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 $135 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.

Winter Newsletter: 1998, 2008 and 2018

January 31, 2018
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation?
Check out the Foundation’s winter newsletter. We are focused on sharing information on ways to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation through your Iowa taxes, the Endowment Fund or purchase Grandstand Concert tickets during a special presale. This winter newsletter highlights our Roll of Donor list featuring Fairgoers that have contributed $250 or more since 1993.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is also excited to announce a generous $1 million donation from Kyle and Sharon Krause, and Kum & Go. Over the next several months, the Grandstand will undergo a renovation to expand the seating area and create a larger stage. The new Kum & Go Stage will accommodate larger musical acts and is designed to provide an exceptional entertainment experience. The project will be completed for opening day of the 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Did you miss the chance to purchase an Isabel Bloom Butter Cow during the Fair? We have got you covered with our limited edition second run. Check out the website for more details.

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 10 years ago?
“The Big Dig” was the topic of conversation with the Outdoor Arena being relocated. Other sewer and utility work had several areas of the Fairgrounds tore up. The Iowa State Fair was starting some serious projects to keep the current facilities in top condition and continue to attract national livestock and other agriculturally-related shows, exhibitions and conventions.

In 2008, the Corndog Checkoff and Fan Fair programs were in full swing. The first ever Fairgrounds 5K was highlighted raising $12,000 the previous fall.  The newsletter also included 35 pages of donor names that contributed to the Foundation since 1993.

“Thank you for your support of the great Iowa State Fair, an important tradition for the state of Iowa. Our continued success would not be possible without your loyalty,” said John Putney, former Executive Director. This loyalty has only continued to grow in 10 years.

Featured in the Donor Profile was the Goodman Dairy Farm. The Goodman family hosted a dairy breakfast fundraiser for the Blue Ribbon Foundation at their farm. This event raised $1000 and equally important raised awareness to the Oskaloosa and Rose Hill communities about the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission to improve the Fairgrounds.  Thank you Goodman Family for the support.

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 20 years ago?
In 1998, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was reaching goals and at the same time, setting new ones. The organization had raised $30 million in the first 5 years. As more donations came in, more items were added to the list of needed improvements. The goal “to make our Iowa State Fair an extreme source of pride for all of us” was in full swing.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website and IoWeb’s services creating the website were highlighted in the Donor Profile. The father and son team of Kass and Kevin Duis donated their time and resources to make the Foundation part of the World Wide Web.

The creation of the Trees for the Fair program was just starting, the brick pad in front of Ye Old Mill was expanding with more engraved bricks, and two new employees joined the Foundation’s team: Pam Brocker and Emily Reis. The Rebuilding the Dream campaign was building momentum with new opportunities to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

To shape your future, you need to understand your past. The Blue Ribbon Foundation thanks the donors that helped shape our organization 20 and 10 years ago. We look forward to growing with our current and future supporters.




The Corndog Checkoff

January 24, 2018
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The Corndog Checkoff allows Iowans to make charitable contributions to the Blue Ribbon Foundation when filing state taxes. When completing an Iowa tax form, look for “State Fair” and simply fill in the desired donation amount. If receiving a refund, the amount of your donation will be automatically deducted. If taxes are owed, simply add the donation to the amount you send in to the Department of Revenue.

While fundraising efforts have been successful thus far, continued support from all Fairgoers is vital to keep momentum going. The Blue Ribbon Foundation needs your support to finish what has been started, as well as help preserve the past improvements made since 1993.

The summer and heat of August seem far away but in less than 200 days -  food on a stick,  entertainment, livestock events, art exhibits and a million people will make their way to the Fairgrounds! The Iowa State Fair has something to offer every member of the family to enjoy and showcases what Iowans love about their state. Express your love for the Iowa State Fair with a donation through your taxes.

The Corndog Checkoff has the potential to provide tremendous funding for future projects. Help the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s fundraising efforts by sharing this opportunity. The more people aware of the Corndog Checkoff, the more people will donate. Visit the Corndog Checkoff page on the Blue Ribbon Foundation website for more information. 



It’s a Journey, not a Destination

January 17, 2018
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The Patty & Jim Cownie Cultural Center renovation, Oman Family Youth Inn updates, creation of the MidAmerican Energy Stage, development of Ruan Plaza, midway overhaul, building of Jacobson Plaza, construction of a new admission gate and countless other smaller projects. This impressive list of Iowa State Fairgrounds improvements has been completed since I became a full time staff member with the Blue Ribbon Foundation – just shy of 5 years. 

