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.

Iowa State Fair Art

December 12, 2013
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Like most people, the one place I spend more time than at home is work. During the week, I drive onto the Fairgrounds, up to the Earth Home and spend the day in my office. Besides the desk, chair and filing cabinets, my work space has been plain and very empty since I “moved in” last August. In the last week, I decided that I need to decorate!  

I realized pretty quickly that I lack home décor style. After a fresh coat of paint, I decided to keep things classy with a black and white photo. I wanted to keep the decorations simple yet reflect my job. The midway scene is one of my favorite pictures of the Fairgrounds and looks perfect above my desk. As soon as the picture was hung, I knew I needed something on the adjacent wall. Why not another State Fair print?

I was in luck. The State Fair Store features more than just your typical Fair memorabilia – some things might surprise you. We sell several unique prints.

“100 Years” is a one-of-a-kind print of Nadine Hawbaker’s watercolor painting featuring the Butter Cow and other Iowa State Fair icons.  There are also several McNarney prints of buildings across the Fairgrounds.

The one I think that will look best in my office is the Photo Print. This creative print features photographs of letters found around the Fairgrounds to spell out “Iowa State Fair”.

Once I get the second picture hung, fill the other frames with family photos, and maybe find a vase for my desk – I should be set.

If you need to add artwork to your office or home - all of the prints and other merchandise are available online at the State Fair Store. As a reminder, the public is always welcome to purchase any merchandise items at our office.

When you stop by to pick out that special piece of art or other holiday gift, be sure to check out my new office décor.


Snow on the Fairgrounds

December 9, 2013
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There is officially snow on the Fairgrounds today. It’s a little different from the scene you’re used to seeing in August. Try to imagine if the Iowa State Fair was held in December instead of August. Crowds walking around in the snow or going inside the Varied Industries Building to warm up instead of cool off. The Foundation would need to sell hot chocolate throughout the Fairgrounds instead of water. I’m guilty of complaining about the heat during the summer, but I will take it any day over the cold temperatures.

To me, this fall has gone extremely fast. Here are the highlights from my first fall on the job:

  • I completed my first round of placing bricks across the Fairgrounds. (After 56 bricks, I'll be ready to place even more next summer.)
  • The biggest project/fundraiser was the 7th annual Fairgrounds 5K. The successful event raised more than $5,000 for renovations. Thanks again to the sponsors, volunteers, and participants!
  • I’ve spent a lot of time getting myself organized and familiar with my job duties. I was busy sending the Foundation’s Membership Program renewals. Would you like to join the 1854 Society, Fan Fair or Jake’s Club for next year’s Fair?

Don’t you worry; I will be busy right up until the end of the year:

  • I’m in charge of shipping merchandise orders.  Check out the State Fair Store for all your shopping needs. Don’t forget that you can purchase any merchandise item at the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s office.
  • This week, I will be creating center pieces for the annual Holiday Party. I have a feeling this will be a creative warm-up before next summer’s Corndog Kickoff.
  • In the next month, I will write the Winter Newsletter. Read last quarter’s newsletter if you missed it.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has a very important deadline, just around the corner: Internship Applications are due December 31. Please remind any college sophomore or junior to apply for this opportunity soon. Our interns will become a crucial part of the Foundation’s staff next Spring and Summer. The internship is an excellent way to spend a summer gaining knowledge and work experience to prepare you for after graduation.  Click here for details.

Overall, I don’t mind the snow, as long as I’m busy working at the office. Now when it comes time for me to travel home for Christmas – this Iowa weather better cooperate.

Holiday Merchandise Sale

November 27, 2013
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The following Iowa State Fair merchandise items will be on sale from now until December 20. All items may be purchased online at the State Fair Store or at the Blue Ribbon Foundation Office.

Butter Cow Security Shirt: $10

It's a Fair Game: $15


Campgrounds Shuttle Ornament: $14

4230 John Deere Tractor: $30



Fair Thanksgiving

November 26, 2013
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As families and friends celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, many will gather around the dining room table for a feast of yummy food. My plan is to eat as much turkey and homemade goodies as I can. The holiday only comes once a year, so it makes the traditional meal even more special.

Since the Iowa State Fair is only 11 days out of the year, Fair food is its own special tradition. Personally, I try to eat as much Fair food as I can during August. Two State Fairs have incorporated Thanksgiving into their Fair’s menu.

The Wisconsin State Fair has featured a Thanksgiving Waffle. A bread stuffing with craisins, mixed with waffle batter, cooked in a Belgium Waffle iron, and topped with mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy. In a competition at the Texas State Fair, a contestant made an entire Fried Thanksgiving dinner.

Part of me wishes my family would have delicious and giant State Fair Turkey Legs for our Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe one day. In all seriousness, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is thankful for our donors, patrons, volunteers, supporters and Iowa State Fair lovers.

Part of my job includes listening to Iowans tell their personal Fair stories. Generations have made the Iowa State Fair a family tradition. I am thankful I’ve had the opportunity to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff and become part of the Iowa State Fair Family.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wisconsin's State Fair Thanksgiving Waffle:


Looking for 2014 Interns

November 20, 2013
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As we get ready for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I think back to college when I used to get an entire week off. I'm grateful for the two days in the working world, but a week would be great!

