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 $195 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.

2014 Interns

February 19, 2014
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As I continue to get myself organized for this spring and summer, I keep finding little projects that will eventually need to be completed.  More than once, I’ve said to myself, “this would be a great project for the interns.” 
January was a month of intern interviews as we searched for three people to become part of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team for the 2014 Iowa State Fair. It was only three years ago that I came to the Foundation office for the first time, extremely nervous for my internship interview. Being on the opposite side of the table this year, I may or may not have been just as nervous.  
I was impressed with the talent level of the students that applied for the position. I enjoyed talking and learning more about each of the applicants we interviewed.  They were all very motivated and involved in a wide range of activities. Several students expressed how they were goal-oriented and dedicated to their work. Whether it was excelling in the classroom or serving as a leader within a campus organization, these students seemed up to the challenge of working for the Iowa State Fair. Each of the interviewees spoke of their individual experience with the Fair and how much it meant to them. It was a difficult decision to choose the best fit for our internship needs.  
We are pleased to welcome Emily Friedricks (Central), Paris Schnepf (Iowa) and Stephanie Boardman (UNI) to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.  Look for more information about all three of these ladies in our Spring newsletter and throughout the summer. These women will be busying organizing the Iowan of the Day program, coordinating all of the summer’s volunteers, planning special events, and of course “other duties as assigned” – meaning pretty much any and everything that helps make the Foundation a success. 
I will do my very best to help make their internship experience successful. I have a feeling; I will always remember my first group of interns as a full time staff member. I also get excited because I can guarantee, I will learn something from each one of them as well.  
Below is a picture from the 2013 Fair when a group of past interns got together. 

Iowa Beef Expo

February 12, 2014
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It’s another busy week on the Fairgrounds with the annual Iowa Beef Expo. Like most of this winter, it’s been a cold week and today it’s snowing. With all of the cattle, vehicles, livestock trailers and people on the grounds, it makes me wish it was warm like Fair time. August is still 6 months away, but I can feel the buzz in the air and I’m already getting excited for my first official Fair with the Blue Ribbon Foundation!

Thanks to our great volunteers, we have been selling merchandise in a booth inside the Cattle Barn for the Expo. The top selling item is the Iowa State Fair stocking hat. You can represent your favorite summer tradition in the cold weather with the official Iowa State Fair Beanie on sale for $5.

Also for the month of February, the Iowa State Fair 16th Edition Cookbook, filled with recipes to warm you up, is on sale for $12. All of the State Fair merchandise is available online or at the Blue Ribbon Foundation office.

Need to warm up? Try this Jalapeno Cheddar Crab and Lobster Soup recipe highlighted below:

  • 4 tbsp. butter                                     
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper                                
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 3 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 lb. lobster
  • 1 lb. crab

In large saucepan, melt butter, add peppers and onions. Sauté over medium heat about 3 minutes. In saucepan, bring milk and cream to slight boil; add cheese and simmer on low until cheese is melted. (Do not overcook.) Whisk in remaining ingredients except lobster and crab and stir until flour is incorporated. Add lobster and crab; heat through (less than 5 minutes.)

Whether you are a fan of the cold temperatures or not, this winter weather will be here for awhile. Try to enjoy these snowy days by checking out the Beef Expo or buying some of your favorite winter Fair merchandise. If you are sick of snow like me, you can always start a countdown until this year’s Fair (175 days).  


Love is in the Air

February 5, 2014
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It’s February and in my calendar, it’s the month of love.

In elementary school, I would give every student in my class a paper Valentine on February 14. My class would eat conversation hearts and chocolate kisses. If you were lucky, your parents might buy you the heart shaped box full of chocolates. If you were me, you would take a bite out of each piece, giving the ones with weird filling to your dad. Over the years, my love for the holiday has only continued. I am a proud graduate of Iowa State. Many fellow Iowa Staters should remember a tradition - walk silently around Lake LaVerne with your loved one, and you are destined to be together. (If you are all dying to know, I never completed this tradition.)

The Iowa State Fair is full of traditions, one of the many reasons I enjoy my job. Any romantic would agree: Ye Old Mill is the perfect place for sweethearts to sneak off and escape the hustle and bustle of the Fair. First constructed in 1921, Ye Old Mill has since been a favorite ride for dating couples at the Fair. Located next to the Midway on Grand Avenue, its 1,500-foot-long canal offers riders the chance to relax on a smooth boat ride.

