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.

2019 Iowa State Fair Favorites

October 16, 2018
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Last week the Iowa State Fair announced its theme for 2019: Fair Favorites. From the food, to the games, to the competitions, Nothing Compares to Fair Favorites at the Iowa State Fair!  Your Fair Favorites help make nothing comparable to the Iowa State Fair!

This made me think about my personal Iowa State Fair Favorites.

  • Favorite Food: Pork Chop on a Stick
  • Favorite Building: Animal Learning Center
  • Favorite Contest: Giant Pumpkins
  • Favorite Exhibit: Decorated Cakes in the Elwell Family Food Center
  • Favorite Fair thing to do on my Night Off: Concert in the Grandstand

Every person that attends the Iowa State Fair would have a different answer to those 5 questions.  The new theme also got me thinking about Blue Ribbon Foundation Favorites. There is no doubt that our donors support the Blue Ribbon Foundation because the Iowa State Fair is one of their favorite summer traditions. 

Reasons the Blue Ribbon Foundation is Fairgoers’ Favorite:

When you give to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, your contribution allows major capital improvement projects across the Fairgrounds to happen. Your support helped build the Service Center, Animal Learning Center, and the Jacobson Exhibition Center. Your donation keeps the historic Pioneer Hall and Grandfather’s Barn functional for new Fairgoers to explore. Your generous gift will help the Blue Ribbon Foundation maintain the streets, sidewalks, and buildings to keep the Fairgrounds in top-notch condition throughout the year.

Thank for to our loyal donors and new donors as we plan the 2019 Iowa State Fair. Just remember, nothing compares to your State Fair favorites. The things you can’t miss, the things you always need to eat or see or do. Maybe this year, you will find a new favorite? Maybe this year, you will give a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy.


Standing by my favorite Iowa State Fair dessert!



We’re Hiring

October 8, 2018
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Would you like to help plan the 11-day Iowa celebration that entertains 1 million guests every August? What about organizing an event that raises more than half a million dollars for Fairgrounds’ improvements? Can you picture yourself promoting the Iowan of the Day program, coordinating 600 volunteers, managing 75 sponsors or welcoming hundreds of donors?

Up for the challenge? Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s team as a 2019 Intern.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation will hire four interns. Each intern will become a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having direct responsibility for integral Foundation programs with the goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Foundation would not be successful without the help of our summer interns. Since the internship program started in 1993, the positions have adjusted to fit the growing needs of the Foundation. Below is an outline of the current positions.

  • Public Relations: Publicize and coordinate the Iowan of the Day program. Promote other events with various communication materials.
  • Donor Relations: Coordinate special events, donor communications and correspondence with the corporate sector.
  • Volunteer Relations: Schedule and manage more than 600 volunteers for events.
  • Sponsor Relations: Assist with sponsorship planning process, including marketing, communications and hospitality. Develop informational materials and maintain sponsor profiles. Oversee the logistics of the wholesale water program.

An important aspect to the Foundation’s internship is that each student is able to utilize their existing skills when completing a project. Interns work independently and have the opportunity to take ownership of a specific task. At the same time, we challenge our interns to expand their skills by completing projects they might not have a previous knowledge of. As a staff, we do our best to prepare students for the real world working environment. 

If you know of a college student looking for an internship, encourage them to apply. The application deadline is November 30. 

Recognize any of these hard working previous interns? 







Fairgrounds in the Fall

September 25, 2018
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With the 2018 Iowa State Fair a month behind us, it’s time to take a break. Just kidding!

Over the last month, staff have worked to clean up the Fairgrounds, tally results and share all of the wonderful moments captured at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. Departments will continue to meet this fall to discuss what worked well and what needs improved moving forward. Construction projects have already started and the 2019 Fair planning is underway.

The Fairgrounds are much quieter right now compared to August but there is always something happening inside the gates. The Fairgrounds will host the Quilt Show, Horse Shows, Flea Market and a Book Sale in the upcoming weeks. Have you ever considered renting a Fairgrounds' building for your next event?  Or maybe you'll plan to attend the Craft Show, Pet Expo or Cheerleading Championships. It's a busy place.

Earlier this month, the Blue Ribbon Foundation updated the online State Fair Store. The shopping experience is more user friendly and easier to navigate. Take a look to see if you missed any merchandise items during the Fair. Staff have been shipping Iowa State Fair souvenirs across the country. Merchandise can also be purchased at our office on the Fairgrounds. We are located in the Earth Home – up the hill, under the wind turbine, across from the Fun Forest. Our office is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.

