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 $160 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.

Summer Newsletter: 1999, 2009, and 2019

June 28, 2019
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation this summer?

The Blue Ribbon’s Summer Newsletter is out and up on the Foundation’s website. This issue highlights new Fair merchandise items, upcoming events such as the Corndog Kickoff, and of course a profile of some of our wonderful donors. Make sure to mark your calendar for the 2019 Corndog Kickoff on Saturday, July 13!

The Newsletter also includes information about Blue Ribbon’s ”Paint the Fair” classes held every day during the Fair. These will be held on the third floor of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center. Sign up early and get your spot!

What was happening 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, The Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center was under construction and was to be completed by the 2010 Fair. The Elwell Family Food Center had also recently been under construction, but was going to be open to the public for the first time during the 2009 Iowa State Fair.

This issue highlighted several different merchandise items including the new custom-designed board game “It’s a Fair Game”. A pottery wine chiller, Elwell Family Food Center lapel pin, china box, soup bowl mug, and ornament were also included as new merchandise items.

Lorne and Kathi Scharnberg, founders of Katecho Inc. were recognized as gracious donors in the donor profile of the newsletter. The Scharnbergs have been attending the Iowa State Fair since the 1980’s when they first moved to Iowa. Their love and faith in the Fair have brought them back to enjoy the fun Fair festivities year after year. The Scharnbergs have also been attending and donating to the Corndog Kickoff since 2001.

What was happening 20 years ago?

In the 1999 Summer Newsletter, former Blue Ribbon Executive Director John Putney is pictured on the front cover with former Governor Vilsack. On May 24, Vilsack signed the Iowa Legislature’s bill for state infrastructure funding into law, allocating $10 million over the next two years to rebuild the Varied Industries Building.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation was premiered several new and fun merchandise items for the 1999 Fair. Items included “Fair Buddies” stuffed animals, a variety of bucket hats, double-ferris wheel pins, embroidered shirts, stainless steel mugs, and covered bean pots. There were also several fun auction items allocated for that year’s Corndog Kickoff. Backstage passes with Reba McEntire, brand new Maytag Washer and Dryer, hot air balloon ride, and a ride on the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch were just a few!
The donor profile featured the Taylor family of Taylor Ball Industries. Jack and Gabriella Taylor have been longtime Fairgoers and love supporting the Fair through the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s creative fundraising and giving programs.

Many things have changed over the years but one thing remains the same. The Blue Ribbon Foundation helps thousands of Iowa State Fair fans like you show their support through giving programs, membership programs and fundraising events. Our organization will continue to raise funds to preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the next 10 and 20 years!



2019 Woodcarver's Auction

June 27, 2019
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Each year the Iowa State Fairgrounds are dotted with hand-painted sculptures that resemble a Fair time favorite. The last few have included a horse, an ice cream cone, the state of Iowa and a pig. This year’s #FairFavorite statue is a baby elephant, celebrating the 90th birthday of Baby Mine. Baby Mine was a 4-foot tall baby elephant that came to the Fair in 1929, thanks to 15,000 Iowa children that helped sponsor and name him by sending in nearly $1,000 nickels and dimes. For the last few years the Blue Ribbon Foundation has had its own statue in front of the Administration Building. This year we partnered with Sticks Inc. on a design for the Foundation’s elephant statue. This elephant will be auctioned off at the 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction.

The Woodcarver’s Auction is an event put on by the Blue Ribbon Foundation on the last Sunday of the Fair. Many different items are auctioned off including chainsaw wood carvings created by T.J. Jenkins and Gary Keenan, sculptors and registered chainsaw carvers. They will be sharing their art with Fairgoers each day. Spectators can watch four times a day as the nationally known pair turn simple logs into everything from animals to people.

Gary will carve nearly anything that reasonably fits the tree or log. He stays busy with commissioned work, carving both topped trees and freestanding logs. He has done well in competitions, both in the U.S. and abroad. Gary was invited to participate in “Sculptree”/Westonbirt Festival of the Tree that took place in August 2007, in England. This was quite an honor, since Gary was the only American to be invited out of a total of only twelve wood sculptors invited. Gary also carves at fairs, festivals, city events and open houses.

