Blue Ribbon Blog

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s blog!

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $160 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

Iowa State Fair T-Shirt Design Contest

April 2, 2020
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Love the Iowa State Fair? Have a creative streak? The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is calling all creative Fair fans to design a t-shirt that will be sold at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. Funds from the sale of the t-shirt will be directed to renovations and improvements to the historic Fairgrounds.

To enter, send us your t-shirt design by May 1. A selection committee will choose the top five designs. Those designs will be posted on the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website and Facebook page with voting via Facebook “like” or online via our website. Voting will be open from May 11-18. The winner will be announced on May 19. The top three vote-getters will receive an Iowa State Fair prize package.

1st Place: Your shirt design is produced to sell at the Iowa State Fair, 2 t-shirts, 2 gate admission tickets, 2 Fair Value Packs, 2 tickets to the Grandstand concert of your choice, $50 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair

2nd Place: 2 gate admission tickets, $25 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair

3rd Place: 2 gate admission tickets and $25 in food coupons


Entry and Design Guidelines:



Iowan of the Day

March 30, 2020
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The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation knows there are Iowans across the state stepping up to help their individual communities in this time of crisis.

Let’s celebrate the positivity in Iowa. Let’s praise the volunteers in our hometowns that are taking care of our elderly and children. Do you know an outstanding nurse or teacher in your neighborhood that is working hard to put others' needs first?

Nominate that special person to be an Iowan of the Day at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products are looking for nominations for the award.

There are so many people across Iowa that contribute to making our cities, towns, and state a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Now, more than ever - the Blue Ribbon Foundation wants to recognize the most deserving.

Ten winners will be named Iowans of the Day and each will be honored with a special day of recognition at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. Perks include an introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage, $200 cash, use of a golf cart for the day, VIP parking, gate admission for four, hotel accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown and four tickets to the evening Grandstand event.

For nomination forms, contact the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-311 Ext. 371 or You can also download nomination forms from our website. The deadline for all nominations is July 1. All nominees must currently reside in Iowa.

In a time of uncertainty, join the Blue Ribbon Foundation in keeping a positive outlook and celebrating what makes our state great – the people.



Giving Program Deadline - March 31

March 24, 2020
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Hello! Today I want to tell you all a little bit more about the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation's Giving Programs. There are unique and creative ways to make a donation, whether you want to leave a lasting legacy or be a part of this year's Fair. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level. The deadline to make sure your item is in place by the start of the 2020 Iowa State Fair is March 31, 2020.

Block by Block - Located in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, a large colorful barn quilt represents Iowa’s heritage and agriculture offering six levels of giving.

Building for the Future - Located in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, you can leave a personal legacy engraved in granite on the west side of the building or have an engraved plaque placed on the back of a seat.

Buy a Brick - These bricks are used to help complete walkways in 15 different locations. Choose your location and what you would like engraved, it's a perfect way to leave a permeant legacy.

Courtyard of Celebration - Located on the east side of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center - celebrate a Fair memory with a personal message on an engraved charcoal concrete paver in the Courtyard’s plaza.

Growing Our Future - Located in Ruan Plaza there are 7 levels of giving. Your inscription will be placed on a “leaf” and then displayed with the other “leaves” creating a beautiful, colorful donor wall. 

Legacy Terrace - Located south of the Grandstand, in the Legacy Terrace you can either engrave a granite paver or place a plaque at the base of the tree.

Shine On - With multiple lamp posts across the Fairgrounds, your donation will help light up the Fair! 

Trees for the Fair - Your donation will help maintain the young and old trees on the Fairgrounds. You can add a bronze plaque with a personalized inscription at the base of the tree.

Make sure to check out all of the giving program details on our website. Thank you.



Meet Donor Relations Intern

March 17, 2020
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Hello! My name is Reegan Den Adel and I am the Donor Relations intern for the summer of 2020. This is my first week here and so far I have learn so much! I am very excited to see what the future holds! I grew up in Madrid, Iowa and I joined 4-H in elementary school and started showing my swine. I have always loved coming to the Iowa State Fair and I was so excited when I finally got the chance to show my swine at the Iowa State Fair.

I am currently a sophomore at Iowa State University. I am majoring in Event Management with a minor in General Business. On campus I am involved in Salt Company, Event Management Club and Dance Marathon. I have recently taken a non-profit class and was able to hold an event for a non-profit company. I love the events industry, I knew I needed an internship where I can work with people and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is just that! I am very excited to see where this summer goes but I am so excited and ready to continue this adventure!


Reegan Den Adel
Donor Relations Intern
Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation
PO Box 57130
Des Moines, IA 50317
515-262-3111 Ext. 377

Those Super Structures

March 10, 2020
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“Those Super Structures” is just one section of the book: Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story. This history book describes the Iowa State Fair from the very beginning in 1854 through 2000 (The year the book was published). Each time I flip through the pages, I learn something new. Today’s lesson: the Livestock Pavilion.