This February 14, show your Valentine how much you love them and the Iowa State Fair with a brick from the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Sweetheart Lane, located in front of the Ye Old Mill, provides the opportunity for lovers to leave a declaration for millions to see.

There are 14 other locations to place a brick. Maybe you and your sweetheart fell in love showing cattle, performing on the Bill Riley Stage, or spending summer nights in the campgrounds. Roses, chocolates, and a romantic dinner is probably what your significant other is expecting this year. Why not surprise them with a personal inscription to celebrate a couple’s fond Fair memories while helping to preserve the Fairgrounds.

For more information about purchasing a sweetheart brick for Valentine’s Day, or for any other occasion, contact the Blue Ribbon Foundation at (800) 450-3732 or order online. All brick orders must be received by March 31 in order to be placed prior to the 2014 Iowa State Fair.


Learning from the Past

January 29, 2014
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Traditionally, spring cleaning happens after the winter months. At the Blue Ribbon Foundation, spring will be the start to my busy season so I decided to clean my office closet this week. I started by reorganizing previous Corndog Kickoff binders. Sitting on the closet shelf were 17 years worth of notes, contracts, ideas, marketing materials, floor plans, sign-up sheets, etc. The shelf was overdue for a cleaning.

The very first Corndog Kickoff was held in Pioneer Hall in 1997. The 460 attendees bid on 20 live and 43 silent auction packages, and raised more than $67,000 for the Iowa State Fair. Every year the number of guests, supporters, auction packages, and overall excitement for the event increases!

Last year the Corndog Kickoff raised a record high of $416,000 for the renovation and preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. More than 1,600 Iowa State Fair fans attended the 17th annual event. The Blue Ribbon Foundation auctioned off 31 live and 191 silent auction packages for totals of $140,450 and $46,045, respectively. Patron contributions also set a new record of $187,250. The remaining funds consisted of ticket and merchandise sales.

Unique to the Foundation’s fundraising event is that a new theme is created for each year. Previous staff members have gone above and beyond with their creativity.  Themes have consisted of camping, the Butter Cow, building renovations, food, and practically anything Fair related.

I attended my first Corndog Kickoff as an intern in 2011 and helped with the auction. The last two years I sold bandanas as part of the “Rags for Riches 50/50 raffle game”. When I took the job with the Foundation, I was confident in my ability to manage the Foundation’s communication efforts and the various giving programs. Event planning was new to me, but the Fairgrounds 5K was a nice small event to get me started. When it comes to the Corndog Kickoff, I get an entirely new kind of nervous. I am thankful for the experienced staff, supportive volunteers, and my predecessor’s excellent notes. So far, I have picked a theme for this year’s event and I have started brainstorming ideas. The event is still 164 days away, but I have invitations, tickets, volunteers, decorations, food, and centerpieces on my mind.

The 2014 Corndog Kickoff will be Saturday, July 12. If you are a regular attendee, I hope to see you again. If you are thinking about attending for the first time, I promise you won’t be disappointed! As I finish up organizing the previous year’s information, I will continue to learn about the past events to make this year’s Corndog Kickoff the best one yet.  

Below are a few pictures I found while cleaning today. 

John Putney, BRF Executive Director, promoting the very first Corndog Kickoff on the golf course during the Foundation’s 1997 golf outing.

Emily and John Putney at the 1999 Corndog Kickoff.

Volunteers, Margo and Chris Fox, standing by the spin wheel at the 2002 Corndog Kickoff.

Live Music

January 23, 2014
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I grew up in a musical family. Ever since I can remember, my father has been in some sort of band, playing the keyboards or bass guitar. I have two older sisters that were involved with marching band, choir, and concert band.  One was the high school drum major and the other is still a middle school musical director. Unfortunately my mother and I were not blessed with musical talent. However, over the years, I have become an outstanding audience member.

Last week, I went to the Jason Aldean concert at the Iowa Events Center. I sat in my “nose bleed” section seat and watched the first opening act - only recognizing his sole hit. Next was Florida Georgia Line, who did an excellent job of warming up the crowd for the main event. Jason Aldean did not disappoint! This was my second time seeing him in concert and I’d say it was even better than the first time around. Nothing beats hearing songs on the radio come to life on stage.