TJ’s work as a chainsaw artist all started with a rotten log used for chainsaw carving practice. With lots of practice, he ended up carving a bear head out of a tree trunk. Since then, he has carved over 70 bear heads in all shapes, sizes and painted with the wildest color schemes you can imagine.


The Woodcarver’s Auction will also feature Champion meats that will be up for bid during the sale.

The 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction will be held on Sunday, August 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center. All funds generated from the auction will be used by the Blue Ribbon Foundation to preserve and renovate the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Last year’s auction raised $56,500 for the Foundation.


- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

Join us for Bingo at the Iowa State Fair!

June 26, 2019
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When it comes to the Fair, there are so many great things to do. We all have a difficult time deciding what new foods we want to try, what concerts we want to see, or what games we should play. However, there is one event that you can’t miss…Bingo on Grand Avenue!

No matter what age you are, Bingo is always a great way to have fun and show your competitive spirit. At the 2018 Fair the Blue Ribbon Foundation debuted our first Bingo event. With a wonderful turnout last year, we can easily say that Bingo has become a #FairFavorite. We are excited to announce that we will be hosting Bingo again this year on Grand Avenue sponsored by the Better Business Bureau; make sure to bring your friends and family for a great time! 

All Fairgoers are encouraged to participate in Bingo that will be taking place on Wednesday, August 14 from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. To play, participants donate $1 per card for each round of the game. Winners will receive 50 percent of the total earnings from each game. This is a great chance to have a seat, play a game of Bingo, win prize money, and support the renovation and preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation recognizes the importance of the Iowa State Fair, as this is an event that any Iowan can take great pride in. When Fairgoers are walking throughout the Fairgrounds, we want to ensure they have a chance to see the beautiful and historic buildings that have been on the Fairgrounds since its inception, and the new buildings that contribute to our success. As you attend the Fair this year, we encourage you to look at all the buildings and see the renovations and updates that are being made to our facilities. These updates would not be possible without the many generous donations and support we receive from longtime Fair-lovers.

The Iowa State Fair is an internationally acclaimed event and the single largest event in the state of Iowa. Every donation matters, and every dollar raised provides us with an opportunity to support this historical event.  Please join us for Bingo on the Grand Concourse to join in our mission of renovating and preserving our beloved Fairgrounds. We can’t wait to see you there!

  - Maggie Mathiasen 


Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan Trip

June 20, 2019
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The 2019 Iowa State Fair will celebrate the 165th anniversary of the Fair. Looking back, our great State Fair started in Fairfield, IA in 1854. In 1954, many Iowans celebrated the centennial of the Fair with a horse caravan consisting of 509 people, 471 horses and 40 covered wagons traveling from Fairfield, IA to the Fairgrounds in Des Moines officially opening the Fair. The trip was a four-day event and covered 114 miles. The occasion was so monumental that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former President Herbert Hoover visited as well. A 20-foot time capsule, called the Centurlon, was created to mark the occasion. The collection inside will give Fairgoers in 2054 a good look at Iowa life a century ago. I am looking forward to the opening of this time capsule in 35 years!

My grandma Jackie (Paul) Henchal and her father Wendell Paul were part of this trip as their family made it part of their vacation that summer. My great-grandmother kept an excellent scrapbook that recorded this event complete with photo evidence! The group traveled rain or shine and it is noted that it was either pouring down rain or steaming hot on the excursion.

As the group entered the Fairgrounds a crowd of an estimated 20,500 people were gathered in the grandstand to watch the grand parade of the big Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan trip! The total estimated attendance at the Fair that Saturday was 85,000.

As the Iowa State Fair moves forward and introduces new competitions, events, and foods each year it is important to remember the rich history behind our Fair by celebrating traditions, monuments, and events that continue to make our Fair so special.

The Iowa Centennial State Fair Caravan trip is one of my #FairFavorites as a story told by my grandma each year. Be sure to mark your calendar for the 2019 Iowa State Fair, August 8-18.

- Gabrielle Gerke (PR Intern)


Butter Cow Theme Announced!

