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 $165 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.

Join us for the 4th annual Painting Class!

July 24, 2019
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I don’t know about you, but this summer has gone by so fast. It is crazy that the Iowa State Fair will begin in 14 short days! I am so excited for the Fair to begin and to see the crowds enjoy their favorite activities at the Fair.

Whether you have attended the Fair for years or this is your first time coming, there is something for you! Every day of the Fair the Blue Ribbon Foundation will be offering a painting class to “Paint the Fair.” This will be the 4th annual social painting class, and this allows Fairgoers with the opportunity to have fun and give to the future of the Fair. All proceeds from this class will be dedicated to our endowment fund, “Our Fair’s Future.” As this endowment grows, it continues to provide funding for current and future renovation projects to the Fairgrounds.

Classes will be offered each day of the Fair at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center on the 3rd floor. However, there will be no classes held on Tuesday, August 13 and the mornings of Sunday, August 11 and 18. If you can’t make it during the day, night sessions will be offered on August 10,11,15,16 at 6:00 p.m.

The cost of attendance is $35 which includes a canvas, paint, brushes, and instructions on how to paint your favorite Fair scene. These classes will be taught by Missy Pieters, owner and artist at Messy Missy’s Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown.

If you are interested in signing up please take the time to complete our online Painting Class Registration Form. On-site registration will be available half an hour before each class starts. Each class has space for 50 painters, so sign up today!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at or (515) 262-3111 ext. 377.

- Maggie Mathiasen

Competitions at the Fair!

July 18, 2019
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The Iowa State Fair is 20 days away!

The Iowa State Fair is known for being a great State Fair! One of the things that makes our Fair so great are all of the different competitions that take place! This year for the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff, held last weekend, the theme was “Let the Competition Begin!” Attendees sat at tables with centerpieces themed after some of the Iowa State Fair competitions and got their picture taken to look like they were part of muttin’ busting and the outhouse races. Read on to learn about more competitions that you may have never heard about at the Fair!

Checkers Tournament
Youth Checkers: Friday, August 16 • 9 a.m. Registration: 8 to 9 a.m.
Adult (18 years +) Checkers: Saturday, August 17 • 9 a.m. Registration: 8 to 9 a.m.
Administration Building Porch, east side Contact: Tim Moore, 319/325-3635,
DESCRIPTION: A board game with two opponents; the object is to capture your opponent’s pieces.

Wednesday, August 14 • 11 a.m. • Older Iowans Day at the Anne and Bill Riley Stage sponsored by Pepsi with media sponsor CW Iowa 23 Registration: 9:30 a.m.
East of the Anne and Bill Riley stage
Contact: Kathie Ruth, 515/967-7092,
DESCRIPTION: Dress up your favorite hat and show it off at the Fair

Tuesday, August 13 • 2:30 p.m. Grand Concourse Sponsored by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses
Contact: Darlene Kretzschmar, 515/988-0583,
DESCRIPTION: Teams gather and create home-made outhouses on wheels and compete in a relay race.

Bags Tournament
Saturday, August 17 Registration: Singles: 9-9:45 a.m., Doubles: 9 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Singles: 10 a.m. Doubles: 12 p.m. Grand Concourse
Sponsored by VPS

Contact: Ryan Beck, 515/975-0419,

DESCRIPTION: Toss corn-filled bags into an angled board. Players score points by hitting the board or making it in the hole.

Visit to learn more about different Fair time competitions. Remember to take part in all your #FairFavorites but also branch out and try new things!


- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

The Fair is just around the corner... we are keeping busy!

July 17, 2019
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Things are starting to get busier and busier around the Fairgrounds now and the Blue Ribbon Foundation interns are excited to start welcoming hundreds of people of to the Fairgrounds. Tomorrow a large group of the Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers will be gathering on the Fairground in preparation for their jobs during the Fair. Volunteers will receive a meals catered by Campbells Food’s, schedules, this year’s volunteer t-shirt and more!

It seems like I am buried in manila envelopes, tickets, and t-shirts but I am loving it! There are still around 80 spots available to volunteer with the Foundation this year! With only 22 days until the start of the Fair I can’t wait to see everyone’s smiling faces serving water and selling merchandise to the thousands of Fairgoers. Interested in taking some time out of your day to volunteer? Click the link below to access our sign up page and view our available shifts. We would love to add you to the volunteer crew this year! Have questions about volunteering? Feel free to contact me or call 515-262-3111 Ext. 379.