As I approach my fifth year as the Communications Manager, I reflect on Fairgrounds enhancements in a short period of time and my experience as a member of the team helping make those “wish list” items a reality.

I’ve grown professionally by learning from coworkers and leaders in the industry. It is a responsibility to plan, organize and execute a beloved tradition as the Iowa State Fair. Staff takes this responsibility seriously and works extremely hard to provide the best to attendees. I value what I’ve learned from fellow staff, donors and volunteers within our organization and take pride in the accomplishments.

The Iowa State Fair began in 1854 and the Blue Ribbon Foundation was created in 1993.  In the grand scheme of things – 5 years isn’t that long. Maybe you have donated since the very beginning or maybe you’ve just recently made a contribution. In my short time with the Foundation, I’ve gained a better understanding of why people choose to donate. 

Attending the Iowa State Fair is a tradition for families across the state. For some, it’s an annual get together with friends. For others, it’s the opportunity to showcase a ribbon worthy pie or exhibit Grand Champion livestock.  The Iowa State Fair is a celebration, a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. Iowans want to see this tradition grow and last a lifetime. Donors quickly realize that the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission is just that - renovating and improving the Fairgrounds to for future generations.

As work continues on current projects like the expansion of Grandstand seating to accommodate the new Kum & Go stage, staff also conducts need assessments and creates action plans for future developments. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal to preserve the Fairgrounds is a journey, not a destination. Even with the last 25 years of success, our organization strives to make the Fairgrounds better.

The Iowa State Fair is part of so many Iowan’s lives and summer adventures. It is the type of event that will outlast all of us. You are invited to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation on the ongoing journey to provide top notch facilities for an unequaled and unduplicated celebration, the Iowa State Fair.

Old Construction Pictures:




Best Charitable Gifts to Make in 2018

January 8, 2018
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With the introduction of tax reform this year, you may be looking at your finances and wondering how you can continue to be charitable. There are many ways you can make a difference at the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation while enjoying financial benefits for yourself.

Here are some smart ways to give in 2018:

  • Donate appreciated stock: With the stock market at or near all-time highs, give your appreciated stocks to a nonprofit like the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and eliminate capital gains tax.
  • Name us as a beneficiary of retirement plan assets: These assets remain taxable when distributed to a loved one but are tax-free when given to a nonprofit.
  • Give from your IRA (if age 70½ or older): Regardless of whether you itemize your taxes, this gift helps you fulfill your required minimum distribution and is not considered taxable income.
  • Gifts of real estate: Many real estate markets are enjoying gains. Appreciated real estate may be subject to capital gains tax unless donated to charity or transferred to a charitable trust.

Talk With Your Tax Professional
Please consult with your tax or financial advisors to determine the best charitable giving strategies for you.

We Can Help
We are so grateful for your generosity. Please contact Robin Taylor at (515) 262-3111 x373 to discuss how your gift can help further our mission.

Copyright © The Stelter Company, All rights reserved.


The picture is a flashback to 2011 when the Iowa State Fair created an area showcasing renewable energy technologies. The landscape of Expo Hill includes solar powered landscape lighting, solar cooled benches and solar powered Wi-Fi benches.

The space hosts free entertainment and activities like Fitness on the Hill or Super Tall Paul. This improvement to the Fairgrounds is just one of many over the years thanks to the generosity of donors like you. 

Happy Holidays

December 19, 2017
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Happy Holidays! There is no better time to thank you for your loyal support and to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!

- Iowa State Fairgrounds photos courtesy of Mark Iwig -


Family Traditions

December 13, 2017
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My family, like most, has some special Christmas traditions. Growing up, my mom and I would put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving, we would drive around town looking at lights, attend church on Christmas Eve, open presents on Christmas morning, and have dinner at Grandma’s later in the day.

As an adult, the Christmas traditions have adjusted to accommodate different situations and incorporate new people. (A.K.A. my sister got married and moved to Chicago!) Other traditions have been added to my life – playing musical chairs, making hundreds of Oreo balls, and drinking Colorado Bulldogs.

I was trying to think of another time of year when I follow so many traditions. A kiss on New Year’s Eve, Easter Egg Hunt in the backyard, parade and fireworks on the 4th, golf on my birthday, or turkey on Thanksgiving. What about 11 days in August filled with traditions?

