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.

Small but Important Improvement

February 15, 2021
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Blue Ribbon Foundation donors have been responsible for large-scale improvement projects across the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Let’s look back at the Cattle Barn.

The John and Emily Putney Family Cattle Barn, covering 154,000 square feet with room to hold 1,600 head of cattle, is one of the most commanding structures on the Fairgrounds. The brick building was constructed in two major stages, in 1914 and 1920, uniting the original north and south barns and adding the sale ring.

Many improvements have been made to the Cattle Barn over the years. Updates included a new roof, new concrete floor in the foyer area and both the north and south ends of the west side were extended 35 feet to the sidewalk creating annexes used throughout the year.

Something small (that might seem insignificant but is essential) was recently updated. Earlier this year, crews upgraded the dozen Cattle Barn restroom hand dryers. Yes, it sounds simple but having functioning, hygienic and energy-efficient hand dryers are an improvement to any restroom experience. 

The Fairgrounds is hosting the Iowa Beef Expo this week. With the extra cold temperatures, the Blue Ribbon Foundation knows the new hand dryers will be used and appreciated by all attendees. 

The Foundation will continue to support smaller projects across the Fairgrounds this year. We hope you join our mission!


Next Generation of Farmers, Innovators and Leaders

February 9, 2021
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Iowans across the state can cultivate a vibrant future by investing in today's youth. The Iowa State Fair is dedicated to investing in the next generation of farmers, innovators and leaders. The Blue Ribbon Foundation raises funds to maintain the top-notch facilities on the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds - providing an environment for youth to be successful. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has been able to offer the Corndog Tax Checkoff as a way for Iowans to financially support our efforts. While completing your Iowa State Tax Return, simply give a donation on line 57b of Iowa's 1040 tax form.

This action provides a reliable source of funding for future renovations, building enhancements and maintenance. Your donation will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount due. Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.

Participating in the Corndog Checkoff is a simple way Iowans can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Foundation is determined to maintain the beautiful Iowa State Fairgrounds and help grow the next group of Fair lovers.

Thank you for your loyalty to our great Iowa State Fair and ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for future generations.


Winter Newsletter: 2001, 2011 and 2021

February 1, 2021
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation traditionally starts our year by thanking donors. It’s our goal to thank supporters throughout the year but we take extra pride in flipping the calendar and recognizing what our organization is most grateful for – you!

Listed in each Winter Newsletter is the Roll of Donors. All gifts of any size are important to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Each dollar donated has factored into our accomplishments over time. This list includes donations made to our general renovation fund as well as contributions to our endowment since 1993.

Making an appearance in each of the newsletters is also information about the Corndog Tax Checkoff. The program provides an easy way to contribute through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return. When completing your 2020 taxes, look for “State Fair” on Line 57b on Iowa Form 1040.

What’s new with the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we start 2021?

  • Thank you to the donors that took on the challenge and shared our vision for the future! The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2020 “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign raised $82,875 for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Thank you!
  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation is once again looking for 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. This year, we are shining the spotlight on the Agriculture Building. Money raised from the 2021 T.A.G. Team will be used to upgrade 96 lights on the Agriculture Building’s first level, under the balcony.
  • Donor Profile - Debbie Stewart: In addition to volunteering with the Foundation, Debbie is a member of the 1854 Society, a Corndog Kickoff Patron and supports the Blue Ribbon Foundation by purchasing items in the annual benefit auction. It’s truly a family affair since Debbie’s children also volunteer with the Foundation.
  • Read the 2021 Winter Newsletter.

So, what was happening 10 years ago?

  • More than 400 runners and walkers gathered on the Fairgrounds in November for the second annual Fairgrounds 5K. The event raised $11,000!
  • With the newly constructed Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Foundation was welcoming new members in Jake’s Club. This membership program, still active today, is a great place to watch your favorite horse show during the Fair.
  • Donor Profile - Mike and Ann Gersie: Highlighting a Fair loving couple, the Gersies first gave to the Blue Ribbon Foundation in 1993 and have made a donation every year since. The couple have managed to encompass each giving program that’s been offered. With each inscription across the Fairgrounds, there is a simple and friendly message: “Have a great day and enjoy the Fair!”

And what was happening 20 years ago?