It's Corndog Kickoff Time!

July 2, 2019
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Hello everyone and happy July! July means a busy month for all of us here at the Foundation. The Kickoff is only a short 11 days away and we couldn’t be more excited for the event to get here. As you may know, the Fair has a major volunteer force helping to make every day a success, and the Kickoff is no different! A group of around 100 volunteers come together to serve food, sell tickets, supervise auctions, help you get the perfect Instagrammable picture at our photo backdrops, and more! The Corndog Kickoff volunteers help the night become one of the best and most memorable pre-Fair parties the Fairgrounds has ever seen. We are looking forward to seeing our volunteers show up the night of the event bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for an incredible night.

The Foundation is always looking for ways to add to the Corndog Kickoff, and this year with the help of our volunteers we are excited to debut a few new items! This year G Migs from West Des Moines Iowa will be alongside some of the tastiest and most savory Fair foods yet serving up their delicious pretzel bites and beer cheese appetizers. Accompanying G Migs in its introductory year at the Kickoff, the Foundation will be holding a scratch ticket raffle game where guests can buy a ticket for $10 and win some incredible prizes. A little birdy told the interns there may be a chance to win some Grandstand concert tickets as well! Who isn’t smiling when you are surrounded by delicious Fair Food and unique auction packages? Our photo booths are sure to put a smile on your face; this is your chance to fulfill your State Fair Dreams of competing in the legendary Outhouse Races. This is your chance to race down the Grand Concourse in the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s custom outhouse, collect your toilet paper roll and cross the finish line. Never got the chance to compete in Mutton Busting as a kid? Problem solved! The Blue Ribbon Foundation will be there to cheer you on to victory as you stand next to your very own sheep! If this all sounds like too much fun to be missing out on, tickets are still available to purchase for $125 through the Foundations website at; or at the door the night of the event. Start to get your smiles polished and your bidding arm ready it’s Corndog Kickoff time!



Summer Newsletter: 1999, 2009, and 2019

June 28, 2019
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation this summer?

The Blue Ribbon’s Summer Newsletter is out and up on the Foundation’s website. This issue highlights new Fair merchandise items, upcoming events such as the Corndog Kickoff, and of course a profile of some of our wonderful donors. Make sure to mark your calendar for the 2019 Corndog Kickoff on Saturday, July 13!

The Newsletter also includes information about Blue Ribbon’s ”Paint the Fair” classes held every day during the Fair. These will be held on the third floor of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center. Sign up early and get your spot!

What was happening 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, The Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center was under construction and was to be completed by the 2010 Fair. The Elwell Family Food Center had also recently been under construction, but was going to be open to the public for the first time during the 2009 Iowa State Fair.

This issue highlighted several different merchandise items including the new custom-designed board game “It’s a Fair Game”. A pottery wine chiller, Elwell Family Food Center lapel pin, china box, soup bowl mug, and ornament were also included as new merchandise items.

Lorne and Kathi Scharnberg, founders of Katecho Inc. were recognized as gracious donors in the donor profile of the newsletter. The Scharnbergs have been attending the Iowa State Fair since the 1980’s when they first moved to Iowa. Their love and faith in the Fair have brought them back to enjoy the fun Fair festivities year after year. The Scharnbergs have also been attending and donating to the Corndog Kickoff since 2001.

What was happening 20 years ago?

In the 1999 Summer Newsletter, former Blue Ribbon Executive Director John Putney is pictured on the front cover with former Governor Vilsack. On May 24, Vilsack signed the Iowa Legislature’s bill for state infrastructure funding into law, allocating $10 million over the next two years to rebuild the Varied Industries Building.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation was premiered several new and fun merchandise items for the 1999 Fair. Items included “Fair Buddies” stuffed animals, a variety of bucket hats, double-ferris wheel pins, embroidered shirts, stainless steel mugs, and covered bean pots. There were also several fun auction items allocated for that year’s Corndog Kickoff. Backstage passes with Reba McEntire, brand new Maytag Washer and Dryer, hot air balloon ride, and a ride on the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch were just a few!
The donor profile featured the Taylor family of Taylor Ball Industries. Jack and Gabriella Taylor have been longtime Fairgoers and love supporting the Fair through the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s creative fundraising and giving programs.

