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 $150 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.

Corndog Checkoff

February 20, 2019
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Thank you for helping the Blue Ribbon Foundation continue to renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Through the Corndog Checkoff, Iowa taxpayers can donate to support future projects on their state tax forms. The funding improves the Iowa State Fairgrounds that are used 365 days of the year – with our favorite 11 days in August.

What kind of projects does a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation help support?

  • Agricultural education is a highlight at the Iowa State Fair. From baby animals to food production, when visiting the Fair you will find plenty of exciting activities to learn about Iowa’s important agriculture industry. The world famous Butter Cow’s home in the Agriculture Building is just one historic structure that makes the Fairgrounds stand out. Last fall, crews repaired part of the building's roof. Continuing maintenance keeps the building in top notch condition. 


  • Last summer, the city of Des Moines replaced the storm water sewer along East 31st street. Since that project is now complete - a new concrete street, sidewalks and landscaping will be added to improve the flow of traffic north of Grand Avenue. This is similar to what was completed south of Grand Avenue, along East 31st street in front of the Elwell Family Food Center last summer. There will be a new pedestrian Admissions Gate that will be similar to the Admission Gate at East 33rd street. Overall, this area will be cleaned up with an organized layout to allow for future opportunities.   


  • Pioneer Hall was built in 1886 for the first Iowa State Fair at its permanent location. Of the 67 buildings constructed for that Fair, only Pioneer Hall remains. It was originally a poultry building, then an employees’ dormitory and a storage facility. Today it is a museum of Iowa agriculture that illustrates an important period in Iowa history. It’s also the site for the Fair’s Rural Americana Olde Tyme contests including cow chip throwing. This spring the north corner of Pioneer Hall will receive window and paint updates. Routine maintenance is done on the historic structure to keep it functional.


Please remember when completing your taxes, to check off $1 (or more!) on your Iowa tax return and support the Corndog Checkoff.

Winter Newsletter: 1999, 2009 and 2019

February 7, 2019
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What’s happening at the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation?  

Check out the Winter 2019 Newsletter. This edition features a little bit of history, highlighting special donations from two art-inspired Fair lovers. Be sure to mark your calendar with dates for the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser (TOMORROW), Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction (July 13) and the Iowa State Fair (August 8-18). 

The newsletter is also filled with the names of our loyal supporters since the very beginning. These donors have given to the Foundation with annual contributions, gifts toward the endowment, and even anonymous donations through the Corndog Tax Checkoff. It is because of contributions from businesses and individuals that we’ve been able to help the Iowa State Fairgrounds grow and develop as the state’s premier gathering place. 

What was happening 10 years ago?

“Change is inevitable, so it is our job to ensure that things continue to change for the better.” The change up for discussion? The renovations to the Elwell Family Food Center and early planning for the Jacobson Exhibition Center.

This newsletter included a recap of the cold temperatures of the previous November’s Fairgrounds 5K- the event raised $8000. The Foundation was planning ahead for the Corndog Kickoff and hosting a booth at the Iowa Beef Expo. (Things I’m currently working on right now!)

James Kopel was featured in the Donor Profile. James was an original member of the 1854 Society and continues to renew his membership to this day. James has traveled to all 50 states visiting fairs across the country.  He still believes the Iowa State Fair is the best!

What was happening 20 years ago?

Plans were in the works to update the Varied Industries Building. With William Knapp’s initial donation and the Iowa Legislature’s support – the building would be enclosed and reconstructed to transform into one of the largest exhibition halls in the Midwest.

“Renovate to Keep it Great!” was the theme used to promote the Corndog Checkoff program. This avenue to donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation is still available today through your Iowa taxes. More information about the Corndog Checkoff is available on our website. (A website that was is the early stages 20 years ago!)

Bill and Judy Campfield were highlighted in the donor profile section of the newsletter. The Campfield’s both volunteered with the Foundation selling merchandise during the Fair. Bill also helped develop the Iowa State Fair History Book.