What else has been happening this fall? Engraved bricks have been ordered and will be placed in the next month. Watch your mailboxes for the fall Newsletter in the next couple weeks. It will include a recap of the successful summer, feature special holiday merchandise, and highlight donations for future Fairgrounds improvement projects.

The fall is a great time to reflect on the chaos of summer. A lot of thank you cards have been written since the Fair ended. Thank you to the 500+ volunteers that donated their time during the Fair to sell merchandise, bottled water and Fair Squares. Thank you to the summer interns that joined our staff. We appreciated your help making the Fair a success. (College students: consider joining us next summer!) A very special thank you to the first time donors and longtime supporters for continuing to the help the Blue Ribbon Foundation improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

A few 2018 Iowa State Fair photos:


Savannah Keitzer, 2018 Donor Relations Intern, and Robin Taylor, BRF Assistant Director, took the golf cart to the Youth Inn and enjoyed an early morning breakfast.


The Blue Ribbon Foundation hosted a Bingo fundraiser along Grand Avenue. 


Peter Cownie, BRF Executive Director, promoted the Fair Squares on KCCI. 


Macy Evans, 2018 Public Relations Intern, showcased this fancy throne during the Woodcarver's Auction. 


This family purchased matching Iowa State Fair t-shirts. What a fun tradition!


There was a full Painting Class on the 3rd floor of the Cultural Center. It was the third year for this fundraiser.


Julianna Curtis, 2018 Volunteer Relations Intern, stopped for a quick picture with volunteers working in the State Fair Store. 


Blue Ribbon Foundation Staff: Meg Courter- Sponsorship Director, Drew Norton - Communications Manager and Robin Taylor - Assistant Director

Single-Largest Individual Gift in the History of the Iowa State Fair

August 24, 2018
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Richard O. Jacobson Foundation Donates Single-Largest Individual Gift in the History of the Iowa State Fair

$10 million gift will be used in part to renovate the 4-H Building

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has received the single-largest individual gift in the organization’s history, a $10 million donation from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. Six million will be used to renovate the 4-H Building, while $4 million will support the Foundation’s endowment, Our Fair’s Future.

“The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is extremely grateful to the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation for this generous, record-setting gift, which will enhance millions of Fairgoers’ experience for years to come,” said Peter Cownie, Executive Director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. “Simply put, this gift allows us to continue preserving the history of the Iowa State Fair, while improving the grounds and the facilities for future generations.”

The 4-H Building renovation will commence following the 2019 Iowa State Fair. The building will be renovated from top to bottom with new lighting and floors, updated facilities and restrooms, construction of a new kitchen facility, and creating additional classroom space.

“Mr. Jacobson cared deeply for the Iowa State Fair, its agricultural history and its support of young people interested in learning more about agriculture,” said the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. “We’re pleased to announce this gift to the Iowa State Fair to support the backbone of the Fair — its agricultural roots."

The $4 million endowment donation will help support the 4-H Building, the Jacobson Exhibition Center, Jacobson Plaza, and Jacobson Hall in the future. Mr. Jacobson’s generosity and previous donations helped build all these facilities for the benefit of Fairgoers. These facilities enhanced the reputation of the Iowa State Fair.

In recognition of this gift, the newly renovated 4-H Building will have a dedicated memorial in honor of Richard O. Jacobson. Jacobson was a businessman and philanthropist who has helped the Blue Ribbon Foundation continue the proud tradition of the Iowa State Fair. This $10 million gift brings the total contribution from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation to $15 million.

“The Jacobson Foundation’s continued generosity will help enhance the Iowa State Fair’s ability to continue timeless traditions and create lasting memories,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO. “We are so grateful for Mr. Jacobson’s longtime support of the state of Iowa and the Iowa State Fair.”

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Since its 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.




Come See us at the Fair!

August 1, 2018
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The Fair is upon us! People from all over the world are settling into the Campgrounds, preparing their prize-winning livestock, and rolling in their food and drink stands for an exciting 11 days in Des Moines, Iowa. From August 9-19th, the whole state of Iowa will celebrate its single largest event and one of the country’s oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions—the great Iowa State Fair!