  • In 2001, Grand Avenue was scheduled to be graded and repaved in the spring. New lamp posts were added to the street and the Shine On program was created. The program has since expanded to have plaques on lamp posts all across the Fairgrounds.
  • Plans were already in motion for the Foundation’s largest fundraising event, the Corndog Kickoff with an exciting change in the event venue. Because of the growing crowd, the event was moving from Pioneer Hall to the Agriculture Building. The event has since moved to the Varied Industries Building. Save the Date for the 2021 Corndog Kickoff – Saturday, July 10.
  • The Foundation’s expanding website was gaining momentum. You could now give a brick donation or buy Iowa State Fair souvenirs online.
  • Donor Profile – Sticks, Inc: One of the Foundation’s more beautiful relationships was started 20 years ago. Sticks, Inc. donated an item to the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction – something the company still does today. The unique pieces embody the Iowa State Fair and the state of Iowa – consistently one of the most anticipated and high selling items in the auction.

Programs have developed, new projects have advanced and things have changed over the years. Nevertheless, the loyalty of Blue Ribbon Foundation donors continues to grow. Thank you for your support!

Indoor Activities

January 25, 2021
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As Iowans hunker down to endure more of the winter season over the next couple of months, the Blue Ribbon Foundation thought everyone could use some ideas for indoor activities. Here are some “Beat the Winter Blues – Blue Ribbon Foundation Style”. 

Engraved Brick Donation: Get the entire family involved to come up with a unique and creative inscription for an engraved brick on the Fairgrounds. Does your family ride the Ye Old Mill every year? Commemorate the experience with your own brick. I can see it now… 




Iowa State Fair GamesWhat better way to spend an evening indoors than playing a game. 

  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation has “It’s A Fair Game” available for sale. It is similar to the game of Life where each player has a career, travels and experiences new things. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. Our version is all about the Iowa State Fair. Your career could be as a State Fair staff person, entertainer or exhibitor. You participate in contests and eat Fair food as you make your way across the Fairgrounds to the campgrounds.
  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation also has a puzzle available in the State Fair Store. This two-sided puzzle features a beautiful photograph of a Fairgrounds’ sunset. The other side is a brick pad complete with real donors’ names and inscriptions.

New Recipes: Who feels like trying something new in the kitchen? Take advice from experts and their blue ribbon winning recipes in the 20th Edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook.

  • Mexi-Mac’N Cheese, Tailgatin’Chili or Cinnamon Chip Scones all sound delicious to me!


Read a New Book: Take time this winter to learn more about your favorite summertime event. There is a history book with details, interesting stories and lots of photos from past Fairs. You can also learn about the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s history as an organization in the book, A Great State Fair - The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair.

If you are like me, dreaming of summertime keeps you motivated in the winter. Does your summer To-Do List, include any Blue Ribbon Foundation related activities? 

  • Iowan of the Day: Do some brainstorming about what community members in your hometown went above and beyond to help others. Consider nominating that person as an Iowan of the Day during the 2021 Iowa State Fair.
  • Stay tuned for details about the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction, Saturday July 10. Want to be involved with the event? Donating an auction package consisting of your product or service is an excellent way to promote your company, as it will be seen - and bid on - by nearly 2,000 attendees.
  • Volunteer: Each year, more than 500 Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers donate their time and energy by selling merchandise and bottled water at the Foundation's many stands. Stayed tuned for volunteer information in June 2021.

Winter in Iowa can be a beautiful time of year but we are thankful it's only one of the seasons. Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we count down the days to the Iowa State Fair – less than 200 days to go!


Reflecting on History

January 19, 2021
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When flipping through the Iowa State Fair History Book, I came across a short article on the original State Fair roller coaster. With the last several months feeling like a roller coaster ride – it caught my eye.

The State Fair Roller Coaster

Some people somewhere in Des Moines are living in houses built from a wooden roller coaster.

The roller coaster was constructed in 1908 northeast of the Grandstand and was owned by Jimmie and Johnny Kenenan of Oklahoma City. Before the Fair resumed in 1946 after a four-year hiatus because of World War ll – the decision was made to tear down the coaster because it was rotting around the footings.  Materials were in short supply, so that spring, former Fair Secretary A.R. Corey’s two sons along with 12 other men, dismantled the coaster and sold the lumber to a carpenter for construction of houses.

According to an article in The Des Moines Register, “To the hardened roller coaster addict, the Fair ride was tamer than those at Arnolds Park or Riverview in Des Moines. But tens of thousands of others found it plenty exciting.”