Many things have changed over the years but one thing remains the same. The Blue Ribbon Foundation helps thousands of Iowa State Fair fans like you show their support through giving programs, membership programs and fundraising events. Our organization will continue to raise funds to preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the next 10 and 20 years!


Easy Way to Donate

January 23, 2019
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Throughout its history, the Iowa State Fair has been a unique institution, serving to educate, inform and entertain people from all walks of life. From the first Fair in Fairfield in 1854, to 1886 when it found a permanent home, to today, the Iowa State Fair has been our state’s outstanding agricultural showplace.

But a long history and annually hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors takes a toll. The Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to need the financial generosity and commitment of Fair-lovers to support preservation and renovation projects. Through the Corndog Tax Checkoff, it’s easy to make a donation to ensure these vital efforts continue. While completing your Iowa tax return, please consider making a donation of $1 or more. Donations will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount due, and are fully tax-deductible. Together, we ensure the Fair remains a grand tradition for generations to come.

For 26 years, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has been raising funds in support of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. From the preservation of Grandfather’s Barn in 1994 to the enclosure of the Varied Industries Building in 2001 to the major expansion of the Grandstand completed for the 2018 Fair, one by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were saved from the ravages of time or upgraded for modern use. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds the best in the nation.

Now is the time for Iowans to ensure the future of the Iowa State Fair with a Corndog Tax Checkoff donation! Thank you for your support of the Blue Ribbon Foundation.


Iowa State Fair Puzzle

January 15, 2019
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There’s going to be a new, portable brick pad coming to the Iowa State Fair this year! “Portable?” you ask? Yes! This brick pad will be one side of a new 350-piece custom jigsaw puzzle the Blue Ribbon Foundation will be offering at the 2019 Iowa State Fair.

Measuring 18” x 22”, the face of the puzzle will feature a colorful, sunset image of Grand Avenue packed with Fair-fans. The opposite side will feature one of our popular brick pads with customized brick inscriptions. With a limited run of only 1500 puzzles, you’ll want to make sure you secure one or two of these for your family. Produced and sold exclusively by the Blue Ribbon Foundation, the proceeds contribute to ongoing efforts to renovate and preserve our historic Fairgrounds.

Want to have your personalized inscription included on a puzzle brick? For a $100 donation, you can reserve one of the 100 bricks and select your three line inscription. Let your creativity shine and forever be part of a one-of-a-kind Iowa State Fair keepsake. You’ll also receive a complimentary puzzle for your donation. Additional puzzles will be available to purchase for $15.00 each.

Only 70 bricks left! To reserve your brick, please fill out the Donation Form by February 1. All bricks will be filled on a first come, first served basis. For more information, please contact the Foundation at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371 or

Puzzle Side One:


Puzzle Side Two Sample:


Happy Hour Tickets On Sale

January 11, 2019
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition six months early at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 8 in the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The evening will include live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds.

What is “Dueling Pianos”? “Dueling pianos” is an event that was designed for complete crowd participation of all ages to make each and every attendee become involved or be a part of the show in one way or another. The show itself is full of music, comedy, hilarious crowd skits, dancing, videos and much, much more… The music performed during the show is all-requested songs (by the crowd) anywhere from the 1950’s to today of any genre.

Buy your $50 Admission Tickets online here or by calling the Blue Ribbon Foundation office at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Tickets will include all of your favorite State Fair inspired appetizers. We are talking mini corndogs, little funnel cakes, and a tasty treat with bacon. Top things off with an Iowa craft beer.

Attendees will receive information about current and upcoming renovation projects. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will also auction off a pair of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament tickets at Wells Fargo Arena for March 21 and March 23. This is perfect for any college basketball fan.

A special thank you to our event sponsors: Corn States Metal, Great Western Bank, Mercy Health Network and Kirkham, Michael & Associates, Inc.

This exciting, brand new fundraiser will get any Fair lover excited for August. Can’t wait for you to join us!!



Save the Date

January 3, 2019
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Happy New Year! The Blue Ribbon Foundation hopes everyone had a wonderful holiday. As you start to plan for 2019, please add these dates to your calendar.