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!



2019 Woodcarver's Auction

June 27, 2019
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Each year the Iowa State Fairgrounds are dotted with hand-painted sculptures that resemble a Fair time favorite. The last few have included a horse, an ice cream cone, the state of Iowa and a pig. This year’s #FairFavorite statue is a baby elephant, celebrating the 90th birthday of Baby Mine. Baby Mine was a 4-foot tall baby elephant that came to the Fair in 1929, thanks to 15,000 Iowa children that helped sponsor and name him by sending in nearly $1,000 nickels and dimes. For the last few years the Blue Ribbon Foundation has had its own statue in front of the Administration Building. This year we partnered with Sticks Inc. on a design for the Foundation’s elephant statue. This elephant will be auctioned off at the 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction.

The Woodcarver’s Auction is an event put on by the Blue Ribbon Foundation on the last Sunday of the Fair. Many different items are auctioned off including chainsaw wood carvings created by T.J. Jenkins and Gary Keenan, sculptors and registered chainsaw carvers. They will be sharing their art with Fairgoers each day. Spectators can watch four times a day as the nationally known pair turn simple logs into everything from animals to people.

Gary will carve nearly anything that reasonably fits the tree or log. He stays busy with commissioned work, carving both topped trees and freestanding logs. He has done well in competitions, both in the U.S. and abroad. Gary was invited to participate in “Sculptree”/Westonbirt Festival of the Tree that took place in August 2007, in England. This was quite an honor, since Gary was the only American to be invited out of a total of only twelve wood sculptors invited. Gary also carves at fairs, festivals, city events and open houses.

TJ’s work as a chainsaw artist all started with a rotten log used for chainsaw carving practice. With lots of practice, he ended up carving a bear head out of a tree trunk. Since then, he has carved over 70 bear heads in all shapes, sizes and painted with the wildest color schemes you can imagine.


The Woodcarver’s Auction will also feature Champion meats that will be up for bid during the sale.

The 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction will be held on Sunday, August 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center. All funds generated from the auction will be used by the Blue Ribbon Foundation to preserve and renovate the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Last year’s auction raised $56,500 for the Foundation.


- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

Join us for Bingo at the Iowa State Fair!

June 26, 2019
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When it comes to the Fair, there are so many great things to do. We all have a difficult time deciding what new foods we want to try, what concerts we want to see, or what games we should play. However, there is one event that you can’t miss…Bingo on Grand Avenue!

No matter what age you are, Bingo is always a great way to have fun and show your competitive spirit. At the 2018 Fair the Blue Ribbon Foundation debuted our first Bingo event. With a wonderful turnout last year, we can easily say that Bingo has become a #FairFavorite. We are excited to announce that we will be hosting Bingo again this year on Grand Avenue sponsored by the Better Business Bureau; make sure to bring your friends and family for a great time! 

All Fairgoers are encouraged to participate in Bingo that will be taking place on Wednesday, August 14 from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. To play, participants donate $1 per card for each round of the game. Winners will receive 50 percent of the total earnings from each game. This is a great chance to have a seat, play a game of Bingo, win prize money, and support the renovation and preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation recognizes the importance of the Iowa State Fair, as this is an event that any Iowan can take great pride in. When Fairgoers are walking throughout the Fairgrounds, we want to ensure they have a chance to see the beautiful and historic buildings that have been on the Fairgrounds since its inception, and the new buildings that contribute to our success. As you attend the Fair this year, we encourage you to look at all the buildings and see the renovations and updates that are being made to our facilities. These updates would not be possible without the many generous donations and support we receive from longtime Fair-lovers.

The Iowa State Fair is an internationally acclaimed event and the single largest event in the state of Iowa. Every donation matters, and every dollar raised provides us with an opportunity to support this historical event.  Please join us for Bingo on the Grand Concourse to join in our mission of renovating and preserving our beloved Fairgrounds. We can’t wait to see you there!