Originally, livestock was housed primarily in temporary sheds and pens. In 1885 - 10 horse barns, 10 cattle barns, roofless swine pens and sheepcotes were built. There were also 50 wells, which supplied enough water for both stock and visitors. The frame barns were on the south end of the Fairgrounds, close to the railroad lines, which is how animals got to the Fair.

The barns were built in a circle, with each being equally distant from the show ring in the center. The structures were hastily built on a tight budget and maintenance became more and more common. In 1902, a massive building campaign included new barns that were built in phases, from 1902-1936.

One of those newly constructed buildings was the Livestock Pavilion. The Pavilion was the first masonry building on the Fairgrounds. It was used for 101 years and just like described in the book, repairs were needed. Renovations to the dilapidated building were completed in time for the 2003 Iowa State Fair thanks to an $800,000 donation by Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. In 2007, Bob and Marilyn Schlutz gave a $125,000 to add air-conditioning to the building. 

Fast forward 13 more years, there are two restrooms inside the Pavilion that need attention. The Blue Ribbon Foundation has already secured a $30,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. The Foundation is asking you to join the T.A.G. Team to make this project happen. Through the support of corporate and individual donors, together we can make improvements that all Iowa State Fairgoers can enjoy.

For a $250 donation, the first 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player to the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership for 2020. Donate now to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as a member of the T.A.G. Team.




Interested in learning more about the Iowa State Fair's history? Pick up your copy of "Our State Fair - Iowa's Blue Ribbon Story".

Your Iowa State Fair Moment

March 6, 2020
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What is your “Iowa State Fair Moment”? Is it the first time you attended the event? Did you meet your significate other while standing in line for a corndog? Did your grandma take you on the Giant Slide or Sky Glider for the first time? Did you win Grand Champion in your livestock class?

All Fair lovers have at least one, if not several flashbacks that bring a smile to their face when talking about the Iowa State Fair. I have a few and it’s hard to pick my top moment – the first time I attended and saw LeAnn Rimes in the Grandstand or camping with my best friend as she showed cattle. On the other hand, maybe it was my summer as a Blue Ribbon Foundation intern or getting married in the Animal Learning Center. Just like every Fairgoer, I have MANY special Iowa State Fair memories.

In fact, 9,293 Iowa State Fair enthusiasts have celebrated their personal Iowa State Fair memory with a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation for an engraved brick. The brick inscriptions all across the Fairgrounds are unique and tell stories of people’s connections to the Fair. Some engraved bricks celebrate families, honor loved ones that are no longer here or truly salute everything people love about the great Iowa State Fair.

All of the Giving Program options are available on the Blue Ribbon Foundation website. The Foundation has unique and creative ways to make a donation and leave a lasting legacy on the Fairgrounds. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level. The deadline to have an item in place by the 2020 Iowa State Fair is March 31.

Let’s commemorate those Iowa State Fair moments by supporting the future of the Fairgrounds with an engraved brick.


Old and New

February 25, 2020
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When flipping through old Iowa State Fair photos, you can see what the people, activities and buildings looked like when the event first started.  Compared to new photos, it is easy to recognize the many improvements made across the Fairgrounds. The beloved Iowa State Fair traditions have stayed the same but the facilities have definitely gotten better.

In the last 27 years, your donations to the Blue Ribbon Foundation have helped make those improvements possible. One special giving program is in full swing. And just like old photos – this program has been around for many years but it is still providing support for new projects.

The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way to donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation on your Iowa Tax Form. Look for “State Fair” when filing your taxes and fill in the desired donation amount. Your gift is either deducted from your refund or added to the amount due.  Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.  

Every dollar donated to the Corndog Checkoff is directly allocated to capital improvements. The program has raised more than $2 million, and has supplemented restoration projects like the Grandstand to the current renovation of the 4-H Building. In addition, funds generated have helped improve the campgrounds, parking areas, sidewalks and restrooms.  

We invite you to donate to the Corndog Checkoff. All it takes is one little checkmark on your state tax form to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation continue to preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.



47 out of 100

February 21, 2020
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Since launching the 2020 T.A.G. Team campaign in December, 47 donors have stepped up to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Let’s make restroom renovations exciting and continue the momentum!

What is the T.A.G. Team? The membership group will be composed of 100 Fairgoers who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. The 2020 improvement goal is to remodel the Livestock Pavilion’s two restrooms.

The two restrooms located within the building have not been updated in more than 40 years. The only toilet facilities in the area, they are heavily used and in desperate need of renovation to meet the standards of today. The updates would bring the restroom facilities into the 21st century, providing a better service to our customers and make cleaning them more efficient for our maintenance crews.

The updates would include tiling the walls, installing metallic epoxy flooring, replacing the toilet partitions, adding solid surface sinks, new counters and improving the electrical fixtures.

