when women still faced significant limitations, said Rhoda Mains, who worked with Feder on the women's group. "She was inspiring," she said.
The Feders, both avid skiers, moved in 2001 to Colorado, where Harold died two years later. But friends said Zetta didn't slow down, traveling and skiing through her 80s. At 84, she and fellow residents of her Boulder retirement building protested as part of the Occupy movement in the United States.
"She was probably talking about justice and equality wherever she was," Johnson said. "That was part of her DNA."
Feder's impatience for progress wasn't limited to politics. When the family ran into traffic congestion on mountain roads, she would often hop out of the car and start walking.
"She was always moving," said granddaughter Rachel Feder of Denver. "She was ... an unstoppable force."
While Zetta was serious about politics, she found humor in everything and was insatiably curious. She loved classical music and the arts and kept a busy schedule of bridge, Zoom discussions and a book club. She was exercising on the treadmill days before she died.
"She was a powerhouse," Rachel Feder said.
Feder was preceded in death by her son, Scott. She is survived by a daughter, Wendy Henry of Minneapolis; son Rob of Boulder; a brother, Bob Fisher, of the San Francisco Bay Area; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141