Before I worked for the Blue Ribbon Foundation - my family’s Iowa State Fair traditions included a pit stop in Pioneer Hall to get mom’s pottery crock. Watching an afternoon of talent on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage. Checking out the babies in the Animal Learning Center and the giant animals in the livestock barns. We couldn’t miss the free stuff in the Varied Industries Building, looking at 4-H projects, photograph, and the fancy decorated cakes in the Elwell Building. In addition to trying any new food items – we made sure to eat a corndog, pork chop on a stick, mini donuts and a cup of cookies.

What are your family traditions throughout the year and during the Iowa State Fair? Have you ever thought about passing the tradition of generosity to the next generation? If you support the Blue Ribbon Foundation and believe in the mission to improve the Fairgrounds – encourage your children to do the same. Maybe you spend a day at the Iowa State Fair with your grandchildren – let them know your support keeps the beloved Fairgrounds in tip-top condition.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has several family members that are part of the 1854 Society or attend the Corndog Kickoff together each year. One family donates for an engraved brick every time a new member of the family attends the Iowa State Fair for the first time.

Thank you for making the Iowa State Fair and the Blue Ribbon Foundation part your family. 

2001 Christmas with my sisters and Grandma. 


2016 Christmas - Looking forward to another picture this year. 


Anyone else have a tradition of riding the Sky Glider? 



Support Your Iowa State Fair

December 6, 2017
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Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation in preserving the Iowa State Fair tradition. Your contributions to the Blue Ribbon Foundation go to help improve the beauty of the Fairgrounds and enable building renovations. We have unique and creative ways to make a donation, whether you want to leave a lasting legacy or be a part of this year's Fair. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level!

When you support the Blue Ribbon Foundation through one of its many giving campaigns, you help finance the renovation projects and Fairgrounds improvements that make the Iowa State Fair so special.

You can support the Iowa State Fair in a variety of ways:

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 in front of the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center or 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.

These giving programs make the perfect gift for the Fair Fan on your list by showcasing their love of the Iowa State Fair and supporting its future for generations to come.  Thank you for investing in the success of the Iowa State Fair.


Holiday Gift Ideas

November 29, 2017
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Find the perfect gift for the Fair-lover on your shopping list! Featured items include the Christmas ornaments, cookbooks, garden trowel, greeting cards, hats, picture frame, spatula, tumblers, water bottle and the new book - A Great State Fair: The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair. Check out the online State Fair Store for a full list of available merchandise.

A Great State Fair:  The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair: $20.00
• Author Bill Friedricks takes you behind the scenes of the ups and downs of the Iowa State Fair’s long history, leading to the Blue Ribbon Foundation and the remarkable renaissance brought about at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.


Christmas Ornaments:
• 2017 Blue Ribbon: $18
• 2016 Anne and Bill Riley Stage: $12
• 2015 Giant Slide: $12


Iowa State Fair Cookbooks - These cookbooks feature select prize-winning recipes from the ISF.
• Set of three (16th, 17th, 18th): $28
18th Edition: $15
17th Edition: $12
16th Edition: $5


Garden Trowel: $17.00
• Voted the best garden tool by the New York Times, this sturdy red handled Garden Trowel is engraved with "Iowa State Fair".


Greeting Cards - These greeting cards feature beautiful photographs of the Fairgrounds taken by Mark Iwig. These 5" x 7" blank cards showcase Pioneer Hall, the Grandstand, Agriculture Building and the Horse Barn.
Set of four: $10
• Individual Greeting Card: $3


Hat - Show your love for the Iowa State Fair with a Cyclone or Hawkeye inspired hat. $15.00
Red/Gold  or  Black/Gold


Picture Frame: $20.00
• Engraved with words highlighting our great State Fair, this 4"x 6" frame is fit for any faithful Fairgoer.


Spatula: $10.00
• This durable grilling spatula features two serrated edges, an integrated bottle opener and 20” wooden handle.


Tervis Tumbler: $19.00
• Tervis is the leader in insulated drinkware. These 16 oz. glasses come with coordinating lids.
Food-on-a-Stick or Grandstand


Water Bottle: $22.00
• This stainless steel 20 oz. water bottle keeps drinks cold for up to 48 hours or hot for up to 12 hours. Eye-catching Iowa State Fair graphics create a bright pattern on the white background.


Merchandise can be purchased online through the State Fair Store or you can purchase items at our office on the Fairgrounds. We are located in the Earth Home (under the wind turbine, by the Cultural Center and Fun Forest). We are open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm. Stop by and see us.

Or fill out an order form and mail to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Happy Shopping!