What a neat piece of history that makes the Iowa State Fair unique. I’m sure at the time Fairgoers missed the roller coaster when it had to be removed. But just like today, the Iowa State Fair is continuing to evolve. It’s a balance of keeping the history/traditions but adjusting to the changes in technology and advancements.  The midway as a whole has changed since 1908 but the fun games and rides for all ages continue to get better year after year.

Another part of this story stood out to me – “Before the Fair resumed in 1946 after a four-year hiatus”. Don’t forget, the Fair was postponed because of World War ll. And 75 years ago, maintenance crews were making improvements to the Fairgrounds before the Iowa State Fair returned. Fast forward to now – that’s exactly what staff is doing today!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is supporting small and much needed improvement projects across the Fairgrounds to prepare for when we can gather this August to celebrate the Iowa State Fair!

As I’ve said before, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I bet 75 years ago, there were Fair lovers that were excited to welcome back the event after the hiatus and stepped up to donate their time and resources to make sure the Fair came back better than ever.

You play an important role in fulfilling the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of helping the Iowa State Fair thrive.  We look forward to seeing you, your friends, and your families at the Fair this summer.


Renovate & Preserve

January 12, 2021
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As tax time approaches, it’s also time for Iowans to consider supporting the preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a donation through the Corndog Tax Checkoff.

Throughout its history, the Iowa State Fair has served to educate, inform, and entertain visitors 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 salute to agriculture, industry, and achievement.

But a long history and annually hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors takes a toll. The Fairgrounds continue to need the financial generosity and commitment of Fair lovers who support preservation and renovation projects. Through the Corndog Tax Checkoff, it’s easy to make a donation to ensure these vital efforts continue. Every dollar is directed to preserving the historic Fairgrounds.

Whether you complete your state tax forms yourself or involve a professional tax preparer, the Blue Ribbon Foundation asks Iowans to consider making a donation to ensure the Fair remains a thriving tradition for generations to come. Look for “State Fair” on line 57b on Form 1040. Donations are deducted from a refund or added to the amount due, plus are fully tax-deductible on next year’s tax forms.

For 28 years, the Iowa State Fair 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 complete renovation of the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building in 2020, one by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were saved from the ravages of time and upgraded for modern use. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds the best in the nation.

Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation with a Corndog Checkoff donation. 


Save the Date

January 4, 2021
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Happy New Year! The Blue Ribbon Foundation hopes everyone had a wonderful holiday. As you start to make plans for 2021, please add these dates to your calendar.

March 31: Deadline for Giving Programs - Celebrate your Fair-loving family with an engraved brick or paver on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Check out the newest program, Spirit of Generosity donor wall inside the 4-H Building. The deadline to have an item in place by the 2021 Iowa State Fair is March 31.

April 15: Deadline to file your Taxes - The Corndog Checkoff provides an easy way to contribute to the Blue Ribbon Foundation through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return. Look for “State Fair” on line 57b on Iowa Form 1040. Every dollar donated is directed to preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

June: Volunteers - Although we don’t have a specific sign-up date or deadline yet, the month of June is when the Blue Ribbon Foundation starts to recruit volunteers. Each year, more than 500 Fairgoers donate their time and energy by helping sell merchandise and bottled water at the Foundation's many stands. We’d love to have your help.

July 1: Iowan of the Day Nomination Deadline - There are so many people across Iowa that contribute to making our cities, towns, and our state a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Now, more than ever - the Blue Ribbon Foundation wants to recognize the most deserving. Start working on your Iowan of the Day application now so we can honor the outstanding volunteer in your life. The deadline to submit your application is July 1. 

July 10: Corndog Kickoff - The Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party is a fun-filled night with your favorite Fair foods and a variety of unique auction packages to satisfy any State Fair enthusiast. As our largest fundraiser, this event gets you ready for the Iowa State Fair while making future renovation projects a possibility.

August 12-22: Iowa State Fair - The Blue Ribbon Foundation is planning new and fun ways to engage donors during the Iowa State Fair! We will sell merchandise, host BINGO, and show off all of the improvement projects completed. Stay tuned for more updates over the next 8 months.

These are just a few of the many fundraising opportunities the Blue Ribbon Foundation has planned for the year. Details about all of these exciting events and programs can be found on our website:

P.S. Are you getting our monthly ENews? If not, sign up on our website. It's the best way to stay up to date!


