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.

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.

History Lesson

January 13, 2020
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When planning for the 2020 Iowa State Fair, staff members brainstorm new ideas to offer something special for each person attending the Fair. This goal isn’t anything new – it’s actually 100 years old!

When flipping through the book, “Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story”, I spotted a section on what was happening on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the 1920s.

A common goal of both the State Board of Agriculture and the State Fair Board was and remains to offer something for every single fairgoer.

  • 1920: The construction of the Cattle Barn was completed.
  • 1923: New 4-H Dining Hall opened serving 9,200 meals to 4-H Club members.
  • 1926: An opera was the main attraction in the Grandstand with 4,500 people in attendance.

Whoa - sound familiar? Yes, many things have changed since 1920 but a few things are still at the heart of the Iowa State Fair.

The Cattle Barn is not only used during the Iowa State Fair but will be used for the upcoming Iowa Beef Expo in February. Since the structure was built, there have been plenty of renovations including a new roof, replacement of all gutters and downspouts and a new concrete floor in the foyer area. Additionally, both the north and south ends of the west side were extended 35 feet to the sidewalk. In the last two years, the overhead doors on the west side of the barn were refurbished by replacing rotting wood and receiving a new coat of paint.

The Iowa 4-H program continues to provide opportunities for youth to develop skills that they can use now and throughout their lives. The building renovation will provide a space for 4-H'ers to showcase their individual talents and accomplishments. This fall, concrete slabs were poured for the restroom area and the new addition. The existing building's roof was replaced and masonry work was completed on the south side. Construction will continue this winter into spring. It will feel like a brand new building when Fairgoers and 4-H'ers arrive in August.

It’s been a long time since an opera was featured in the Grandstand but a variety of music genres continues to appeal to Fairgoers of all ages. Just two years ago, 15,775 people attended the Thomas Rhett concert. And so far, 3 of the 2020 Iowa State Fair Grandstand concerts have gone on sale, with 8 more concerts left to announce.  

Reading about Iowa State Fair history reminds us of the traditions so many Iowans fell in love with. Learning what happened 100 years ago helps the event grow for the future. Although the Blue Ribbon Foundation wasn't around 100 years ago, the support we've received in the last 25 years will help sustain the Fairgrounds for the next 100 years.  

The 1920s on the Iowa State Fairgrounds sounds like it was a good time. I am willing to bet the 2020s will be even better!



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

One Month Away!

January 6, 2020
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When the Iowa State Fair wraps up, Fairgoers start patiently waiting. The Blue Ribbon Foundation knows winter can be the hardest part of the wait. Once you flip the calendar, February is 6 months until the best celebration of the summer. That’s only 182 days until you get to eat your favorite food-on-a-stick and join in the beloved traditions. Stop counting down the days and join the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation as we fast-forward to August!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is hosting the 2nd annual Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7 in the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Attendees will enjoy live music from the Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson & Mike Leeds, eat Fair-inspired appetizers and help support future Iowa State Fairgrounds improvements benefitting you and your family.

Purchase your $50 admission ticket online or by calling the Blue Ribbon Foundation office at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Admission ticket includes entertainment and appetizers. Doors open at 5:30 pm, entertainment starts at 6 pm.

Let’s celebrate Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition 6 months early!

Thank you to our 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
  • US Erectors Inc.
  • It's not too late to be an event sponsorEmail Drew for details. 



Photos from the 2019 event:


Renovations by the Decade

January 2, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation started in 1993 with big ideas. The Foundation set a goal to renovate the historic Fairgrounds one building at a time.  With support from Iowa State Fair lovers across the state (and country) – our organization has raised more than $160 million and improved the Iowa State Fairgrounds for 3 decades!

There have been large projects, constructing brand new buildings but there have been even more smaller improvements made across the 445 acres. Below are just a few highlights over the years.

1993 – 2000:

  • Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center, 1995
  • Ye Old Mill, 1996
  • Anne & Bill Riley Stage, 1997
  • Hy-Vee Fun Forest, 1999


2000 – 2010:

  • William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building, 2001
  • Richard L. Easter Museum Complex, 2003
  • Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, 2007
  • Elwell Family Food Center, 2009


2010 – 2020:

  • Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, 2010
  • Patty & Jim Cownie Cultural Center, 2014
  • Oman Family Youth Inn, 2016
  • 4-H Building, 2020


As years pass and progress is made – the Blue Ribbon Foundation looks to the future. To keep the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds in the best condition for the next generation, the Foundation created an endowment. When you donate to our endowment, you give a gift with both immediate and long-term benefits. Endowment donations are invested. A portion of the annual income from the investment can be used to address immediate renovation needs. The remaining funds are reinvested to ensure indefinite support.