February 1: Deadline to reserve your space on the new Iowa State Fair puzzle. Want to have your personalized inscription included on a puzzle brick? For a $100 donation, you can reserve one of the 100 bricks and select your three line inscription. Let your creativity shine and forever be part of a one-of-a-kind Iowa State Fair keepsake. You’ll also receive a complimentary puzzle for your donation. Read More. 

Puzzle Side 1 and sample of Puzzle Side 2:



February 8: Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser - The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition six months early at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. The evening will include live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds, appetizers and fundraising! Read More. 



April 15: The final day to support the Foundation on your Iowa taxes through the Corndog Checkoff program. Read More.



July 1: Deadline to submit your Iowan of the Day application. We are searching for outstanding Iowans to recognize at the 2019 Iowa State Fair. We look for individuals across the state who personify the greatness of Iowa with a strong work ethic, loyalty to helping others, and an exceptional sense of Iowa pride. Start working on your nomination form now. Read More.



July 13: Corndog Kickoff - Each July, Fair lovers whet their Iowa State Fair appetite by attending the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party. It is a fun-filled night complete with all of your Fair food favorites and a variety of unique auction packages to satisfy any State Fair enthusiast. The 2019 event theme..."Let the Competition Begin"! Read More.



August 8-18: Iowa State Fair - The Blue Ribbon Foundation is planning new and fun ways to engage donors during the Iowa State Fair! We are planning to sell new merchandise, host BINGO, and expand the water program. Stay tuned for more updates over the next 8 months.


Thank you for an amazing 2018 and cheers to an even better 2019!

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2018
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It’s the special time of year to reflect on what you are thankful for. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s list is long. We have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. Just to name a few…

  • Thankful for our loyal donors that have supported our mission for the last 25 years. These Fairgoers have watched project after project improve the historic Fairgrounds.
  • Thankful for the brand new donors in 2018. Thank you for joining our charge to keep the Iowa State Fairgrounds in tip-top condition for future Fairgoers.
  • Thankful for the 500+ volunteers that give the gift of time. Sometimes in the summer, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on the “to-do” list. Volunteers keep the Blue Ribbon Foundation moving in the right direction.
  • Thankful for the other Fair staff for the support. It takes all hands on deck to host Iowa’s single largest event and one of the oldest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. The other departments quickly jump on board with the crazy fundraising ideas and help make them happen.
  • Thankful for the interns that join our staff. In the summer, our staff doubles in size and triples in the amount of responsibilities. Without a doubt, we couldn’t be successful without the extra help.
  • Thankful for the people across Iowa and across the country that love the Iowa State Fair. These Fair-lovers donate and encourage others to donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. They are some of our biggest advocates and allow us to continue raising funds to help preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

So this holiday season, between the servings of mashed potatoes and pies – we encourage you to reflect on the reasons you are thankful. If the Iowa State Fair holds a special place in your heart, consider giving a donation. When you give to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, your family traditions and memories will continue for the next generation.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!


Internship Deadline – November 30

November 14, 2018
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation internship application deadline is quickly approaching. Applications will be accepted through November 30. Our internship program is unique and offers special opportunities for students.

  • Real world experience. Interns aren’t running errands or getting coffee, they have direct responsibility for integral Foundation programs. Students become true members of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team.
  • Networking. Students work alongside professionals with the opportunity to meet hundreds of donors, volunteers and business owners from across the state.
  • Resume Builder. Interns utilize their existing skills and are able to expand their skill set by completing projects they might not have previous knowledge of.
  • Time Management. Working in a fast paced environment teaches students how to multitask, a skill you can use in the future.

In addition to learning and gaining experience, it’s our hope that each intern builds confidence throughout the summer. Internships should help set the foundation for a student’s career.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for students eager to help meet our goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will hire two spring semester/summer interns and two summer interns. Again, the application deadline is November 30.

Read more about the specific internships and how to apply.


Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser

November 5, 2018
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Picture yourself walking down Grand Avenue. You can feel the warm sunshine on your face. You hear music playing, children laughing, and animal noises coming from the barns. Your mouth starts to water as you inhale the unmistakable aroma of your favorite food-on-a-stick. Sound great? Stop imagining and join the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation as we fast-forward to August!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition six months early at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. Make plans to join us on Friday, February 8th in the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

With winter fast approaching, why not celebrate our favorite summertime event early? The evening will include live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds, appetizers and fundraising. Get your event tickets today!

Raising $150 million since 1993, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has played a crucial role in generating funding for improvements to the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Iowa State Fair is a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing the tradition by providing high-quality facilities.

Please consider being a sponsor of Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. With your support, we can ensure that Fairgoers will continue to create lifelong memories. The brochure explains the levels of participation available for prospective sponsors. As a sponsor, you will receive admission tickets and recognition in event publicity materials.

We thank you in advance for being part of this brand new fundraising event. With your help and support, we will continue to make improvements that will benefit all Fairgoers.



Fall Newsletter: 1998, 2008 and 2018

October 22, 2018
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation? Check out the Foundation’s fall newsletter. It highlights all the fun and fundraising success over the summer. A recap of the Corndog Kickoff, the Bingo Fundraiser, the Canvas Painting Class and details about the 2018 Iowan of the Day winners.  Included is a special thank you to the volunteers that sold merchandise, bottled water and Fair Squares during the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation would not be successful with the support of our volunteers. THANK YOU!

Darin and Deanna Bennigsdorf are showcased in the Donor Profile for their membership in the 1854 Society. The Foundation is proud to announce special donations from Prairie Meadows and the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. Read about the awesome improvement projects coming soon.

Merchandise items for sale include ornaments, cookbooks, cutting boards, and a fun Tic-Tac-Toe Board. Check out all the available State Fair swag in the online State Fair Store. You can also purchase merchandise at our office on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. We are located in the Earth Home (under the wind turbine, by the Cultural Center and Fun Forest). We are open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.

A special thank you to 2018 Interns - Julianna, Macy and Savannah. The trio worked hard to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation accomplish a huge list of projects throughout the summer. We are currently looking for 4 college students to join our team for the summer. Read about the internship details on our website. 

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 10 years ago? In 2008, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was celebrating the support of two Iowa businessmen – Richard Jacobson and Bruce Rastetter for their contributions to the Foundation. These gifts would lead to the construction of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center.

“Every contribution gets us closer to our continued goal to not only renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds, but to improve them as well for us, now, and for our children tomorrow,” said John Putney, former Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director.

American Concrete donated land to the Foundation to expand the campgrounds. The 2008 Corndog Kickoff raised $250,000. Popular merchandise included the new charm bracelet, Iowa State Fair wine and the John Deere 4320 tractor.  Special Foundation volunteer, Richard Craig, was highlighted for his exciting style of selling bottles of water. Fairgoers couldn’t resist his bubbly personality and friendly demeanor, back then or now.  Richard volunteered during the 2018 Iowa State Fair too.

Ten years ago, the Foundation was preparing for the Fairgrounds 5K fundraiser and continuing to grow our loyal group of donors.

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 20 years ago? In 1998, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was partnering with Hy-Vee to create the Fun Forest. This park in the heart of the Fairgrounds is a playground, children’s activities hub and has a free entertainment stage. Even after 20 years, the area east of the Agriculture Building is packed with families throughout the Fair.

The 1998 Fair must have been hot because the Blue Ribbon Foundation water sales hit a record $100,000! Water sales were possible with the support of the Ruan Corporation for the use of a refrigerated trailer and John Deere for the use of gators for water delivery.

Hagie Manufacturing was highlighted in the donor profile and the Polk County Farm Bureau Shelter House was constructed. “Fair Buddies” (farm themed stuffed animals), lapel pins and denim shirts were the hot selling items in 1998.

The Foundation’s Legacy Tree program started because a devastating storm destroyed several trees across the Fairgrounds. This program is just one of the many giving program options available today.

To shape your future, you need to understand your past. The Blue Ribbon Foundation thanks the donors that helped shape our organization 20 and 10 years ago. We look forward to growing with our current and future supporters. Doante today.