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.

Meet Donor Relations Intern

March 17, 2020
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Hello! My name is Reegan Den Adel and I am the Donor Relations intern for the summer of 2020. This is my first week here and so far I have learn so much! I am very excited to see what the future holds! I grew up in Madrid, Iowa and I joined 4-H in elementary school and started showing my swine. I have always loved coming to the Iowa State Fair and I was so excited when I finally got the chance to show my swine at the Iowa State Fair.

I am currently a sophomore at Iowa State University. I am majoring in Event Management with a minor in General Business. On campus I am involved in Salt Company, Event Management Club and Dance Marathon. I have recently taken a non-profit class and was able to hold an event for a non-profit company. I love the events industry, I knew I needed an internship where I can work with people and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is just that! I am very excited to see where this summer goes but I am so excited and ready to continue this adventure!


Reegan Den Adel
Donor Relations Intern
Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation
PO Box 57130
Des Moines, IA 50317
515-262-3111 Ext. 377

Those Super Structures

March 10, 2020
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“Those Super Structures” is just one section of the book: Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story. This history book describes the Iowa State Fair from the very beginning in 1854 through 2000 (The year the book was published). Each time I flip through the pages, I learn something new. Today’s lesson: the Livestock Pavilion.

Originally, livestock was housed primarily in temporary sheds and pens. In 1885 - 10 horse barns, 10 cattle barns, roofless swine pens and sheepcotes were built. There were also 50 wells, which supplied enough water for both stock and visitors. The frame barns were on the south end of the Fairgrounds, close to the railroad lines, which is how animals got to the Fair.

The barns were built in a circle, with each being equally distant from the show ring in the center. The structures were hastily built on a tight budget and maintenance became more and more common. In 1902, a massive building campaign included new barns that were built in phases, from 1902-1936.

One of those newly constructed buildings was the Livestock Pavilion. The Pavilion was the first masonry building on the Fairgrounds. It was used for 101 years and just like described in the book, repairs were needed. Renovations to the dilapidated building were completed in time for the 2003 Iowa State Fair thanks to an $800,000 donation by Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. In 2007, Bob and Marilyn Schlutz gave a $125,000 to add air-conditioning to the building. 

Fast forward 13 more years, there are two restrooms inside the Pavilion that need attention. The Blue Ribbon Foundation has already secured a $30,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. The Foundation is asking you to join the T.A.G. Team to make this project happen. Through the support of corporate and individual donors, together we can make improvements that all Iowa State Fairgoers can enjoy.

For a $250 donation, the first 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player to the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership for 2020. Donate now to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as a member of the T.A.G. Team.




Interested in learning more about the Iowa State Fair's history? Pick up your copy of "Our State Fair - Iowa's Blue Ribbon Story".

Your Iowa State Fair Moment

March 6, 2020
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What is your “Iowa State Fair Moment”? Is it the first time you attended the event? Did you meet your significate other while standing in line for a corndog? Did your grandma take you on the Giant Slide or Sky Glider for the first time? Did you win Grand Champion in your livestock class?

All Fair lovers have at least one, if not several flashbacks that bring a smile to their face when talking about the Iowa State Fair. I have a few and it’s hard to pick my top moment – the first time I attended and saw LeAnn Rimes in the Grandstand or camping with my best friend as she showed cattle. On the other hand, maybe it was my summer as a Blue Ribbon Foundation intern or getting married in the Animal Learning Center. Just like every Fairgoer, I have MANY special Iowa State Fair memories.

In fact, 9,293 Iowa State Fair enthusiasts have celebrated their personal Iowa State Fair memory with a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation for an engraved brick. The brick inscriptions all across the Fairgrounds are unique and tell stories of people’s connections to the Fair. Some engraved bricks celebrate families, honor loved ones that are no longer here or truly salute everything people love about the great Iowa State Fair.

All of the Giving Program options are available on the Blue Ribbon Foundation website. The Foundation has unique and creative ways to make a donation and leave a lasting legacy on the Fairgrounds. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level. The deadline to have an item in place by the 2020 Iowa State Fair is March 31.

