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 $128 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.

Jumping in Full Swing

March 29, 2017
It’s my second week in the office and I am starting to get the hang of things. I have jumped right in working on the projects I will be in charge of this summer. I am excited to see all of my hard work come together at the end. 
One of the main projects of mine this summer is to conduct the Iowan of the Day program. I am proud of the state I grew up in, and I’m looking forward to learning about other Iowans across the state and how they get involved in their communities. Along with the Iowan of the Day, I will be helping coordinate the Corndog Kickoff, keeping track of all the exciting donations we receive. And speaking of donations, we have starting receiving them in the mail! It is so exciting to see the generosity of those who donate! But don’t worry, there is plenty of time for you to send in your donations for the Corndog Kickoff, held on July 8! 
As the public relations intern, writing, organizing donations and nominations and designing various projects is what much of my summer will consist of. I am excited to get to know many new people this summer, from them stopping in the office to me interviewing them for a story. Every person is so different and unique and that is what makes the Blue Ribbon Foundation so special! 
I have a busy summer ahead, but my coworkers and the busy Fair atmosphere will make the journey an exciting one! As March comes to an end, we are one month closer to the Corndog Kickoff and the Fair! Hope everyone is as excited as I am!  

Giving Program Deadline

March 27, 2017
With the deadline for giving programs fast approaching, I started to think about what personal inscriptions I could write for the Fairgoers in my life. To start, my dad has a strong love of music. His favorite spot on the Fairgrounds would be watching entertainment on a free stage or in the Grandstand. An engraved paver or tree plaque in Legacy Terrace would be the perfect option for him. On the other hand, my mom could spend hours walking through Pioneer Hall or exploring the Cultural Center. An engraved brick or Courtyard of Celebration paver would be the best option for her. 
My boyfriend’s favorite thing to do at the Fair is watch the horses, so he would need a block on the donor wall inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center. My best friend grew up camping and showing cattle at the Iowa State Fair each summer. She would need a lamp post outside of the Outdoor Arena. It could commemorate the years she spent showing livestock and how we would run around the Fairgrounds until late into the night. And I know a few people who would need an inscription about spending too much time at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, Steer N Stein, Stockman’s or Jalapeño Pete’s!
What are your family memories and special places on the Fairgrounds?  You can capture these memories when you donate to one of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s giving programs.  At the same time - you are investing in the success of the Iowa State Fair for the future. Check out the options:
The deadline to have your brick, paver or plaque in place for the Iowa State Fair is March 31. Start brainstorming your creative inscriptions today. 

Meet Emily Blum, 2017 Public Relations Intern!

March 22, 2017

Hi everyone!

I’m Emily Blum! My summer has begun early and I am the first intern in the office jumping in full swing preparing for the summer ahead! I grew up on a diversified grain and livestock farm in Western Iowa near Denison and grew up loving the Fair, so there is no doubt that I’m excited to embark on this journey at the Iowa State Fair this spring and summer! Being born and raised on a farm has taught me to love agriculture and the fair atmosphere. Showing pigs through 4-H and FFA, exhibiting non-livestock projects and hanging out in the barns during the county fair was my favorite part of the summer and now I get so spend my whole summer at the great, Iowa State Fair!

My passion for agriculture leaded me to Iowa State University, where I am currently a junior majoring in Agriculture Communications. I stay very busy with club activities and responsibilities, as I serve as a public relations tri-chair for the 2017 Bacon Expo, as well as a member of the Block and Bridle club serving on multiple committees. I am also a member of the Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow club and a contributing writer for the College of Ag and Life Sciences publication, CALS Connections. As you can tell I love being involved in as many things that I can handle!

This summer I am excited to be the public relations intern. I will be in charge of the Iowan of the Day program and will be a member of the selection committee for the winners of each day of the Fair! I will also be assisting with the Corndog Kickoff. My first week in the office has left me excited and ready to take on my role as the public relations intern for the Blue Ribbon Foundation!

Me (right) at the 2016 Bacon Expo with my favorite mascot, Cy!

Me (right) at the 2016 Bacon Expo with my favorite mascot, Cy! 

My family and I posing for a picture during harvest, my favorite time of year!

My family and I posing for a picture during harvest, my favorite time of year! 

State Fair Swag

March 20, 2017

Today is the first day of spring but the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff started our spring cleaning around the office weeks ago. With the clutter cleaned up, a few treasures were discovered. Stored in the back of a closet were two merchandise items, a tote bag and sweatshirt - Iowa State Fair swag from 1994!

