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 $200 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.

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.

Fall Activities

October 2, 2013
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One of my favorite things about October is the changing of the seasons - especially the leaves and the cooler temperatures (although it has been 80 degrees this week).  I heard an advertisement on the radio this morning about fall. It said: “Your home décor is like a leaf, it changes in the fall.”

Now I’m not the type of person that completely changes everything in my apartment with each new season, but I do appreciate a few fall decorations. With the creation of Pinterest, it is easy to see how many people are much more creative than I am when it comes to home décor.  

From what I can tell, this fall is all about mums, wreaths, and of course pumpkins.  When I was younger, I remember picking out the biggest one I could carry from the local pumpkin patch outside of town. When my sisters and I were little, my mom would only let us decorate the outside of the pumpkins with markers. It was a contest to see who could draw the scariest face! It was only when we were older that we actually got to carve them.

I also remember the contest in school to guess how many pumpkin seeds were inside. You would pull out the “guts” with your hands to see how close you got to your guess.  (This is still one of my favorite memories.)

The Washington State Fair has a Giant Pumpkin Carving celebration on their Fairgrounds during the fall. The public is invited to watch giant pumpkins turn into works of art. Maybe one day, the Fairgrounds 5k will expand into a Fall Festival. With food, music, and pumpkin carving contests in addition to the run. Would there be any Fair-goers that would eat a Fair Square, funnel cake or even bacon along the race route?  I’d hope so!

New for this year’s Fairgrounds 5K, corndogs will be served after the race. Nothing compares to an Iowa State Fair corndog and now you can enjoy one “guilt free” after running.

This October I hope you enjoy; the changing weather, carving pumpkins and I encourage you to add running the 5K to support the Iowa State Fair to your list!

The Countdown Has Started

September 25, 2013
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On the Iowa State Fair’s website there is a countdown to the 2014 Fair. Only 315 days away. Speaking of countdowns...Christmas is only 90 days away.

I realize that the first official day of Fall was this week but time sure does go fast. The holiday season will be here before we know it.

I think back to gifts that I have given my family members over the years. The presents usually reflect what is happening in my life. Many years ago in elementary school, I would give one of my class art projects. I’m sure the potpourri dish was a priced possession. My freshman year of Iowa State, I gave everyone in my family Cyclone gear. While I was living in Mason City, the gifts highlighted Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. Now that I am working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation – there is no doubt that my family’s Christmas will be Fair themed.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation sells a variety of Iowa State Fair merchandise. T-shirts, hats, jewelry, books, collectibles, etc. Some of my favorite items include the State Fair Plaques. There are two new designs each year. (These might be gifts for me.)

If you have a Fair-lover in your family, a gift from the Blue Ribbon Foundation might be just what they need. I have a feeling one of the most popular items this fall will be the Butter Cow Security Shirts. These shirts are a great way to support the Iowa State Fair and show your love for the iconic Butter Cow. Check out the Iowa State Fair Store for all of the merchandise.

Over the next 90 days, I will be busy with the Fairgrounds 5K, membership program renewals, and early Corndog Kickoff planning. I will patiently wait for Halloween and Thanksgiving but as soon as November 29th arrives, the holiday music will be on in my office.

Fairgrounds 5K

September 18, 2013
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I've only been on the job for a month and I'm already busy planning my first event – the annual Fairgrounds 5K.

Although it’s my first year, it is the 5K’s seventh! I’ve been brainstorming new ideas to keep the event just as exciting as the first year. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Burch, the Director for the Des Moines Marathon. He gave me great feedback on expanding and making the Fairgrounds 5K a success. I appreciated his help.

This week I’ve been busy working on flyers, the race route, and a new shirt design. I even signed up to run a 5K of my own for inspiration!

If you like to run, walk, or just plain love the Fair, we encourage you to come out and support our event on November 3th to raise money for the historic and beautiful Iowa State Fairgrounds. It's a great opportunity to see the Fair in a different setting; without the hustle and bustle of the Fair. Again this year, we will have the 5K run, 1 mile walk, and Chase the Cow Kids' Run.

Online registration is up and running so be sure to sign up (before Oct. 21) to get the early registration price. For all the details regarding the seventh annual Fairgrounds 5K (volunteering, sponsoring, or participating), please check out the 5K page. Or, send me an email for any specific questions you might have. I will keep posting more details and new additions to the event as we get closer.