Let’s commemorate those Iowa State Fair moments by supporting the future of the Fairgrounds with an engraved brick.


Old and New

February 25, 2020
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When flipping through old Iowa State Fair photos, you can see what the people, activities and buildings looked like when the event first started.  Compared to new photos, it is easy to recognize the many improvements made across the Fairgrounds. The beloved Iowa State Fair traditions have stayed the same but the facilities have definitely gotten better.

In the last 27 years, your donations to the Blue Ribbon Foundation have helped make those improvements possible. One special giving program is in full swing. And just like old photos – this program has been around for many years but it is still providing support for new projects.

The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way to donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation on your Iowa Tax Form. Look for “State Fair” when filing your taxes and fill in the desired donation amount. Your gift is either deducted from your refund or added to the amount due.  Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.  

Every dollar donated to the Corndog Checkoff is directly allocated to capital improvements. The program has raised more than $2 million, and has supplemented restoration projects like the Grandstand to the current renovation of the 4-H Building. In addition, funds generated have helped improve the campgrounds, parking areas, sidewalks and restrooms.  

We invite you to donate to the Corndog Checkoff. All it takes is one little checkmark on your state tax form to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation continue to preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.



47 out of 100

February 21, 2020
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Since launching the 2020 T.A.G. Team campaign in December, 47 donors have stepped up to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Let’s make restroom renovations exciting and continue the momentum!

What is the T.A.G. Team? The membership group will be composed of 100 Fairgoers who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. The 2020 improvement goal is to remodel the Livestock Pavilion’s two restrooms.

The two restrooms located within the building have not been updated in more than 40 years. The only toilet facilities in the area, they are heavily used and in desperate need of renovation to meet the standards of today. The updates would bring the restroom facilities into the 21st century, providing a better service to our customers and make cleaning them more efficient for our maintenance crews.

The updates would include tiling the walls, installing metallic epoxy flooring, replacing the toilet partitions, adding solid surface sinks, new counters and improving the electrical fixtures.

During the Fair, the Livestock Pavilion hosts livestock competitions, the Sale of Champions, and the Governor’s Charity Steer Show. The lower alcoves on the exterior are transformed into retail outlets selling t-shirts, space for food vendors and the Altoona Lions treasured spin art stand. The building is abuzz with activity. A bit quieter in the off-season, the Pavilion is used for many livestock shows and even hosts other competitions.

It’s a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals. For a $250 donation, the first 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player in the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership in the 2020 T.A.G. Team.

Join the 2020 T.A.G. Team. We welcome you to join the current 47 donors and help us reach our goal of 100. Thank you!


Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser

February 5, 2020
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Peter Cownie, Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director, promotes the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser in an interview with Iowa Live. Join the Foundation this Friday, February 7 for Dueling Pianos and Iowa State Fair food as we celebration our favorite summertime tradition - 6 months early. Buy your tickets online.

Doors to the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds open at 5:30 pm with entertainment starting at 6:00 pm

A special thank you to the event Sponsors: Air-Con Mechanical Corporation, Awards Unlimited, Inc, Mary & Peter Cownie, Daniels Filter Service, Dawghouse Concessions, Dee Zee Inc, Great Western Bank, Iowa-Des Moines Supply Inc, MercyOne, Reliable Roofing, SCI Communications, Mel & Linda Shivvers, US Erectors Inc, Vision Electric LLC 

We'll see you there!

Winter Newsletter – 2020, 2010, 2000

February 3, 2020
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As we move forward into the new decade, the future is exciting for the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is supporting several new projects that will improve the Fairgoer's experience.

What’s new with the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we start 2020? Fresh ideas help keep the Blue Ribbon Foundation successful. A new event is highlighted in the newsletter. Fair lovers are invited to attend the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7. Attendees will enjoy live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds while snacking on Fair-inspired appetizers – all while helping raise money for future Fairgrounds improvements.