During the Fair, the Livestock Pavilion hosts livestock competitions, the Sale of Champions, and the Governor’s Charity Steer Show. The lower alcoves on the exterior are transformed into retail outlets selling t-shirts, space for food vendors and the Altoona Lions treasured spin art stand. The building is abuzz with activity. A bit quieter in the off-season, the Pavilion is used for many livestock shows and even hosts other competitions.

It’s a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals. For a $250 donation, the first 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player in the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership in the 2020 T.A.G. Team.

Join the 2020 T.A.G. Team. We welcome you to join the current 47 donors and help us reach our goal of 100. Thank you!


Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser

February 5, 2020
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Peter Cownie, Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director, promotes the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser in an interview with Iowa Live. Join the Foundation this Friday, February 7 for Dueling Pianos and Iowa State Fair food as we celebration our favorite summertime tradition - 6 months early. Buy your tickets online.

Doors to the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds open at 5:30 pm with entertainment starting at 6:00 pm

A special thank you to the event Sponsors: Air-Con Mechanical Corporation, Awards Unlimited, Inc, Mary & Peter Cownie, Daniels Filter Service, Dawghouse Concessions, Dee Zee Inc, Great Western Bank, Iowa-Des Moines Supply Inc, MercyOne, Reliable Roofing, SCI Communications, Mel & Linda Shivvers, US Erectors Inc, Vision Electric LLC 

We'll see you there!

Winter Newsletter – 2020, 2010, 2000

February 3, 2020
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As we move forward into the new decade, the future is exciting for the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is supporting several new projects that will improve the Fairgoer's experience.

What’s new with the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we start 2020? Fresh ideas help keep the Blue Ribbon Foundation successful. A new event is highlighted in the newsletter. Fair lovers are invited to attend the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7. Attendees will enjoy live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds while snacking on Fair-inspired appetizers – all while helping raise money for future Fairgrounds improvements.

This newsletter’s donor profile is SHAZAM. SHAZAM is a national member-owned debit network, processor and core provider. As a company committed to strengthening local communities, SHAZAM chooses to focus their charitable giving in Iowa. For the last three years, SHAZAM has been a $10,000 “Best of Show” Patron at the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party.

Each winter newsletter, we highlight our Champion Circle donors. These donors have contributed to Our Fair’s Future endowment fund. Just for fun, think about how psychics look at tarot cards to try to predict the future. Well, these Champion Circle donors are taking action and planning ahead to guarantee the Iowa State Fairgrounds will remain in the future and continue to be a family tradition for the next generation.

So, what was happening 10 years ago? In John Putney’s Editorial, he writes, “Pat yourself on the back and feel good about your role in making the Iowa State Fair the best it can be – the envy of the entire fair industry.” This celebration was for upcoming renovations plans for the Cultural Center and Youth Inn.

This newsletter featured a recap of the Fairgrounds 5K. The beautiful November day hosted 300 runners and raised $9,000 for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The donor profile was extra unique and featured the book “Bells Goes to the Fair”. This fun story tells the adventure of Bells, Bill and Susan Knapp’s yellow lab. The book was sold and proceeds totally $65,000 were donated to the Foundation.

New fundraising opportunities are incredibly important but so are the fundraising avenues that have been part of the Foundation for 10 or even 20 years. The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way for Fairgoers to show their support while filing their Iowa taxes. These donations are anonymous to the Foundation and have supported the ongoing maintenance. Some improvements aren’t exciting (updating electrical wiring, plumbing repairs, or replacing shingles) but need to be done and aren’t cheap. Thank you for considering the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we enter tax season.

And what was happening 20 years ago? The Iowa State Fairgrounds has grown and new structures have been built to fit the needs of the ever-changing event. Having new structures is an amazing addition to the Fairgrounds but maintaining the current buildings is equally if not more important.

Twenty years ago, the Blue Ribbon Foundation received a $400,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino for the repairs on the Livestock Pavilion’s roof. Fast forward to 2020 - one project for this spring is the renovation of the Livestock Pavilion restrooms. Prairie Meadows once again stepped up to the challenge to help with a $30,000 grant for the project. We are asking donors to also help by joining the 2020 T.A.G. Team. This unique group of 100 donors will be key players in accomplishing a much needed renovation. Join Today.

Listed in all three of the newsletters is the “Roll of Donors”. This is our opportunity to thank the loyal Blue Ribbon Foundation supporters that have joined our mission, some since 1993. All gifts of any size are important and each dollar donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation has factored into our accomplishments over time. Oh how the list has grown!


As we look to the next decade, the Iowa State Fair’s goal remains the same — celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage to further education while offering entertainment and competition for all ages.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to providing a quality environment and facilities to accomplish that goal. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s vision and joining our mission to make it a reality.