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 $128 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.

And the New Fair Square Flavor Is...

July 12, 2017

The Blue Ribbon Foundation began selling Fair Squares in 2010, and ever since the rice krispy treat on a stick has been a hit! Have you tried all of our flavors? From the original rice krispy flavor or peanut butter, to the Graham Champion with cocoa krispies and golden grahams, we have had a wide variety!

Our previous flavors have been Nothing Spared, the basic rice krispy treat with M&M’s, potato chips, Oreos, toffee and pretzels. Fair-berry Crunch consisted of crisp rice cereal, marshmallows and strawberry puree. Chocolate Marshmallow Malt was made with butter, marshmallows, chocolate chips, cocoa puffs and malted milk powder. Salted Caramel was a delicious mix of sweet and salty with regular rice krispy treat drizzled with chocolate, caramel and salty goodness.

In honor of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 25th Anniversary, we wanted to celebrate! Join us at the Fair to celebrate with a piece of “cake” with a Birthday Cake Fair Square!

You can find the Fair Square booth North West of the Administration building. Fair Squares are $2.50 each. We can’t wait to see you at the Fair to help us celebrate our 25th Anniversary!



A Look at the Past- Pioneer and Ag Hall Edition

July 11, 2017

Iowa is known for agriculture. We are a state that prides ourselves on the contributions we make to agriculture in society. Stepping on to the Fairgrounds, that is clearly evident as seen in all 4H, FFA, and other exhibitor’s projects. Whether your work is showcased in a show ring, on a rack, on a plate, or in a vase, agriculture surrounds every corner of the Iowa State Fair. Many of these entries can be found in the John Deere Agriculture Building or Pioneer Hall.


Green thumb and beekeeper exhibitors showcase all of their hard work in the Agriculture Hall. This hall was one of the first buildings on the Fairgrounds to be renovated from wood frame to permanent brick and stone. The beautiful rotunda arks that preface each entrance have been restored and decorated with shells of stone. This building is quite popular during the fair because of what lies inside. The famous butter cow and jumbo vegetable displays can be found here. The Agriculture building is also home to my favorite display, the Iowa FFA Foundation. Multiple blue jackets from chapters all over the state of Iowa are hung each telling its own story.


Pioneer Hall is the only original building built for the 1886 Fair that still remains. The history comes alive from the inside. Many artifact and antiques are located here.


Each building has a purpose and a story. At the Blue Ribbon Foundation, we strive to keep the history and stories living on each year for fairgoers to experience by providing funding to restore and enhance the areas. Your support over the past 25 years has been extraordinary and we look forward to the years to come. Continue supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation by donating to our 25th anniversary campaign at


Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn

June 29, 2017

We’re excited to have Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn at the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction on July 8th to share their delicious Non-GMO popcorn! This tiny popcorn comes from Iowa and was discovered in the 1850s. Tiny But Mighty is doing a #TinyMatters Giveaway to help spread the word and inspire people to do tiny things that make a mighty difference. You can win a year’s supply of their heirloom popcorn, a tiny drone with video and tons of other healthy and fun prizes totaling $6,000 in value. Join the giveaway at Hurry, because the giveaway ends July 4th!

Not only will Tiny But Mighty be serving popcorn at the Corndog Kickoff, but they will also have a silent auction package for you to bid on! Here are the details:

Package #105: No Floss Needed

Amazing taste and no floss needed with this Heirloom popcorn discovered in the 1850s. Grown in Iowa, the popcorn has never been modified or hybridized.

• Within this Tiny But Mighty Heirloom popcorn basket you get three 1.25 lb. bags of unpopped kernels and two 3-pack cartons of Spicy Southwest microwave popcorn.
• Want popcorn on the go? Here are a selection of 4 oz snack packs of popped corn in white cheddar, sea salt and butter flavors.
Donated by Tiny But Mighty Popcorn

If you haven’t yet, make sure to secure your spot at the Corndog Kickoff by purchasing tickets online or calling the Foundation office at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Can’t wait to see you there!