This newsletter’s donor profile is SHAZAM. SHAZAM is a national member-owned debit network, processor and core provider. As a company committed to strengthening local communities, SHAZAM chooses to focus their charitable giving in Iowa. For the last three years, SHAZAM has been a $10,000 “Best of Show” Patron at the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party.

Each winter newsletter, we highlight our Champion Circle donors. These donors have contributed to Our Fair’s Future endowment fund. Just for fun, think about how psychics look at tarot cards to try to predict the future. Well, these Champion Circle donors are taking action and planning ahead to guarantee the Iowa State Fairgrounds will remain in the future and continue to be a family tradition for the next generation.

So, what was happening 10 years ago? In John Putney’s Editorial, he writes, “Pat yourself on the back and feel good about your role in making the Iowa State Fair the best it can be – the envy of the entire fair industry.” This celebration was for upcoming renovations plans for the Cultural Center and Youth Inn.

This newsletter featured a recap of the Fairgrounds 5K. The beautiful November day hosted 300 runners and raised $9,000 for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The donor profile was extra unique and featured the book “Bells Goes to the Fair”. This fun story tells the adventure of Bells, Bill and Susan Knapp’s yellow lab. The book was sold and proceeds totally $65,000 were donated to the Foundation.

New fundraising opportunities are incredibly important but so are the fundraising avenues that have been part of the Foundation for 10 or even 20 years. The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way for Fairgoers to show their support while filing their Iowa taxes. These donations are anonymous to the Foundation and have supported the ongoing maintenance. Some improvements aren’t exciting (updating electrical wiring, plumbing repairs, or replacing shingles) but need to be done and aren’t cheap. Thank you for considering the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we enter tax season.

And what was happening 20 years ago? The Iowa State Fairgrounds has grown and new structures have been built to fit the needs of the ever-changing event. Having new structures is an amazing addition to the Fairgrounds but maintaining the current buildings is equally if not more important.

Twenty years ago, the Blue Ribbon Foundation received a $400,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino for the repairs on the Livestock Pavilion’s roof. Fast forward to 2020 - one project for this spring is the renovation of the Livestock Pavilion restrooms. Prairie Meadows once again stepped up to the challenge to help with a $30,000 grant for the project. We are asking donors to also help by joining the 2020 T.A.G. Team. This unique group of 100 donors will be key players in accomplishing a much needed renovation. Join Today.

Listed in all three of the newsletters is the “Roll of Donors”. This is our opportunity to thank the loyal Blue Ribbon Foundation supporters that have joined our mission, some since 1993. All gifts of any size are important and each dollar donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation has factored into our accomplishments over time. Oh how the list has grown!


As we look to the next decade, the Iowa State Fair’s goal remains the same — celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage to further education while offering entertainment and competition for all ages.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to providing a quality environment and facilities to accomplish that goal. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s vision and joining our mission to make it a reality.



January 28, 2020
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Where there is eleven days to do, eat and see everything at the Iowa State Fair. From the food, to the games, rides and competitions… How Do You Fair? Be There: August 13-23, 2020.

“How Do You Fair?” is the 2020 Iowa State Fair theme. In the marketing materials, there are really cool graphics using bright colors and State Fair images. Just as each of the images represents a unique aspect of the Iowa State Fair, every Fairgoer's answer to the question will be different.


The red guitar could represent all of the live music that takes place in the Grandstand each night or on one of the free stages throughout the day. Or it could represent the Bill Riley Talent Show or the hours of music played on top of the hill in Pioneer Hall.

The Ferris Wheel and Corndog are both State Fair staples but really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rides and food. There are three separate Thrill Parks during the Fair dedicated to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. And the food options – on-a-stick, deep-fried, fresh from the garden, dipped, smoked or pickled – the possibilities are endless.

The yellow chick and brown cow represent all of the livestock featured. They could also represent the Animal Learning Center and the baby animals. But maybe they represent the education opportunities during the Fair, like Vet Camp.

My favorite graphic is the blue ribbon. Of course it was probably selected to represent the countless number of competitions that take place during the 11 days focused around livestock, food, art and every silly contest you can think of.