June 19, 2019
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If you have ever attended the Iowa State Fair, I am sure that you have heard of the butter cow sculpture. The butter cow has stood the test of time, as many people consider this sculpture to be the highlight of the Fair. If you have never had the chance to attend the Fair, or haven’t seen the butter cow, pack up your bags and make a trip to the 2019 Iowa State Fair!

The first butter cow sculpture was created in 1911 by J.K. Daniels. Through the years several people have had the opportunity to take over the sculpting duties. In 2006, after 15 years of apprenticing, Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines became the Fair’s fifth butter sculptor. Sarah has continued to do an amazing job each year, and we have no doubt she will succeed again.

The Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa Butter. The sculpting takes place inside of a 40 degree cooler, and layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges.

To put this sculpture in perspective: A real dairy cow weighs more than 1,000 pounds, but the buttered version comes in at around 600 pounds and measures 5 1/2-ft high and 8 ft long. With that amount you could butter about 19,200 slices of toast which would take an average person two lifetimes to consume!

This year’s butter cow will be a big hit with the kids! Keeping the butter cow company will be characters from Sesame Street. The Iowa State Fair has a rich and long-lasting relationship with Iowa Public Television. We are excited that we will get to honor the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street, but also the 50th anniversary of Iowa Public Television

The butter sculpture will be on display for the duration of the Fair which runs from August 8-18. Stop in at Agriculture Building to see this iconic sculpture!


_ Maggie Mathiasen 

Iowa State Fair's "Fair After Dark" Returns

June 17, 2019
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Fair After Dark will be returning again this year with two fun-filled nights. For the second year in a row, this behind the scenes event will allow Fairgoers 21 and older to participate in two separate activities: The Hungry Games and Crafts and Crafts!

The Hungry Games will be on Saturday, August 10 in the Elwell Family Food Center. What are the Hungry Games you ask? This fun-tastic, food-lovers event is a combination of competition and sweetness. Come and participate in an adult version of cupcake wars, ugliest cake competition, “Chopped” gone Fair style, and sample delicious beef, pork, corn and more! Templeton Rye will be making an appearance as well, teaching participants how to pair Templeton Rye whiskey with different meat selections.

Crafts and Crafts will be on Thursday, August 15 in the Pattie and Jim Cownie Cultural Center. You don’t have to be Van Gough to come to this event—bring your friends and get creative with hands-on activities like wood art, bracelet making, photography and art that you literally get to light on fire! Iowa Craft Beer will be at both events with plenty of delicious craft beers and ciders to sip on all night.

Participants must be 21 or older to attend. IDs will be checked at the door.

Tickets include:

-VIP access
-Food and drink samples
-Food contests
-Multiple take home crafts
-(2) Drink tickets

Tickets for the event are $30.00 each and are available for purchase now on the Fair website!

- Joy Van Wyngarden


Come "Paint the Fair" with us!

June 12, 2019
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When it comes to the Fair we all have our favorite foods, rides, contests, or events. In recent years one of the Fair favorites has become our annual painting class. With 2-3 classes every day it provides Fairgoers with a chance to paint their favorite scene at the Fair. This week I have been starting to get people signed up, and I know people are thrilled to paint again in August.

Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation and help us “Paint the Fair” at our 4th annual social painting class. Participating in one of the various classes gives you the opportunity to help ensure a colorful future for the Fair. All proceeds from the class will be dedicated to our endowment fund, “Our Fair’s Future.” As this endowment continues to grow, it provides a reliable source of funding for future renovation and restoration to the Fairgrounds.

Classes will be offered each day of the Fair at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center on the 3rd floor. There will be no classes held on Tuesday, August 13 and the mornings of Sunday, August 11 and Sunday, August 18. Nightly session will be held on August 10,11,15,16 at 6:00 p.m.

For the cost of $35 you will receive a canvas, paint, brushes, and instructions to paint your favorite scene. The class will be taught by Missy Pieters, owner and artist at Messy Missy’s Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown.

If you are interested in signing up please take the time to complete our online Painting Class Registration Form. On-site registration will be available half an hour before each class starts. Each class has space for 50 painters, so sign up today! Please see below for dates, times, and the different pieces of art that can be created.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at or (515) 262-3111 ext. 377.