As we kick off 2020 - thank you to our loyal donors who have supported us from the very beginning. These Fairgoers have watched the Fairgrounds transform since 1993. And thank you to the donors that just joined our mission in the last year. The Blue Ribbon Foundation would not be successful without each Fairgoer, volunteer and donor.

Cheers to a new year and a new decade!

Holiday Gift Idea

December 5, 2019
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Are you making a list and checking it twice? The Blue Ribbon Foundation has unique and creative ways to give the person on your Christmas list the perfect gift.  Whether you want an Iowa State Fair keepsake or to leave a lasting legacy. There are several ways to support the Foundation’s goal of raising funds to help preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

State Fair Store
The Blue Ribbon Foundation manages the merchandise sold in the State Fair Store. Apparel, books, charms, collectibles, hats, and all sorts of fun Iowa State Fair souvenirs.

Giving Programs
What about the person on your list that has everything? The Foundation’s various giving programs are the perfect way for the Fair lover in your life to have their name on a piece of the Fairgrounds. Check out the different options:

  • Block by Block – Individual donor wall plaques create a quilt inside the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center to match the building’s exterior quilt blocks representing counties across Iowa.
  • Building for the Future – A granite paver or engraved seat plaque at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center.
  • Buy a Brick – The most popular giving program, personalized engraved bricks placed in 15 different locations on the Fairgrounds.
  • Courtyard of Celebration – Located on the east side of the Patty & Jim Cownie Cultural Center, these pavers celebrate all things artistic on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
  • Growing Our Future – The newest giving program, individual donor plaques add a beautiful display in the heart of the Fairgrounds along Ruan Plaza.
  • Legacy Terrace – Tree plaques and granite pavers commemorate State Fair fans outside the Grandstand.
  • Shine On – Add a plaque to the base of a lamp post. There are several new lamp posts along Jacobson Plaza.
  • Trees for the Fair – With a personalized nameplate on a plaque in the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center or a plaque at the base of a tree, the inscription possibilities are endless.

Honor and Memorial Gifts
This holiday season, do you want to honor a special person in your life or a special event? Has a loved one recently passed away? Tribute gifts can be made in honor of a friend, to commemorate an important event, or made in memory of loved ones. Make a Memorial or Honor Gift to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and celebrate the special Fairgoer in your life.

Thank you for joining the Blue Ribbon Foundation in preserving Iowa State Fair traditions by helping improve the beauty of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Have a wonderful holiday season.



Together Accomplishing Goals

December 3, 2019
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Come join our T. A. G. Team! This new group of 100 donors has been created to bring like-minded, Fair-loving individuals together to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds an even better place. It’s a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals.

The T.A.G. Team is composed of 100 donors 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 Livestock Pavilion was constructed in 1902. The first masonry building on the Fairgrounds, the Pavilion was originally ventilated by a complex fan system that forced in fresh, warm air and drew out foul air at the same time.

One hundred and one years later, 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. During the Fair, the Pavilion hosts livestock judging, horse shows, and the Governor’s Charity Steer Auction.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has already secured a $30,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino to launch the project. We are asking you to be one of our T.A.G. Team members to make the project happen.

For a $250 donation, only 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.

We welcome your participation so Together we can Accomplish our Goals. Donate now to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as a member of the T.A.G. Team.




Spirit of Giving

November 25, 2019
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Last week the Iowa State Fair shared a special announcement. Joe Barksdale gifted the chocolate chip cookie business to the people of Iowa by entrusting the business to the Iowa State Fair. Barksdale’s cookies are a staple at the Iowa State Fair. Each year, thousands of families get in line to get their cup or bucket of warm, fresh chocolate chip cookies. Now that cookie tradition will continue for future generations to enjoy.

The Barksdale family has been doing business on the Fairgrounds since 1976 and baking cookies since 1993. They are no strangers to supporting the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. Barksdale’s Concession first gave a donation to the Foundation in 1993 and they have participated in the Corndog Kickoff since 2002.

The Barksdale family was featured in the 2007 Foundation Newsletter Donor Profile. Joe said it best: “My favorite thing about the Iowa State Fair is the Fairgrounds itself.  It really is a park with all the trees and turn of the century buildings. There is no other Fairgrounds like it in the country.”

Thank you Barksdale’s for being one of the first Foundation donors and continuing to support the Foundation’s mission to renovate and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

This gift and the upcoming holiday got me thinking. Starting with Thanksgivings through the end of the year, the “Spirit of Giving” is everywhere. The feeling of wanting to help people and give back can be felt around every corner. That feeling of being thankful and celebrating the year’s blessings is contagious. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is so thankful for our supporters.

Thank you to our donors.  From large to small, all donations are important to the Foundation. Donors have a reason for giving to the Blue Ribbon Foundation that is unique and special to them. We are honored that they choose to support our mission.

Thank you to the volunteers that give countless hours of their time to our organization throughout the entire year. Our volunteers are always willing to tackle any project with a smile on their face. These volunteers keep coming back year after year and we are continually thankful for each of them.