I like to think the blue ribbon represents the Blue Ribbon Foundation. So instead of “How Do You Fair?”, I'll ask “How Do You Support the Fair?”.

Over the next few months, the Blue Ribbon Foundation encourages Iowans to support the renovation and preservation efforts while filing their Iowa taxes. We call it the Corndog Checkoff program. Look for State Fair on line 57b of Iowa's 1040 tax form. Simply fill out the amount you would like to donate. If you are receiving a refund, the amount of your donation will be automatically deducted from your refund. If you owe taxes, simply add the donation to the amount you send in to the Department of Revenue.

August will be here before we know it. Until then (as we patiently wait for winter and tax season to pass) thank you for your support of the Corndog Checkoff.


All or Nothing…or maybe just Half

January 22, 2020
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Most of the time only doing half the job is unacceptable. Like laundry – you wouldn’t wash the clothes without drying them. Or making only half of your bed doesn’t work.

On the other hand, some things are completely acceptable only doing halfway. Like running a half marathon, celebrating your half birthday, or eating half the carton of ice cream.

What about celebrating the midway point to the Iowa State Fair? The Blue Ribbon Foundation wants you to join us at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7.

The Iowa State Fair is known for great live music and delicious food in August. The Happy Hour event will have both - 6 months early! Enjoy your favorite Fair-inspired appetizer while listening to the Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds. There will be Corndogs, Popcorn, Nacho Chips, Bacon Cheese Dip, Chicken Wings, Brisket Mac-N-Cheese, Funnel Cakes, and of course, Chocolate Chip Cookies. 

When you purchase your $50 admission ticket, you are supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission. Your donation will go toward upgrades across the Fairgrounds and not just half improvement projects either.

Your donation could be used to repair a sidewalk or replace a broken light fixture in a restroom. These small improvements add up to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds more than a group of historic buildings but a place that holds the traditions that so many Iowans cherish. 

Buy your tickets today and join the Blue Ribbon Foundation in the Elwell Family Food Center as we celebrate the halfway point to our favorite tradition of the year. We’ll see you there! 


A special thank you to our sponsors supporting this year’s event:

• Air-Con Mechanical Corporation
• Awards Unlimited, Inc.
• Mary & Peter Cownie
• Daniels Filter Service
• Dawghouse Concessions
• Dee Zee Inc.
• Great Western Bank
• Iowa-Des Moines Supply, Inc
• MercyOne
• Reliable Roofing
• SCI Communications
• US Erectors Inc.
• Vision Electric LLC


Iowa State Fair Inspiration

January 17, 2020
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A few years ago the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation auctioned off a State Fair inspired print created by Sticks, Inc. at the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party. The artwork said:

Nothing Compares to our Iowa State Fair.
Where millions of people meet, eat and compete. And tap their feet.
Weathering heat and rain to see talent shows, art shows, concerts and this year’s biggest pumpkin.
Where family traditions are made. Alongside the world’s best lemonade and evenings close with a finale of fireworks.

In addition to the words, there were illustrations of the Sky Glider, Giant Slide, Grandstand, Thrill Park ride and the famous Butter Cow. Included were three of the Fair’s favorite animals – horse, sheep, and pig. No State Fair picture is complete without the iconic food – corndog, wonder bar, cookies, turkey leg, cotton candy and lemonade. The artist even included a few things that are special of the state of Iowa - an ear of corn, homegrown veggies and jams, and the downtown Des Moines skyline.

This picture represents what people love about the Iowa State Fair – the fun, traditions, and family memories all capture in one frame. I hope these things inspire you to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

When you choose to give a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, it changes your perspective of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. You start to look at pictures differently and experience the event in an entirely new way. You become part of Iowa State Fair. You are improving the Fairgrounds for the next generation, offering them the opportunity to share in the special traditions and create their own. Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation and give a donation today.

P.S. We have another inspiring Iowa State Fair print created by Sticks (Pictured Below) available for sale in the online State Fair Store – get yours today.