Seeing the country star in action got me geared up for the next concert on my calendar. It might be the complete opposite of country music, but I am very excited to see Hairball on January 31.  This will be my first concert at the Jacobson Exhibition Center on the Fairgrounds.  Guns n’ Roses, AC/DC and Journey might have been before my time, but nothing beats an 80’s rock show. Mark your calendar because tickets are still available for this Fairgrounds concert.

After next week, I don’t have any other concerts planned until the Fair in August. Seeing a show in the Grandstand is one of a kind. My very first concert was actually at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. I saw LeAnn Rimes in 1998. I knew every word to “One Way Ticket” and “Blue”. I think listening to music in an outside venue is the ultimate summer tradition.  

I’m sure soon enough, the Fair will start to announce the 2014 Grandstand lineup. Most nights of the Fair, I will be finishing up work while the concert is going on, but I know I will still enjoy the music and Fireworks.

Now is your chance to avoid the “nose bleed” seats for the 2014 Grandstand concerts at the Iowa State Fair. Members of the Foundation’s Fan Fair program are able to purchase Grandstand tickets before they go on sale to the general public. For each $150 contribution made to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase 2 show tickets during a special presale. The deadline to join Fan Fair is March 1.

If you are a fan of country, rock, hip hop, folk, the blues, or any other type of music – be sure to keep the Iowa State Fair in mind for live music this summer. 

Iowa State Fair History

January 17, 2014
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My office is once again starting to show more of my personality. This week, I added another picture on the wall. Not a typical piece of artwork but a black and white picture from a movie. This isn’t just a random movie but a scene from the very first State Fair movie filmed in 1933.

The film stars Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers. It is about a family that attends the Iowa State Fair. The father enters his boar, Blue Boy, in the hog contents while the mother enters the mincemeat competition. Their children find love with a newspaper reporter and a trapeze artist. The biggest questions of the film: Will everyone return home safe and happy or will hearts be broken?

Ever since I was little, I’ve enjoyed watching old movies. This version of State Fair is unique because some scenes were actually filmed at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

That got me thinking about the original Iowa State Fair and the history behind the event. The Iowa State Fair website gives details from the very beginning.  A few bizarre facts stuck out to me.

  • The first Iowa State Fair was held October 25 to 27, 1854 in Fairfield, Iowa
  • Chariot races were featured at the 1880 Fair.
  • In 1967 the Talent Search Champion was awarded a brand new Ford Mustang.

The Fairgrounds are full of history and the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to preserve that history for future generations. There are plenty of ways for you to help support the history of the Fair. The 1854 Society was created in commemoration of the Iowa State Fair sesquicentennial. Funds raised by the membership program helped renovate the Richard L. Easter Museum Complex.

Future 1854 Society donations will continue to make needed improvements. Museum goals for 2014 include getting new display cases and providing space to have artifacts safely behind glass. Other projects include getting more photos digitized for easier access and preservation.  There are 10,000+ slides that could be converted to digital to make it possible for the public to have better access to Fair history, both in person and on the web.

Are you a history buff? Want to test your knowledge?  The Foundation sells the official Iowa State Fair History book that details the evolution of the Fair since the beginning. Check out the State Fair Store.

Commemorating the past, celebrating the present or awaiting the future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is doing its best to make the Iowa State Fair - “the best State Fair in our state”. (I know - not the same movie as my new picture, but still a good one.)

January Merchandise Sale

January 13, 2014
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Check out the State Fair Store for our monthly merchandise specials. January features the State Fair Plaques. These 7”x7” limited edition wood plaques, created by Sticks, capture the essence of our beloved Iowa State Fair. For the remainder of the month, these plaques are on sale for $75.

A Whole New Arena: The 2010 Fair debuted the majestic new Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center. This plaques features the building as well as a horse.

Home Grown: The Iowa State Fair is known for its agriculture. From vegetables and fruits, to plants and flowers, it's all home grown right here in Iowa. Be sure to get this vibrant blue ribbon plaque and support what the Fair is all about.

Riley Talent Show: Highlighting the entertainment category of the State Fair plaque series is Iowa's famous Bill Riley Talent Show.

Shear Fun: This one is for the animal lovers and livestock exhibitors - a blue ribbon sheep.