Thank you to the interns that join our staff each summer. These college students go above and beyond to help accomplish our goals. Their hard work does not go unnoticed and they are each deserving of a huge thank you!

Thank you to the other Blue Ribbon Foundation staff members and the entire State Fair staff for stepping up and assisting with whatever is needed to make our organization run smoothly.

In the spirit of giving, the Blue Ribbon Foundation says THANK YOU for giving to our organization this holiday season and supporting our work every day of the year.


Cheers to Barksdale's Concessions and years of yummy cookies at the Corndog Kickoff:



November 19, 2019
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff met last week to brainstorm ideas for the 2020 Corndog Kickoff theme. Having a new theme each year allows the Foundation to highlight a special aspect of the Iowa State Fair.

The Corndog Kickoff is our largest fundraising event. When planning, it helps me to break down the event into categories - auction, concessionaires, patrons, etc. Something simple that adds some fun to the night is the centerpiece decorations. As we plan for 2020, let’s look back at the Corndog Kickoff themes and decorations since I started.

2014: “Rock’n Round the Grounds” highlighted the music across the Fairgrounds from the Grandstand, free stage entertainment and everything in between. The miniature custom Iowa State Fair guitar paired with drumsticks and a classic record fit the theme perfectly.


2015: “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” compared the great Iowa State Fair to the holiday season. With wrapped presents and garland trees, we celebrated Christmas in July! Volunteers worked hard shaping wire hangers to form those trees.


2016: “Locally Grown” featured the impressive growing skills on display in the Agriculture Building during the Fair. With vegetables, crops and flowers – the time and talent Iowans dedicate to these plants is top notch and worthy of a blue ribbon. The straw bales looked adorable on the tables but were so messy.


2017: “What A Ride”. Who doesn’t love a classic Fair carnival game? From knocking down baseballs, ring tossing, duck pulling and ping-pong throwing, the Foundation highlighted the Iowa State Fair’s new Thrill Parks with the theme. We also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Foundation as an organization. 


2018: “All Roads Lead to the Iowa State Fair”. People from across the state and across the country travel to Iowa each August to experience the State Fair! With street signs, luggage and license plates - the Foundation created the ultimate summer road trip. Everyone knows the Iowa State Fair is a destination and perfect family vacation.


2019: “Let the Competition Begin” was all about the contests held during the Fair and winning a ribbon. We highlighted horseshoe pitching, marvelous hats, bubble gum blowing, grape stomping, chess, checkers and BINGO. The Iowa State Fair celebrates the competitive spirit in all of us.


It is easy to get caught up in the little details when planning the Corndog Kickoff. When I am stressed or overwhelmed, I remember how fortunate the Blue Ribbon Foundation is to have supporters that love the Iowa State Fair. These people are volunteers, patrons, auction donors, concessionaires, and auction item buyers. They come to the Corndog Kickoff each year to support our mission and future projects that will continue to improve the Fairgrounds. (I have a feeling they would show up with or without the decorations!)

Save the date for the 2020 Corndog Kickoff – Saturday, July 11. The theme is going to be one of my favorites!

Job Opening

November 12, 2019
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation wants to hire four interns to join our staff in 2020. The internship application deadline is November 30. What exactly does an intern do? Each summer, a team of college students plan, prepare and execute specific tasks and projects.  The Blue Ribbon Foundation depends on each of them to help our organization succeed.

List of Intern Projects:
• Iowan of the Day: promote program, help select winners, write press releases and speeches
• Recruit and schedule 600+ volunteers for the Corndog Kickoff and Iowa State Fair
• Manage canvas painting class, BINGO, and woodcarver’s auction
• Organize concert tickets and sponsorship credentials
• Plan Legislative Day lunch, 1854 Society brunch and other donor hospitality events
• Corndog Kickoff: coordinate live and silent auctions, advertise Dining Delights 
• Giving Programs: help Fairgoers with donations, lay engraved bricks
• Create advertisements, flyers, and media kits
• Merchandise: design new items, fulfill merchandise orders, and manage booths during the Fair
• Plan (and maybe participate in) Outhouse Races
• Organize wholesale bottled water sales
• Create social media posts, newsletter articles, E-News messages and blog content
• Bring Drew coffee every morning (Just Kidding!)

This list is just the tip of the iceberg! The Blue Ribbon Foundations loves when interns bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to our organization. We want each intern to gain valuable experience while at the same time supporting the Foundation’s mission to keep improving the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

If you know a hard-working college student that loves the Iowa State Fair, encourage them to apply. If you are up for a challenging but rewarding summer, join us!

Please email a cover letter, resume, three references and two writing samples by November 30. Design samples are encouraged, but not mandatory. All applicants will be required to complete a short writing and skills assessment before being offered the position. Read more on our website.