The canvas tote bag has the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s first campaign logo, “Treasure Our Fair” while the crew neck sweatshirt highlights Fairgrounds’ buildings. Merchandise sales have been a successful avenue of fundraising for the Foundation from the very beginning.

You can buy almost anything during the Iowa State Fair – a mattress, a hot tub, a mop that will change the way you clean. But remember when you purchase a souvenir from the Blue Ribbon Foundation; you are supporting the Iowa State Fair’s future. The proceeds from merchandise sales go right back into Fairgrounds’ renovation projects.

The Foundation has sold series of merchandise items – cookbooks, pottery pieces, lapel pins, and Christmas ornaments. Each year there are t-shirts, charms, hats, prints – some commemorate the year and specific Fair theme. With the State Fair more than 100 days away, we are already searching for new souvenirs to sell in August.

Broken Arrow Wear created and printed the sweatshirt in 1994. The Foundation still partners with this Des Moines company for t-shirt designs - remember the Butter Cow Security shirts? Thank you Broken Arrow Wear for your continued creativity! The Blue Ribbon Foundation has partnered with several other Iowa businesses for merchandise.

The State Fair Plaques are created by Sticks. John Bosley, Bozz Prints, produced a print of the Iowa State Fair fireworks sold during the 2016 Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will continue our partnership with Isabel Bloom to sell a custom piece. Willow Avenue Pottery from Panora makes our annual pottery piece. Competitive Edge prints t-shirts and Sigler produced the latest edition of the cookbook.  Our lapel pins are made in Mt. Pleasant Hill by Staats. There is something incredible valuable about supporting a business from your home state. It makes the merchandise even more special.

If you have a merchandise suggestion, please share it with us! We want to know what Iowa State Fair swag is your favorite. 

Check out the State Fair Store online or stop by our office if you are around Des Moines. 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.


10 Things about 1993:

March 14, 2017
10 Things about 1993:
  • The cost of a first-class stamp: $0.29 
  • The cost of a gallon of regular gas: $1.11 
  • The cost of a dozen eggs: $0.87 
  • Billboard’s Top Song:  “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap!  
  • Winner of Academy Award for Best Picture:  Schindler's List 
  • America’s Top TV Show: Home Improvement 
  • Winner of Superbowl  XXVIII : Dallas Cowboys
  • Fiction’s Best Selling Book: The Bridges of Madison County  by Robert James Waller 
  • 98 million people watched the last episode of Cheers
  • And…The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was created.
The Blue Ribbon Foundation was established by the Fair Board to conduct a major capital campaign for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Foundation set a goal to raise $6 million in two years and $30 million in ten years. With hard work and an overflowing amount of support - this goal was reached and surpassed. In 25 years, the Foundation has raised $128 million and supported 40 major improvement projects across the Fairgrounds.
In celebration of our organization’s journey, we are hosting a 25th Anniversary Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to celebrate our history while creating awareness about our mission for the future.
From the very beginning, the Blue Ribbon Foundation strives to do more than expected. The organization is not only thinking about the future but planning for the stability of the Fairgrounds for the next generation. What will the Iowa State Fair and Foundation look like in 25 years? 
The proceeds of the 25th Anniversary Campaign will be dedicated to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund. As the endowment grows, it will provide a reliable source of funding for future renovations, building enhancements and maintenance to the Fairgrounds, ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for generations to come. 
The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy. We invite you to join a community of generosity and get even more involved with the Fair you know and love. Donate online or fill out the Donation Form.
Placing the first engraved bricks:
Constructing the Service Center was the first project:
The first mess was just the beginning:

Advocate for the Iowa State Fair

March 7, 2017

Governor Terry Branstad, per Iowa Code, is a member of the Iowa State Fair Board and has designated Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds as his representative. On February 15, both Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds attended the monthly meeting held on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The Iowa State Fair invited Governor Branstad to come to the meeting to thank him for his past support of the Iowa State Fair and service to the state of Iowa. The longest serving Governor in the history of the United States and recently appointed by President Trump as U.S. Ambassador to China, Branstad will be leaving the Governor’s office pending U.S. Senate confirmation.