A Side Rail

June 28, 2017

The Iowa State Fair has a long history of projects that bring change to the Fairgrounds. Over the years as our society transitioned, so has the Fairgrounds. Before vehicles and shuttle busses, Fairgoers traveled to Des Moines via trains, arriving at the spur built to the south side of the Fairgrounds. Gradually, automobiles became the primary mode of transportation and the use of trains faded, leaving the railroad track to never see a train again.  In recent years, the railroad tracks were becoming a nuisance to the maintenance crews who cleared the roads of snow. The rails stuck out, causing the blade of the snowplow to hit the tracks, damaging the blade. Dating back to 1898, the rails were just removed this past year from the parking lot area south of the Fairgrounds.

Randy Schnebbe of RS Welding in Victor, IA was searching for a unique item to donate to the Corndog Kickoff. After coming across the rails, he chose to incorporate them into a memorable piece of furniture. Randy used his creative skills to create a unique sofa table that is truly one of a kind.

The rails from the track were created into the base of the sofa table, showcasing their wear and tear. The table top is a lightly veined marble, a rare find that is no longer commercially available. The marble was mined in Iran and cut in Italy and consists of a creamy white color with veins of gray and sienna, which pick up the colors found in the rails.

Plan to attend the Corndog Kickoff on July 8 to bid on this beautiful piece of furniture that will add a piece of Iowa State Fair history to your home. This table is package #28 of the live auction, which will begin promptly at 8 P.M. This is a specially designed table you won’t find anywhere else. Don’t miss your chance to add this elegant piece to your home!

To purchase Corndog Kickoff tickets, call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 ext. 371 or online at


The stunning marble that is the top of the table. 




Fairgoers exited the train and began walking to the Fairgrounds to enjoy the great, Iowa State Fair! 


A Look at the Past- 25th Anniversary Cultural Center and Photography Edition

June 27, 2017

Pictures capture some of the most iconic memories. The stories that lie behind a photograph showcase amazing history and generate captivating emotions. Each year, thousands of photographers enter more than 3,600 pictures in the State Fair. Those photos are showcased in the Cultural Center. The talented individuals who capture the pictures are the reason we can figuratively look back at the changes the Blue Ribbon has had the opportunity to be a part of.



The Cultural Center has some history itself. Before it was the now Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center, it was the 4-H Club Girls’ Dormitory. The Cultural Center took on transformations that included new lighting, removing some interior walls, adding new display cases and painting the building inside and out. The Cultural Center now holds a spread of art for Iowan artisans. The Iowa State Fair’s art show is the state’s largest.



The Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to honor our Fair’s history by being a reliable source of funding for renovations and building enhancements. Help up celebrate our 25th year anniversary campaign by donating to the Foundation. We thank you for your involvement now and your continued support in the future.


The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dediated to continuing that legacy. We invite you to join a community of generosity and become even more involved with the fair you know and love. 



Our Wonderful Staff

June 26, 2017

Take a look at who was featured in the Iowa State Fair Staff Newsletter!

Peter Cownie, Executive Director - Joining the Foundation in 2013, Peter oversees all daily operations.

Robin Taylor, Assistant Director - Joining the Foundation in 1999, Robin Oversees the merchandise, volunteer, and planned giving programs. She also works with accounts and coordinates the Corndog Kickoff Auction.

Meg Courter, Sponsorship Director - Joining the Foundation in April 2017, Meg manages our dozens of Iowa State Fair sponsors.

Drew Norton, Communications Director - Joining the Foundation in 2013, Drew directs the Foundation's communication efforts. She plans special events including the Corndog Kickoff, as well a manages various giving programs, membership programs, and the Iowan of the Day program

Life as an intern can be challenging but when you have these four professionals to look up to it becomes quite the ride!



20... 10... & Now

June 23, 2017

As we release the summer newsletter, here is a brief flashback to what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was doing 10 and 20 years ago.

The 1997 summer newsletter announced the generous gift of $100,000 from Maytag to be used for improvements to the Family Center then renamed to the “Maytag Family Center”. “Since Maytag produces products that make life easier, simpler and more convenient, programs that enhance family life are one of the major focus areas of our Foundation contributions,” said Leonard A. Hadley, Chairman and CEO of Maytag Corporation at the time of the donation.

Beth Greiner, the assistant director in 1997 shared that the secret weapon to success for the Blue Ribbon Foundation was simply gathering Iowans from all corners of the state and linking their love for the Iowa State Fair. She thanked everyone for the goals they had triumphed in only four short years.

The Corndog Kickoff Benefit prizes were featured in the summer 1997 newsletter as well. The top package prizes were backstage passes to meet Vince Gill, being first in line at the Pork Producers Tent, and riding in the State Fair Parade.