Here are a few photos from last year's event:

A little about Drew.

August 29, 2013
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As the newest Blue Ribbon Foundation employee, I would like to introduce myself.  My name is Drew Norton and I started last week as the new Communications Manager. I’d like to share a little about myself and my connections to the Iowa State Fair.

I am originally from Bloomfield, Iowa.  While growing up in a small town, I spent several summers attending my local county fair and the Iowa State Fair. My first memory of the Fair was when I was ten years old and attended the LeAnn Rimes concert. What a wonderful opportunity for a little girl to see her first live music event in the Grandstand.

In the summer of 2011, I was the Public Relations intern for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. I had the pleasure of coordinating the “Iowan of the Day” program, Fair Squares, a much more. The Blue Ribbon Foundation internship was an incredible experience as a college student. Not only did I learn about public relations, marketing, and being professional but I also learned how important it is to work in an environment that you love. It was hard work but I enjoyed it every day.

After graduating Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, I took my first job in Mason City, Iowa. I was the Communications and Marketing Coordinator for United Way of North Central Iowa.

Only one week at the new job and I am already proud to say that I work for the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. I’m looking forward to managing the newsletter, website, and social media materials. I have already started to plan the 2013 Fairgrounds 5K and I know that next year’s Corndog Kickoff will be just around the corner. In all honesty, nothing compares to working for the Iowa State Fair.

I'm excited to meet volunteers, BRF supporters, and Fairgoers. Please feel free to email me at

I know that I have big shoes to fill, but I am ready to give it my best!


Iowa State Fair Pride

August 2, 2013
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The Iowa State Fair starts in less than one week! Where did the summer go? How is it already August? Time sure has flown by, but mostly because everyone on the Fairgrounds has been working extra hard these last couple of weeks. Early mornings and late nights are part of the job description, but the hard work truly pays off when you visualize it all coming together. Although the Fair has yet to begin, the Fairgrounds are teeming with concessionaires that will make your mouth water, golf carts zipping around, and tons of people. My favorite part, though, is the unbelievable amount of pride that the staff here has for the Iowa State Fair. Everyone has the mentality to make this year's Fair the best one yet, and I don't doubt that it will be! The public's enthusiasm for the Iowa State Fair is also a great pick-me-up. I love it when people come in to the office and share stories about why the love the State Fair or what they see, do, or eat every year. Their stories put a big old smile on my face, and it's fun to think about how we all participate in such a grand tradition!

See you at the Fair!



August 2, 2013
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Well Iowa State Fair fans....we are one week away! I can hardly believe it. The to-do lists have multiplied and the traffic has picked up quite a bit. For not being very familiar with the fair, I was suprised at how quick the transformation was- from bare, to completely coming alive with people, tents, decorations, concessionaires and more. I drive through Grand Avenue every morning and there is always a line of people waiting to buy their tickets. But this is just the beginning! Pre-fair is only half the excitement. I'm going to take a guess and say that majority of Iowa natives come to the fair every year. It's a tradition. It's something they look forward to for months on end. Growing up in Nebraska, that's something I've never experienced. I know I've said it plenty of times before, but actually being a part of it is something I've been looking forward to since day one. I've realized in these short 4 months that the Iowa State Fair doesn't just "talk the talk," they without a doubt "walk the walk." All the hype is earned and deserved!! See you in a week!!


An Exciting Time

July 30, 2013
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If you've been on University or Grand recently, you've probably noticed some increased traffic. And if you've gotten a peek down one of the open gates on the Fairgrounds, you've caught a glimpse of the beginning chaos. But isn't it exciting?!

There are food vendors set up all over the Fairgrounds in places once bare. There are workers racing around on golf carts to run errands and try to accomplish everything. The giant concrete ribbons are ready to be set out, the buildings are getting stocked, the Butter Cow is finished, and while all of this is going on, you can feel an exciting mounting tension that the Fair is only days away.

Yesterday, Kate, Carly, and I rode around the Fairgrounds and checked out where our merchandise booths will be and got a better idea of what was about to go down. While some of it made us very nervous, other things got us wide-eyed and thrilled. From hearing about all the delicious Fair food, all the fun performances, and all the must-see exhibits, it was safe to say that as nervous as we were, we were also very excited.

I hope that all of you out there are experiencing that same excitement of the upcoming Iowa State Fair. Can't wait to see you all there!