  - Maggie Mathiasen 


Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan Trip

June 20, 2019
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The 2019 Iowa State Fair will celebrate the 165th anniversary of the Fair. Looking back, our great State Fair started in Fairfield, IA in 1854. In 1954, many Iowans celebrated the centennial of the Fair with a horse caravan consisting of 509 people, 471 horses and 40 covered wagons traveling from Fairfield, IA to the Fairgrounds in Des Moines officially opening the Fair. The trip was a four-day event and covered 114 miles. The occasion was so monumental that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former President Herbert Hoover visited as well. A 20-foot time capsule, called the Centurlon, was created to mark the occasion. The collection inside will give Fairgoers in 2054 a good look at Iowa life a century ago. I am looking forward to the opening of this time capsule in 35 years!

My grandma Jackie (Paul) Henchal and her father Wendell Paul were part of this trip as their family made it part of their vacation that summer. My great-grandmother kept an excellent scrapbook that recorded this event complete with photo evidence! The group traveled rain or shine and it is noted that it was either pouring down rain or steaming hot on the excursion.

As the group entered the Fairgrounds a crowd of an estimated 20,500 people were gathered in the grandstand to watch the grand parade of the big Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan trip! The total estimated attendance at the Fair that Saturday was 85,000.

As the Iowa State Fair moves forward and introduces new competitions, events, and foods each year it is important to remember the rich history behind our Fair by celebrating traditions, monuments, and events that continue to make our Fair so special.

The Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan trip is one of my #FairFavorites as a story told by my grandma each year. Be sure to mark your calendar for the 2019 Iowa State Fair, August 8-18.

- Gabrielle Gerke (PR Intern)


Butter Cow Theme Announced!

June 19, 2019
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If you have ever attended the Iowa State Fair, I am sure that you have heard of the butter cow sculpture. The butter cow has stood the test of time, as many people consider this sculpture to be the highlight of the Fair. If you have never had the chance to attend the Fair, or haven’t seen the butter cow, pack up your bags and make a trip to the 2019 Iowa State Fair!

The first butter cow sculpture was created in 1911 by J.K. Daniels. Through the years several people have had the opportunity to take over the sculpting duties. In 2006, after 15 years of apprenticing, Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines became the Fair’s fifth butter sculptor. Sarah has continued to do an amazing job each year, and we have no doubt she will succeed again.

The Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa Butter. The sculpting takes place inside of a 40 degree cooler, and layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges.

To put this sculpture in perspective: A real dairy cow weighs more than 1,000 pounds, but the buttered version comes in at around 600 pounds and measures 5 1/2-ft high and 8 ft long. With that amount you could butter about 19,200 slices of toast which would take an average person two lifetimes to consume!

This year’s butter cow will be a big hit with the kids! Keeping the butter cow company will be characters from Sesame Street. The Iowa State Fair has a rich and long-lasting relationship with Iowa Public Television. We are excited that we will get to honor the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street, but also the 50th anniversary of Iowa Public Television

The butter sculpture will be on display for the duration of the Fair which runs from August 8-18. Stop in at Agriculture Building to see this iconic sculpture!


_ Maggie Mathiasen 

Iowa State Fair's "Fair After Dark" Returns

June 17, 2019
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Fair After Dark will be returning again this year with two fun-filled nights. For the second year in a row, this behind the scenes event will allow Fairgoers 21 and older to participate in two separate activities: The Hungry Games and Crafts and Crafts!

The Hungry Games will be on Saturday, August 10 in the Elwell Family Food Center. What are the Hungry Games you ask? This fun-tastic, food-lovers event is a combination of competition and sweetness. Come and participate in an adult version of cupcake wars, ugliest cake competition, “Chopped” gone Fair style, and sample delicious beef, pork, corn and more! Templeton Rye will be making an appearance as well, teaching participants how to pair Templeton Rye whiskey with different meat selections.

Crafts and Crafts will be on Thursday, August 15 in the Pattie and Jim Cownie Cultural Center. You don’t have to be Van Gough to come to this event—bring your friends and get creative with hands-on activities like wood art, bracelet making, photography and art that you literally get to light on fire! Iowa Craft Beer will be at both events with plenty of delicious craft beers and ciders to sip on all night.

Participants must be 21 or older to attend. IDs will be checked at the door.

Tickets include:

-VIP access
-Food and drink samples
-Food contests
-Multiple take home crafts
-(2) Drink tickets

Tickets for the event are $30.00 each and are available for purchase now on the Fair website!

- Joy Van Wyngarden