The entire State Fair Board thanked Governor Branstad for his support of recent infrastructure projects including the Oman Family Youth Inn, the current 3-phase construction plan on the north side of the Fairgrounds and his efforts in changing the school start date. Simply put, he has been a tireless advocate for the Iowa State Fair and his actions speak for themselves.

John Harms, Iowa State Fair Board President, presented Governor Branstad with a custom pottery vase that the Blue Ribbon Foundation commissioned. Governor Branstad was very appreciate of the gift and said he would take it with him to China.  The Governor also vowed to come back to the Iowa State Fair while serving as Ambassador to China. The Board shared many fond memories and stories of the Fair with Governor Branstad and said they look forward to welcoming Ambassador Branstad back to the Iowa State Fair very soon.

Corndog Tax Checkoff

February 28, 2017

The Iowa State Fair’s evolution from a simple stock show to today’s agricultural, industrial and entertainment extravaganza is a direct reflection of Iowa’s evolution from an untilled prairie to the very center of the nation’s food production. The Iowa State Fair has been the historical trademark of this progress.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has been raising funds for the restoration and preservation for our beloved Fairgrounds since 1993. The first renovation of Grandfather’s Barn and the first new building constructed, the Service Center, were just the beginning.  One by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were improved. From unseen electrical updates or simple restroom improvements, to construction of a state-of-the-art exhibition center, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has been determined to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds one of the best.

The Foundation has been able to offer the Corndog Checkoff as a way for Iowans to financially support their efforts. While completing your Iowa State Tax Return, simply check-off a donation for the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provide a reliable source of funding for future renovations, building enhancements and maintenance to the Fairgrounds, ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for generations to come. Your donation will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount due. Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.

The Iowa State Fair is the true, ever-changing reflection of what’s best about Iowa. Over the years the Fair has never veered from its primary purposes: the celebration of excellence, the recognition of individual achievement and the enhancement of agriculture.

Corndog Checkoff contributions are anonymous; therefore the Foundation is unable to recognize those individuals. Although the gifts are nameless, they are extremely significant and greatly appreciated! Thank you. 


The Corndog Checkoff logo has changed over the years, but the mission remains the same. Contributions will help modernize the Fair's facilities, while maintaining its grand historical integrity, as well as preserve the vast improvements made since the inception of the Foundation in 1993.


Things that grow at the Iowa State Fair:

February 21, 2017
Things that grow at the Iowa State Fair:
  • Award winning fruits and vegetables. The Iowa State Fair Food Department is the largest of any state fair in the country. 1,000-pound pumpkins – we’ve got them!
  • Animals. You can watch the animal birthing process, as well as the stages of growth and development in cattle, sheep and pigs all in the Animal Learning Center.
  • Horticulture. The Discovery Garden is truly a peaceful place for Fairgoers to sit and enjoy the flowers. You can see hundreds of varieties of plants and flowers on display.
  • Facial Hair. In Pioneer Hall, Fairgoers can watch or participate in the “Beard Growing Contest” featuring the Best Groomed, Longest Beard, Most Unique Beard Design, Most Historic Nature and Best Beard Design with Costume.
  • Your Food Palate. With 200 food stands and 70 specific items on-a-stick, you can easily become a foodie. Have you ever tired a Unicorn Lollipop, a wonder bar, or Tot-chos?

One of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goals is to grow and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds so it remains a vibrant entity for years to come.  This goal can be achieved with your support.

Ruan Plaza, a greenspace bordering the east side of the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building, made its Fair debut in 2015. A retaining wall between the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center and the Plaza will now showcase “Growing Our Future”, a program designed to add an artful display to the grounds.

Seven different levels of giving are available, with each customized aluminum plaque working together to create the overall design. Distinguished by two different sized plaques, each level is recognized with colored “leaves”. The leaves allow for two lines of inscription and can become more personalized on the larger pieces.

The deadline to add your “Growing Our Future” leaf for the Iowa State Fair is March 31. To take advantage of this program, please use our secure online order form or download and print the Growing Our Future BrochureTo receive more information on this, or any of our fundraising efforts, please email me at

Love is in the air…so is the smell of cattle.