Assistant Director, Robin Taylor, wrote the editorial in 2007. She wrote about the immense amount of meticulous planning that goes into the Iowa State Fair. With master plans come new improvements and renovations including the opening of the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. Expo Hill showcased the new wind turbine donated by MidAmerican Energy and the foods department would move to the Elwell Family Food Center, formerly the Tourism Building.

The $1 million gift from Denny and Candy Elwell of West Des Moines to the Blue Ribbon Foundation transformed the Iowa Tourism Building into the Elwell Family Food Center. CEO and Chairman of the Denny Elwell Company, Denny Elwell said, “Our family is in the fifth generation of fair lovers. As a young child, year after year I have always looked forward to the fair. I enjoyed walking the fairgrounds, seeing it all and especially eating at all my favorite food stands.”

In the 2017 summer newsletter, Meg Courter, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s Sponsorship Director, reflected on her tradition of attending the fair. Included are details about the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Campaign, Corndog Kickoff Patrons, and information about the social painting class to take place at the Fair. New projects include the renovation of the reconstructed midway to the “Thrill Park” and the expansion of the West Plaza.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is successful because of its supporters – the donors, volunteers, and the Iowans that love the State Fair. This 2017 summer newsletter highlights some of those people – Prairie Meadows and the Donor Profile: Dale and Mary Andringa.

Check out the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s summer newsletter. You can also join our E-news mailing list to get the inside scoop on the Blue Ribbon Foundation activities delivered right to your inbox every month.



Getting Closer to the Corndog Kickoff

June 22, 2017

Today is an exciting day at the office because we just received the Corndog Kickoff auction books! This means that today we will begin putting together the tickets to be sent out. It’s great to start seeing everything come together. Our office also continues to get filled with more and more of the auction packages. It’s so fun for all of us to look at them. Have you seen some of the packages yet? Check them out here.

It feels like the calm before the storm as we know next week is when it will start to get really busy! Although we are getting closer and closer to the Corndog Kickoff, it’s not too late to get tickets. Go online to order your tickets or call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Don’t miss out on the great auction packages, amazing Fair food, and events like Rags to Riches and Winner’s Choice Raffle!



The auction book! 

Seeking Iowan of the Day Nominations

June 21, 2017

Calling for all great Iowans! Think of a person in your community who does an outstanding job volunteering to better your community. Someone who never says no and can always be counted on to step in. Are they involved with youth and show great personal qualities and achievements? Does this person love the state of Iowa and show true Iowa pride? Have they improved your community? If you answered yes to any of these questions, nominate this person to be the Iowan of the Day during the 2017 Iowa State Fair! We will honor ten different Iowans during the Fair with a day filled with Fair fun for each winner!

Gather materials that demonstrate how this person has been an asset to your community. Supplemental materials include letters of recommendation, awards, pictures, newspaper articles and a list of their involvement within their community. We are accepting nominations until July 1. Don’t hesitate to nominate someone, it could be a day they will never forget!

Nomination forms can be found on our website. Please have them postmarked by July 1. 

It is very rewarding to read each and every nomination we receive. I am proud to call Iowa my home and to have grown up in a state with hardworking, dedicated people who only want to better our state. I am looking forward to receiving more nominations for this great award! 




Sprucing Up

June 20, 2017

As part of one of our membership programs, you can become a member of the 1854 Society. As a member, your name will be engraved on a brick and placed outside of the Richard L. Easter historic complex. Recently, the Blue Ribbon Staff along with our summer interns, made the one block trip from our office to the courtyard of bricks. We spent the afternoon painting the bricks giving them a clean new look. We are proud to have an area dedicated to our Society members who gift our Foundation to continue to make the Fairgrounds a beautiful place.


(The interns helping lay tape and paint the bricks.)

Other giving programs you can become involved in include:

Block by Block Program
Building for the Future
Buy a Brick Program
Corndog Tax Checkoff
Courtyard of Celebration
Growing Our Future
Legacy Terrace
Shine On Program
Trees for the Fair

If you would like further information about these programs, please visit our website or call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 ext. 371.

Thank you for your support of the Blue Ribbon Foundation and its’ giving programs. With your investments, you help create the success of the Iowa State Fair, Iowa’s most celebrated tradition!