Beginning in 1854, the first Fair was held in Fairfield, Iowa and attracted an estimated 7,000-10,000 people. As of 2002, the Fair surpassed the one million visitor mark and has continued to do so almost every year since, setting a record-breaking number of 1,130,071 visitors in 2017. This year, we expect another memorable year filled with world-renowned entertainment acts, more than 80 foods on-a-stick, and 600 pounds of butter to bring our famous Butter Cow back to life!


Since 1993, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has been working toward our mission of preserving and improving our beloved and historic Fairgrounds. Over its 26-year lifespan, the Foundation has raised over $138 million through public and private contributions to support this mission and fund over 40 projects.

The Grandstand renovation project is complete - with an additional 4,000 seats, new restrooms, and the new Kum & Go Stage funded by Kum & Go and Kyle and Sharon Krause. This exciting renovation will accommodate larger musical acts and provide an exceptional entertainment experience for all concert-goers.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation also provides funds for this and other projects through our annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party and through our many giving programs. You can visit your family’s engraved brick or personal lamp post at this year’s Fair!

You can also come find any of the Foundation staff members or our many friendly volunteers throughout the grounds during each day of the Fair! Refresh your thirst during the summertime heat at one of our six water booths; purchase a memory for you or a loved one by stopping by one of our merchandise locations; and indulge your inner-child with our classic crisped rice treats on-a-stick at our Fair Squares booth!

Our annual Painting class will be held almost every day of the Fair at the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center, where you can bring one of your favorite aspects of the Fair to life with the stroke of a brush! We will also be holding our first-ever Bingo tent on Grand Avenue. Stop by to see some of our local celebrites announcing the Bingo numbers and donate just $1 to play for the chance to win half of the total earnings per game!


Whether you come for just one day or are hunkering down for a whole two weeks of camping, we would love to share many new memories with you at this year’s Fair and ensure that Nothing Compares to Iowa State Fair Moments!

Helping you make your Fair MOMENTS unforgettable

July 26, 2018
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With the Iowa State Fair right around the corner, the Blue Ribbon Foundation team is busy! It is hard to believe that the great Iowa State Fair is only 13 days away!! Time is flying by this summer and countless hours have been put into making sure that every Fairgoer makes their own MOMENTS this year at the Iowa State Fair.

The Fairgrounds have been busy all summer with landscapers planting new flowers and trees, construction workers completing projects and updating various buildings. We have been busy at the Blue Ribbon Foundation scheduling volunteers to work at our various merchandise and water booth stations, organizing each of the recognition days for the Iowan of the Day recipients, planning B-I-N-G-O, painting classes and SO much more!

During your Fair visit, don’t forget to try the new fan-favorite Fair Square- Krispy Kokonut! A tasty crispy treat with chocolate and toasted coconut. Drop on by the 3rd floor of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center for a painting class! The class is being taught by Missy Pieters, owner and artist at Messy Missy’s Painting Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown- Sign up here to guarantee your spot. And NEW this year is B-I-N-G-O on Wednesday, August 15th all day! Don’t be afraid to make NEW MOMENTS this year.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds are filled with people preparing to make your Fair moments unforgettable. You won’t want to miss out!







Lapel Pins & Pottery & Charms - Oh My!

July 23, 2018
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The Iowa State Fair is a mere 16 days away! With so much to see, do, and eat, the Fair never ceases to create unique, lifelong memories for first-timers and long-time Fairgoers alike. Some guests choose to commemorate their experiences at Iowa’s biggest event with special merchandise items from the Blue Ribbon Foundation, reminding them of time spent with friends at that year’s Fair or continuing a long-time family tradition to “collect ‘em all!” Pottery, Lapel Pins, and Charms are some of the items that continue to find new, artistic ways to represent different aspects of the Fair each year. Curious to see if you did indeed “collect ‘em all” or interested in starting a yearly tradition for you and your family? Below, you will find the entire lists of Pottery, Lapel Pins, and Charms from each year’s Iowa State Fair!


The Iowa State Fair Pottery has been one of the most popular collections for Fair-lovers to enjoy. Starting in 1996, the original pottery piece took the form of a utensil jar and has since transformed into 23 various other shapes, such as a flower pot, a butter churn, and last year’s famous piggy bank. This year, we continue the Pottery tradition with a dinner-worthy plate! Pre-order your 2018 Pottery piece before August 1st by calling the Blue Ribbon Foundation, or find us at one of our six merchandise locations during the Fair!