For all of you lucky college students who get next week off, I would suggest you start thinking about what your plans are for this summer. It’s not too early to start thinking about jobs and internships. In fact, the deadline for our internships is approaching quickly. Take a few hours next week during your time off and update your resume, polish up some writing samples (and design samples if you have them) and apply for the Foundation's internships!

The Foundation’s interns are a valuable addition to our staff. The internships are designed for the student to take ownership of projects. Whether it is managing volunteers, organizing fundraising events, or daily office tasks – our interns are key to a successful summer.

Personally, I developed my writing and design skills when I was an intern. My public speaking and organization also improved. I definitely expanded my customer service skills. I walked away from the internship with experience that could help me further my career.  It was hard work but a summer I will never forget.  

I finished the internship with experience that helped me succeed in my senior year at Iowa State. I’m positive the internship gave me the needed work experience to accept a full time job offer before I graduated. There is no doubt the internship landed me the full time position as the Communications Manager.

For more information about the internships and how to apply, check out on our website. If you have any questions regarding the process, please contact me at or 515-262-3111 Ext. 675. We look forward to receiving your application and hopefully in person for an interview. Applications are due December 31...don't miss out on this great opportunity!

Pictures of Interns in Action:

Unexpected Part of the Job

November 13, 2013
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Before I started working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation, I had a pretty good idea of what the Communications Manager did. I knew that I would manage the website and social media. I also knew that I would plan the Fairgrounds 5K and the Corndog Kickoff. I had a basic understanding of the giving and membership programs. From my previous experience of working for a nonprofit organization, I know that it is the nature of the job to take on different roles at different times.  Recently, I took on the unique role of bricklayer. (One tasks that I don’t remember reading in the job description.)

The Foundation has the Buy a Brick program. With a donation, Fair-lovers can have a brick engraved and placed on the Fairgrounds. Two weeks ago, I had 56 bricks to place throughout the grounds. Fortunately, Robin is a pro at laying bricks and was gracious enough to show me the ropes. After watching and learning - I had it down. In all honesty, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  Being outside for the afternoon was a nice break from working at my desk.

Although I drive onto the Fairgrounds every day, I am still learning where things are. There are 15 bricks pads on the grounds. Some of the locations are almost full. You can easily tell which bricks have been on the Fairgrounds since the program was started years ago.

Bricks are placed every fall and summer. This coming June, I will load up the back of my car with (hopefully even more) bricks, and a variety of official brick laying tools. It’s really an assortment of random tools that I have no idea what they should actually be used for. My plan is to have the interns help me with this unusual job.

The names and phrases on the bricks, in addition to the people that have donated to the Foundation, are a big part of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The memories that are made during the Fair will forever be remembered with these bricks. I have my own brick that sits on my desk. I have absolutely no doubt that I will make plenty of my own memories while working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Check out more information about the Brick Program and all of the Foundation’s Giving Programs.


2013 Fairgrounds 5K Wrap Up

November 7, 2013
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Last week was a whirlwind but I am excited that I have completed my first Blue Ribbon Foundation event. On Sunday, there were over 400 people on the Fairgrounds for the 5K. The sun was shining and it was breezy.  In my book, it was a beautiful day.

I would like to thank all of the Fair-goers that participated in the 5K Run and Walk. I saw several families running, walking, or chasing the cow together. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It still feels strange to have an event at the Fairgrounds and walk along Grand Avenue without weaving your way through people.  It was a nice change of pace from August.

One thing that I have learned very quickly while working at the Foundation is that volunteers are key to success. I truly appreciated their help. It made my job so much easier having such great volunteers. I wanted to specifically thank Robin and Jenna. I have one of the best “teams” to work with. Last week had some stressful moments, but both of them stayed positive and encouraged my every move.

The corndogs, Fair Squares and beer were a big hit with the crowd. I will continue to add new things and maybe even more food to the event next year. In all honesty, food is one of my favorite parts of the Iowa State Fair.

This week I have received feedback/ suggestions to help improve the event. Here are a few comments from the race:

  • I really enjoyed this race. The course was great, a little challenging (in a good way) and the course support and spectators were awesome.
  • We had a great time at the Fairgrounds 5K and hope to return next year. We traveled 70 miles to participate.
  • Overall keep up the good work! I will keep coming back every year. I like to be the person that has done the race each year.

Although the 5K is finished, my job doesn’t slow down. It’s time for membership program renewals, giving program promotion and to start planning the Corndog Kickoff! (I am already getting nervous for that event.) Thanks again to those that helped make the Fairgrounds 5K a success. My goal is to make the 8th annual event even better.



Exploring Jacobson

October 23, 2013
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This morning I went to the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center to see the new Block by Block Donor Wall. The wall was completed and placed next to the existing one. The new wall was needed to accommodate additional yellow plaques. (We had sold all of the yellow spaces!)  I was impressed with how nice the new purple quilt block pattern looked next to the blue pattern. Overall, the donor wall display adds bright colors to the building’s interior.