All merchandise items can be found on the State Fair Store website and are available at the Blue Ribbon Foundation office located on the Fairgrounds. Stop by and pick up your favorite State Fair plaque today.  


Marking the New Calendar

January 10, 2014
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For my job and personal life, I use my cell phone, computer, and iPad every day. Electronics are extremely helpful but can sometimes be consuming. Even as a young “digitalized” adult, I still find comfort in writing important dates on a physical calendar that hangs on the refrigerator at home. My calendar of choice for 2014 consists of 12 beautiful sunsets. (It’s the first calendar I found on sale after the holidays.)

I started filling out the calendar by writing each family member’s birthday, upcoming weddings, and a couple vacations. New for me this year, I added the Blue Ribbon Foundation events.

I continually remind my friends that I do indeed work more than the 11 days of the Fair. The entire Blue Ribbon Foundation staff is busy year round planning fundraising events, promoting opportunities to give to the Foundation and preparing for the 2014 Fair.

I typically lay out my “game plan” each week as I continue to learn my role with the Foundation.  I’m always looking ahead to what needs to be done, way to incorporate new ideas, and trying to improve an existing successful organization.  Let me be the first to say, every day is an adventure.

Below are a few specific dates on my calendar:

  • February 10-13: Iowa Beef Expo/Volunteers will be selling Iowa State Fair merchandise
  • March 1: Deadline to join or renew Membership Programs for 2014 (1854 Society, Fan Fair, Jake’s Club)
  • March 31: Deadline for Giving Program items to be placed by Fair 2014 (bricks, lamp posts, trees)
  • June 30: Deadline for Block by Block program (Donor Wall in Jacobson Exhibition Center)
  • July 1: Deadline for Iowan of the Day applications for Fair 2014
  • July 12: Corndog Kickoff
  • August 7 – 17: Iowa State Fair

I don’t really need the month of August in my calendar at home; I can pretty much guarantee I will be on the Fairgrounds. As busy as my year seems, I know it will go fast. I look forward to meeting more Iowa State Fair supporters and completing my first year as a Foundation staff member.

If this post has inspired you to add a few Blue Ribbon Foundation events to your calendar, just remember somebody’s birthday is September 1.

Below are a few Fairgrounds sunset pictures that would have been great additions to my calendar at home.



Reminiscing the Past & Looking to the Future

December 30, 2013
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The end of December is always the best time to look back at the previous year. Personally and professionally I have had many changes in 2013. This past year’s State Fair theme was “Happiness Is” and I think it describes my last 12 months perfectly. In the summer I moved to Des Moines and I am extremely happy to be living closer to my family. (Living 4 hours from home was too much for me.) In the last year, I have met new friends that I hope to have for many years to come. The biggest highlight for 2013 was my new job.  I am happy to come to work everyday and do a job that I enjoy.

For instance, today I kept busy reading internship applications for the upcoming spring and summer. The Foundation has received several high quality candidates. In the next couple of weeks, we will interview and hire our crucial additional staff. I am so excited to give three college students the opportunity to grow and gain the experience that is needed to start in the workforce. There is no doubt that my internship experience landed me my current role with the Foundation.

In the past year, the Foundation had another successful Corndog Kickoff by raising $416,000. In the beginning of August, the Foundation welcomed a new Executive Director, Peter Cownie. The 11 days of the Fair were filled with merchandise/water sales, celebrating Iowans and keeping the Butter Cow secure. Throughout the year, continued renovations and improvements were made across the Fairgrounds. The November 5K Run was a fun way to cap off the year.

As we look back on 2013, the Foundation would like to thank each and every Fair-lover for making this year such a success. We are honored to have fantastic donors, volunteers, supporters, and friends. We couldn’t do it without each and every one of you.

Over the next few months, I will be busy with membership program renewals, giving program donations, Corndog Kickoff planning, and preparing for the 2014 Iowa State Fair. I know the year will go fast. The 2014 Iowa State Fair theme is Amazing Amusing. I hope 2014 will be the most amazing and amusing year for you!

Happy New Year!

A few highlights from 2013:





Happy Holidays

December 20, 2013
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Happy Holidays!

With the holidays upon us we wish you a joyful season and a happy new year!

Thank you for your continued support of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.

- John, Peter, Robin, Jenna, and Drew