1996 – Utensil Jar
1997 – Pie Plate
1998 – Porringer (bowl with a spout and a handle)
1999 – Covered Bean Pot
2000 – Butter Crock
2001 – 2-Quart Pitcher
2002 – Flower Pot
2003 – Bowl
2004 – Bread Pan
2005 – Baking Dish
2006 – Utensil Holder
2007 – Vase
2008 – Pottery Pot
2009 – Wine Chiller
2010 – Butter Churn
2011 – Small Beehive Jug
2012 – Compost Pot
2013 – Stein
2014 – Oval Pitcher
2015 – Square Canister
2016 – Mortar & Pestle
2017 – Piggy Bank
2018 – Plate


Lapel Pins:

Dating back to 1993, Lapel Pins are timeless tokens that Fairgoers of all ages can enjoy, displaying them in a shadow box on their fireplace mantles or sporting proudly on their shirts, hats, or backpacks! Find the new 2018 Lapel Pin at our merchandise booths during the Fair or online at the State Fair Store!

1993 – Carousel
1994 – Butter Cow
1995 – Brick
1996 – Ye Old Mill
1997 – Campgrounds
1998 – Grandstand
1999 – Ferris Wheel
2000 – Pioneer Hall
2001 – Varied Industries Building
2002 – 4-H Building
2003 – Livestock Pavilion
2004 – Grand Gates
2005 – Agriculture Building
2006 – Polk County Building/Museum
2007 – Horse Barn
2008 – Administration Building
2009 – Elwell Family Food Center
2010 – Jacobson Exhibition Center
2011 – Butter Cow (head shot)
2012 – Cultural Center
2013 – BRF 20th anniversary (bench, lamp, tree, brick)
2014 – Youth Inn
2015 – Sheep Barn
2016 – Grandfather’s Barn
2017 – Blue Ribbon
2018 – Fair Food
Undated – “Rebuilding the Dream”



For those of you who enjoy a bit of “bling” on their wrists, do we have just the collectible for you…Charm bracelets were first introduced at the Blue Ribbon Foundation in 2008 with both gold and silver options. That year, six Fair charms were released at our store, and every year since, a new charm has been created in both gold and silver to add to the bracelets. As a lover of miniatures myself, these charms are the perfect keepsakes to remember your favorite aspects of the Fair—all at the turn of your wrist! To fill up the rest of your charm bracelet, visit us at the Fair or at the State Fair Store!

2008 – Corndog, Corn, Tractor, Barn, Blue Ribbon, Butter Cow
2009 – Pig
2010 – Sky Glider
2011 – Cherry Pie
2012 – Lemonade
2013 – Horse
2014 – Double Ferris Wheel
2015 – Sheep
2016 – Rooster
2017 – Ye Old Mill Boat
2018 – Music Note



2018 Iowans of the Day

July 18, 2018
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation began the Iowan of the Day award in 1997 to honor those Iowans that truly go above and beyond. The program continues to honor Iowan’s across the state who have made a difference in the lives of others, while upholding the characteristics associated with Iowa- dependability, integrity, hard work and a sense of community.

“We are honored to recognize these tremendous individuals as Iowan of the Day,” said Peter Cownie, Executive Director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation. “Their volunteerism, dedication and service to their community, and to the state of Iowa, make each deserving of this honor.”

2018 Iowan of the Day recipients:

Sheri Avis Horner of West Des Moines- Thursday, August 9th
Ron Hunerdosse of Fairfield- Friday, August 10th
Deb Kosters of Sibley- Saturday, August 11th
Gayle Bortz of Chariton-  Sunday, August 12th
Howard Hammond of Slater- Monday, August 13th
Gary Fulton of Marshalltown- Tuesday, August 14th
Keith Carlson of Stratford- Wednesday, August 15th
Ralph Hodson of Ackworth- Thursday, August 16th
Sid Morris of Cedar Falls- Friday, August 17th
Brenda Lee Larkey of Low Moor- Saturday, August 18th

Each winner will have a day of recognition at the Iowa State Fair. He or she will be recognized on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage and presented as an Iowan of the Day. Along with accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, they will receive a cash prize, Grandstand and Iowa State Fair admission tickets and use of the Iowan of the Day golf cart.



Cheers for Volunteering at the Iowa State Fair!

July 17, 2018
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The countdown is on, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is in full gear getting ready for the Iowa State Fair! Today, we will be hosting our annual Volunteer Reception to help prepare our dedicated volunteers (and ourselves!) for the upcoming Fair. With a meal catered by Campbell’s, a “virtual tour” of the Fairgrounds, and a “goodie bag” for each of our volunteers, tonight is sure to be a blast.