The two decorative walls are symbols of how individual contributions help piece together projects to make Fairgrounds renovations possible. Find out more about the Block by Block giving program.

I also think the donor walls are similar to the quilt block pattern of the building’s exterior. Each of the quilt blocks represents one of Iowa’s 99 counties. This is an excellent way to represent Iowa’s heritage and tradition of barn quilts.

As a new employee, I took a minute to explore the building. Another neat aspect to the Jacobson Center that the public might not know about is Jake’s Club. This space is located on the 2nd floor of the building and is a members-only VIP area during the Fair. Balcony box seating is available in addition to comfortable couches. It’s the perfect place to watch your favorite Jacobson Center activities, including the Cowgirl Queen Contest and the 6-draft horse hitches. Click for more details about Jake’s Club.

Throughout fall, the Jacobson Center has been filled with horses for various shows. Now that the weather is cooling down, the building will be used for other events. The Iowa Cheerleading Championships, wrestling tournaments, and even concerts will be held in the Jacobson Center. To prepare for these events, the dirt needs to be moved. Today was the day!

The Fairgrounds is a busy place year round. Whether it is installing a fancy new donor wall or the “not so much fun job” of moving dirt, there is never a dull moment.  My plan is to keep exploring.



The Fairgrounds in the Fall

October 16, 2013
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This photo is from 2007 during the first Fairgrounds 5K. Many things have changed on the Fairgrounds since then, but I think the picture highlights how pretty the Iowa State Fairgrounds are in the fall.

This photo might seem strange to some Fair-goers because there are only two women on the street. This never happens during the Fair! The streets are always filled with people and food vendors. The Susan Knapp Amphitheater looks a lot different in this picture too.  During the Fair, the stage hosts entertainment and crowds are gathered for the free concerts.

To me, the Fairgrounds seem like a completely different place after August. I have been working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation for almost two months and it still seems weird to drive on the Fairgrounds every day. The gates are open, the streets are clear, and the craziest part - it’s quiet.   

One thing I have noticed lately is the number of people that call our office to see where we are located. The Blue Ribbon Foundation office building is not open to the public during the Fair. Here are just a few of the comments I’ve heard this week:

“Are the Fairgrounds open year round?” -  “I’ve never even noticed this building before.” - "It's a lot easier driving the hills now than walking during the Fair.”

One reason the Fairgrounds 5K was started seven years ago was to give Fair-lovers the opportunity to see the beautiful Fairgrounds without the hustle and bustle of the Fair.

Over the last week, I’ve been working on promotions for this year’s event.  I am updating trivia signs, goodie bag items, and a new shirt design. New for this year's event - there will be corndogs after the race for all participants to enjoy. (Thank you Campbell’s.)

I will be busy right up until the event trying to boost attendance. Last week I was interviewed on KJJY with Hatfield and McCoy. Tomorrow I will be on KCWI’s morning show. On Saturday, the “Chase the Cow Kids’ Run” mascot will be at the Des Moines Marathon Kids’ Expo. These are each fun ways to help spread the word about the 5K.

Just a reminder that the entry fees increase on October 21, so Click Here to register!

I am keeping my fingers crossed for beautiful weather just like in the photo. (Only 18 days away!)

One of a Kind Experience

October 9, 2013
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This week I posted the Foundation’s three internship opportunities on area college websites. I can’t believe that only two summers ago, I was a Blue Ribbon Intern. Just for fun, here are my top three internship memories:

3. Corndog Kickoff – I helped organize the auction for the Kickoff. This was the first time I really connected with business leaders about donating to the Foundation. I was blown away with the pride people have for the Iowa State Fair. Businesses were excited to donate to the event and support a great cause. I was proud to help the Foundation raise money for Fairgrounds renovations.  (I also enjoyed using my creative side while putting together the silent auction packages.)

2. Fair Squares – It was the second year for the Fair Squares and I was in the intern in charge.  I took ownership of the tasty treats. I made it a priority to keep the trailer stocked and to never run out! (As the point person for the Fair Squares, I also made sure to eat one every day of the Fair.)

1. Iowan of the Day - Announcing the Iowan of the Day winners on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage. This is something I will always remember. I had the opportunity to meet and learn about 10 fantastic Iowans across our state. I felt honored to announce the winners and give them the recognition they deserve. It was also a thrill to be on stage in front of a crowd.

Once you are an intern with the Blue Ribbon Foundation, you have a lifetime connection to the Iowa State Fair. The time between my internship and taking the full time Communications Manager position, I volunteered with the Corndog Kickoff. This fall, two past interns have already signed up to help with the Fairgrounds 5K.

We are now taking applications for one spring/summer intern and two full time summer interns. As a Foundation intern, you get to experience the Fair behind the scenes as well as many other opportunities. Work is divided up among the interns but you have the chance to coordinate and schedule 500+ volunteers, work with our executive director on donor relation projects, and help plan a party/fundraiser for more than 1,500 people! The best part is, in our small office, we are a tight knit group and we really let the interns take ownership of their projects. While a lot of work and responsibility, it's a wonderful experience for any college student looking for a great summer internship.

I'm a little nervous to be on the other side this year, but I will try my best to make it a great adventure for the 2014 interns.