Celebrating 2020

December 29, 2020
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The year 2020 might be remembered as one of the most chaotic and heartbreaking. People, businesses and special events, like the Iowa State Fair, all suffered. In all honesty, it was the worst year many of us have ever experienced.

However, in trying to keep a positive attitude – the Blue Ribbon Foundation did have a few things to celebrate this year.

Online Benefit Auction: When we realized we wouldn’t be able to gather at the normal Corndog Kickoff, the Blue Ribbon Foundation created the first (and hopefully last) "No Fair - I Do Care!" Benefit Auction. 

Donors rallied behind the Foundation by donating exciting auction packages that displayed talents and highlighted many businesses. Supporters embraced the new technology and did their bidding online. The auction generation $65,560 for Fairgrounds renovations. Whether you won a package or not, your participation and support made a difference. Thank you.

“Big Challenges, Bigger Vision” Fundraising Campaign: It’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at the Iowa State Fair’s To-Do List. There are constant improvements that need to be done to keep the grounds functioning. Maintaining the buildings, barns and streets within the 445 acres is a challenge.

With this unique fundraising campaign, the Blue Ribbon Foundation took time to reflect on our mission, goals and vision for the future. Donors joined us in raising more than $50,000 for needed projects to keep the Fairgrounds moving in the right direction. Thank you.

Iowa State Fair Souvenirs: When you can’t visit the Iowa State Fair, bring the Fair home to you. And that’s just what donors did! I can imagine Fair families, staying home, putting together the Iowa State Fair puzzle or playing the State Fair game. All while wearing their matching chocolate chip cookie socks and Butter Cow Stocking Hats.

Shipping thousands of packages across the country kept staff busy this summer and holiday season. We enjoyed the challenge of turning our office into a mini Amazon warehouse. All while knowing we were putting smiles on faces - the kind of smiles only the Iowa State Fair can create.

So what is the Blue Ribbon Foundation most thankful for in 2020? Hands down - our donors! 

The Foundation was flooded with support throughout the year. In addition to monetary contributions, donors reached out to share their favorite Iowa State Fair memories. With the disappointment of the cancelation, also came excitement about the future. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Soon we will be able to look back, reflect on what we learned in 2020 and be thankful for the years to come. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation and believing in our mission to keep the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds a special place for today’s Fair lover and the next generation. Happy New Year!


Iowans across the Country

December 23, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation sells the official Iowa State Fair souvenirs as a fundraiser for our organization. In a normal year, we would set up six stands across the Fairgrounds and provide Fairgoers with t-shirts, hats, and all sorts of merchandise to commemorate their visit to the event.

True Iowa State Fair fans take pride in their State Fair collectibles and the Foundation knew they wouldn’t want a year missing in the collection. With 2020 charms, lapel pins, ornaments, and all sorts of goodies – Iowans purchased items in the online State Fair Store.

Most of the summer and this holiday season, I’ve felt like an Amazon worker. I developed quite the system for downloading orders, gathering merchandise, boxing and creating shipping labels. (A big shout-out to ISF employee, Kenny, for making countless trips to the post office to deliver packages!)

I’d say Iowans are our main customers but these packages are not just staying within the state. In 2020, I have shipped merchandise to 38 states across the country!

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, and Wisconsin

WOW! If we didn’t need proof before…the Iowa State Fair is truly loved by so many. I wonder how many of these supporters are original Iowans that have moved or outsiders that love our event so much they could not go without their annual souvenir.

Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation with your purchases through the online State Fair Store. Staff are already working on fun and creative merchandise for 2021. Enjoy your little piece of the Iowa State Fair throughout the year – we’ll see you in August!


History worth preserving. A future worth creating.

December 15, 2020
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Let's not forget the Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. Annually attracting more than a million people from all over the world, the Iowa State Fair is a great celebration, a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement.

It is the true heartbeat of the Midwest, unequaled and unduplicated. (Just in case we needed a reminder.)

Over the past 160 years the Iowa State Fair has grown, reflecting the development and growth of our great state. What will the next 160 years hold?

You can help determine these future developments by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission to improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Work is still needed on many buildings as we look forward to what the future will bring.

Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation's "Big Challenges - Bigger Vision" Fundraising Campaign. This growing base of donors leads our charge to renovate and preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. A gift of $25, $50, or $100 will secure Iowa State Fair family traditions for the next generation. Donate Today

Thank you!