For the last 25 years, volunteers have helped the Foundation raise $138 million in funds to preserve and renovate the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Last year, we had more than 500 volunteers devote over 2,500 hours during the 11 days of the Fair, selling bottled water, merchandise, and Fair Squares. This year, we expect to have even more volunteers helping us make the Fair a memorable experience for the more than one million guests who attend.

Some of the perks of volunteerism include: free gate admission for the day, free parking, and a specialty Blue Ribbon Foundation Volunteer T-shirt made by Broken Arrow! Would you and a friend or family member like to volunteer for this year’s Fair? We still have a few open spots left on our Volunteer Schedule that you can sign up for, so please contact Julianna at 515-262-3111 ext. 379 or at for more details.

For those of you who are volunteering, we look forward to seeing you tonight! For those of you who have yet to experience the thrills of volunteering, we hope to see you at the Fair!



Some pictures of our 2017 water booth volunteers!

See you in 25 days!

July 13, 2018
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There’s 25 days until the Iowa State Fair! Make sure you have these 25 items on your Iowa State Fair bucket list! 

1. New Fair Square- Krispy Kokonut made with chocolate and toasted coconut. Don’t let the coconut scare you away- us interns have had our fair share!

2. Add new Iowa State Fair charms to your charm bracelet with a new Iowa State Fair themed charm and a music note.

3. Outhouse Races- On Tuesday, August 14th catch the Blue Ribbon Foundation outhouse racing down Grand Avenue.

4. Thank you to Sandra Freeman Downie for her $1 million donation to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation so we can continue to make the Iowa State Fair a place Iowan’s can be proud of. 

5. Painting Class- Test out your creative side by painting your favorite Iowa State Fair scene. Sign up here to reserve your spot!

6. More than 100 new bricks were laid over the summer, check them out! If you want one, purchase it here!

7. Take home your very own memorabilia with this hand-crafted pottery plate.

8. Iowan of the Day- Look out for these 10 special people on golf carts and on the Bill Riley Stage every day at 2:00 p.m.

9. Come ready every day to check out the “Day of Fair” sponsors- they will be sure to educate you on their business and/or organization through hands on activities.

10. Our lapel pin will look great on anyone- featuring your favorite Iowa State Fair foods.

11. Isabel Bloom- This perfectly crafted hand-made pig is essential décor for any home. Find it at one of our 5 merchandise locations.

12. Volunteers- The Blue Ribbon Foundation would not function as efficiently without our 500+ dedicated volunteers! Find these people working tirelessly in the red shirts.

13. Relax on a bench- gifted by a generous donor. These can be found all around the Iowa State Fair.

14. Grandstand- Attend one of the eleven nights of entertainment at the NEW Kum and Go Stage with an additional 4,000 seats!

15. Behind every plaque is a story- find the plaques on trees around the Iowa State Fair.

16. An original favorite- make sure you test out again the original and peanut butter fair squares!

17. Bingo on Grand- B4 you get too busy, play a game of B-I-N-G-O for only $1.00 with the chance of winning ½ the total amount collected per game. Held on Wednesday, August 15th from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

18. You can’t leave the Iowa State Fair without purchasing a new Iowa State Fair t-shirt! Find it at many of our merchadise stands. 

19. Iowa State Fair Sticks Plaque commemorates all of the favorite animals that you can find at the Iowa State Fair.

20. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is excited to be a 2018 recipient of the Prairie Meadows Legacy Grant program for a $600,000 contribution.

21. Milking Parlor- The new glass in the milking parlor allows for better visualization of the milking process. Educational and fun!

22. Legislative Day- Run into your representative on Thursday, August 16th at the Iowa State Fair. All Representatives will be recognized during the Iowan of the Day program at 2:00 p.m. on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage. 

23. Wood Carvers Auction- Bid on the wood sculptors’ hard work during the fair at the 2018 Woodcarver’s Auction.

24. Christmas in August- A corndog ornament would look perfect on your Christmas tree. Find it at many of our merchandise locations.

25. Water- Perfect for those hot MOMENTS.

Be sure to share your Iowa State Fair MOMENTS with us by tagging the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation with your pictures on Facebook.  We can’t wait to see the streets filled with people, all enjoying the Iowa State Fair.

-Macy and Savannah