The Days are Long but the Years are Short

November 21, 2017
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The days are long but the years are short. I think this saying can ring true to anyone’s life at different points in time. It is easy to be caught up in the busy aspects of your life – balancing work, family and the million other responsibilities on your plate. Thanksgiving is a reminder to be thankful, to acknowledge and to show appreciation for those around you. We all try our best to thank the important people in our lives on a daily basis but it can be easy to forget with the craziness of everyday life.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is guilty. July and August are so incredibly busy that it is easy to forget to stop and thank the people around us. There are many people that contribute to making the Foundation a success.

State Fair Staff: The Foundation only has 4 full time staff members but each State Fair employee helps our organization run. The 60+ staff members are always willing to step up and assist the Foundation with whatever we need. (A special shout out to Peter, Robin and Meg for being awesome co-workers!)

Interns: The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s staff grows every summer with the addition of interns. These college students go above and beyond to help accomplish our goals. Their hard work is appreciated and they each deserve of a huge thank you!  I’m looking forward to interviewing the 2018 applicants. (Just a reminder, the deadline to apply is November 30.)

Volunteers: In a hectic world, giving your time is sometimes the most valuable thing you can offer. Between the Corndog Kickoff and the Iowa State Fair there are plenty of times the Foundation relies on volunteers. These special Fair-lovers are 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.

Donors: The most important on our list. From large to small, all donations are valued to the Foundation. Each donor has a reason for giving to the Blue Ribbon Foundation that is unique and special to him or her. We are honored you choose to support our mission of raising funds to improve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is able to make improvements to the Fairgrounds to help preserve and enhance its structures - thanks to your support. Our work is not only about keeping the Iowa State Fairgrounds beautiful for future generations but also maintaining the traditions and memories of families across the state.

It is hard to believe I have already worked for the Blue Ribbon Foundation for 4 years. Those 11 days in August are the longest days of my year but at the same time - it feels like I just started my career. I am proud of the accomplishments the Foundation has achieved since I joined the team. The list of goals and ideas continues to grow and I am thankful to have a job I love doing every day. 

From the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation family to yours - Happy Thanksgiving!


Beautiful Fairgrounds Photo by Mark Iwig:



Summer 2017 Staff Photo:


Best Seat in the House

November 14, 2017
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Some horse watchers know as much as the riders. Other rarely see a horse, so ask lots of questions. And if they’re lucky, they get to give one a pat before they move on to the rest of the Fair!

Which side are you on? Do you know your horse breeds? I know nothing about horses but I do enjoy walking through the barn during the Iowa State Fair.

Designed in 1907, with additions in 1909, 1912 and 1929, the two-acre Horse Barn contains box stalls and tie-out areas for horses. Brick and stone decorate its surfaces while a raised center area is flanked by shed roofs on the north and south.

After enduring several decades of harsh Iowa weather, the brick and mortar building was in need of restoration. The first phase of renovations included the replacement of the roof, and in 2002, the main east entrance had a facelift including brick repair and the replacement of the second story window.

In 2010, the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center project, located just west of the Horse Barn, constituted some additional construction to the Horse Barn. The finished project consists of a warm up arena connecting the original Horse Barn with the new Exhibition Center, which makes it a valuable venue for year round shows and events.

The Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story showcases “Those Beauties” in the Ag Extravaganza section of the book.

Horses always have been part of the Iowa State Fair, although they didn’t officially prance in front of judges until the fourth Fair in 1858. Even so, those beautiful animals have forever enthralled Fairgoers. Today, thousands of us wander through the horse barn just to look.

You can experience your favorite horse show during the Iowa State Fair from the comfort of the VIP area in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center. Membership in Jake’s Club gives you the best seat in the house for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Competition, Cowgirl Queen Contest, or other equestrian shows featuring multiple breeds. This is your chance to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while enjoying the Iowa State Fair.

Jake's Club Members receive:

  • Access for two into Jake’s Club for the 2018 Iowa State Fair.
  • Admission for two to all of the evening shows.
  • Opportunity to purchase guest passes for non-members.
  • Air-conditioning, comfortable couches, and balcony box seating on the second level.
  • Restaurant menu and full service bar available to purchase food & beverages.
  • Video screens with live feedback from other shows taking place on the Fairgrounds.
  • Private restrooms.

Join Jake’s Club today.

Your support allows for future developments and improvements needed to preserve our historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Work is still needed on many buildings and all Iowans (horse experts or amateurs) can look forward to what the future will bring.