February 14, 2017
Love is in the air…so is the smell of cattle. This week’s Iowa Beef Expo is Iowa's largest cattle show and is held on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation has a booth set up inside the Cattle Barn with merchandise for sale. The Fairgrounds is buzzing with trucks, trailers and cows. It’s exciting to see the grounds in action in the middle of winter. 
Each August, the Iowa State Fair celebrates all things Iowa – including its rich livestock and agriculture heritage. Iowans proudly showcase their cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, horses, dogs, rabbits, chickens, llamas, and pigeons. (Did I miss anything?) The Iowa State Fair features one of the largest livestock shows in the world and winning a class is highly coveted.
Taking a casual stroll through a livestock barn on show day is anything but casual for an exhibitor. You can watch multiple generations working together to prepare their animals and put their best foot forward in the show ring. Some of the young 4-H and FFA members competing will grow up to pursue agriculture-related careers. Each could lead the industry, not only in Iowa but across the country. 
I grew up living in town but was fortunate to have a best friend that lived on a farm. I remember it was always an adventure when I got to spend the night at her house. I got to ride the school bus, cruise on a 4-wheeler and of course - do farm chores. Unlike my friend that did these chores as a daily part of her life – I enjoyed “helping” in the barns. I would tag along to sort sheep, feed cattle and scoop the poop. On the farm I learned to fish, the difference between straw and hay, and first got involved with 4-H. Memories I will keep with me forever.  
The Blue Ribbon Foundation is more than maintaining the Fairgrounds facilities. We are helping families maintain their State Fair memories. This Valentine’s Day, show your love to the Iowa State Fair by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Join a community of generosity and get even more involved with the Fair that you know and love. 
Livestock Show at the Fair
Construction on the Cattle Barn
Cattle Barn in the warm summer

Winter Newsletter: 1997, 2007 and 2017

February 6, 2017

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has published the Winter Newsletter. This edition of the newsletter highlights the Fan Fair program and the Corndog Tax Checkoff - two programs that will continue this winter into spring.  There are also two new opportunities for donors to support the Foundation – the 25th Anniversary Campaign and Growing Our Future.

Each year, the Blue Ribbon Foundation acknowledges our supporters in the Roll of Donor list, including donors that are members of the Champion’s Circle. We are grateful for your generosity and your desire to create a Fairgrounds that carries on memorable traditions, offers opportunities for individual growth and is ready for future generations.

The Donor Profile features Jim and Kathy Gocke.  The article flashes back to the 2016 Corndog Kickoff and the unprecedented moment when the poker table co-created by Jim was purchased for $185,000!

In celebration of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 25 anniversary, I am trying to learn as much as I can about our organization’s history. I decided to again pull out old issues of the Foundation’s newsletter.

The front page of the 1997 Winter Newsletter featured the Corndog Tax Checkoff:

“So, when you’re working on your tax forms in the cold of winter, pause for a moment to recall the warm August sun and the taste of a fresh corn dog, and remember to check off $1 (or more), for the State Fairgrounds Renovation.”

In addition to the small but mighty annual Roll of Donor list, other important relationships were highlighted. First, the Blue Ribbon Foundation had received its largest private gift from the estate of Berneice and Donald Penningroth and Don’s brother, Orville Penningroth. The donation was valued at $430,000. Today, the Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media center holds the sale of champions. Farming, livestock, and exhibiting at the Iowa State Fair were important to the Penningroth family.

The 1997 Donor Profile article featured Dwayne McAninch and McAninch Corporation. Why he supported the Foundation: “My company works all over the state and giving to the Fair is giving to an entity that helps every Iowan.” True statement even after 20 years. Thank you McAninch Corporation for your continued support the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

A new fundraising opportunity was mentioned in the 1997 Winter Newsletter, described as a unique auction to be held in July on the Fairgrounds….oh the first stages of the Corndog Kickoff!

In January 2007, Bridget Anderson was the Special Programs Manger. She shared her perspective on working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation: “I take pride in knowing I have been a part of something so important and influential in the State of Iowa”. Bridget was reflecting on the progress of the Richard L. Easter Museum Complex that opened for the 2007 Iowa State Fair.

Ten years ago, the same opportunities with the Corndog Tax Checkoff and Fan Fair were going strong. John Putney, Foundation’s Executive Director, thanked the donors that had joined us on our journey thus far and the larger Roll of Donor list was included.

Wells’ Dairy, Inc., makers of Blue Bunny ice cream based in Le Mars, Iowa was featured in the 2007 Donor Profile. Who remembers volunteering to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation sell ice cream during the Good Guys Car Show?

Programs have developed, projects have been accomplished and things have changed over the years. The loyalty of Blue Ribbon Foundation donors has only continued to grow. Thank you for your support!