- Maggie Mathiasen 

Special Events on the Fairgrounds

June 7, 2019
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The Fairgrounds is still a busy place during the off-season. Due to the devastating spread of the African Swine Fever, the decision was made cancel the 2019 Pork Expo on the Fairgrounds. Instead, the Fairgrounds held a diversified swine livestock show. The swine barn was hustling and bustling with action as entries from all across the continental U.S. participated in the livestock show. The Iowa State Fair Special Events team does a fantastic job utilizing the grounds for a variety of shows and events. There are multiple events coming up during June and into July. On Friday June 28- 30, the 2019 Gun Trade Show will be happening in the 4-H Building, hosted by Trade Show Productions. All firearm lovers and enthusiasts—this is not something you will want to miss! Overlapping into the same weekend, the 2019 ArtFest Midwest will be taking place on June 29 and 30 in the Varied Industries Building. Crafts, arts, and design galore¬¬    this craft show features both local Iowan artists and regional vendors. Stay busy browsing over 250 entries while your kids create their own art in the “Kids Craft” booth. Mark your calendars for the famous Goodguys Car Show taking place July 5-7. This extravagant car show features over 5,000 cars with everything any gear-head would want to see.

With all the different shows occurring on the Fairgrounds, time will soon start to fly and the 2019 Iowa State Fair will be among us!

-Joy Van Wyngarden


Fair Food Finder

June 6, 2019
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Food is one of the main attractions at the Iowa State Fair! Because of this, many Iowans, me included, look forward to the new food options that will be added to the concessions every year. What will the best food on-a-stick be and what will be my new favorite? However, with nearly 200 food stands and over 80 items available on-a-stick, one problem that I have found over the years is that I never could find the foods that I was looking for. In the past few years, the Iowa State Fair and the Des Moines Register have partnered to find a solution to food finding with their Fair Food Finder app. This app is compatible with all devices and can be downloaded from the app store on your phone.

The Iowa State Fair Food Finder app is separated into foods, vendors, and events. When clicking on a specific section you can then choose what you are looking for. If you want a 4-leaf Clover Cooler you would click on this item. The app then brings up a map with red dots marking where the item can be found. Now you know that you can get your 4-leaf Clover Cooler at the Ag Building or the Cultural Center.

Another app to download for this year’s Fair is the new Official Iowa State Fair App which will be available to download in July. This new app will let you access the daily schedule, Grandstand shows, purchase admission tickets, and participate in the photo hunt. You don’t want to miss out on any of the Iowa State Fair action!

Lastly, to stay up to date with the latest Iowa State Fair news, you can receive text alerts.

Text FAIR to 75782 for special offers, updates on concerts and daily activities, weather alerts and more.
Text BABY to 75782 to receive updates when new babies are born at the Animal Learning Center.

There is only 62 days until the 2019 Iowa State Fair and I am so excited. Get prepared by downloading these apps and signing up to receive text alerts. By doing these things you will make the most out of your Fair experience!


Ready to Experience the Fair Through the Eyes of a Volunteer?

June 5, 2019
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Happy Tuesday everyone! I have jumped right in during my second week at the Foundation and I could not be more excited. One way that hundreds of people get to experience the Fair each year is through volunteering. Each year the Foundation has around 1,400 volunteer positions to fill throughout the 11-day extravaganza that is the Iowa State Fair. The majority of these positions consist of selling bottled water at various locations across the Fairgrounds, as well as running our multiple souvenir stores. This year volunteers are also able to be a part of our 2nd annual State Fair Bingo. On August 14th, Fairgoers can swing by the Better Business Bureau tent on the Grand Concourse from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. and participate in a fun game of Bingo and have a chance to win some money. Who doesn’t love that?

Something new with volunteering this year is our sign up process. In the past we have mailed out forms and hand created a master schedule for everyone. Gone are the days of mailing forms and say a big hello to our online sign up system. With our new process each available shift is listed and sorted out by day, job, location, and time. We are so excited to begin our new process and we hope that it takes some stress off of our wonderful volunteer’s shoulders as well.

Volunteers are the living and breathing glue that hold many of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s programs together. The Iowa State Fair would not be able to happen without them. Our participants range from people who have been helping for 15+ years to people who are joining us for their first time. Each person receives a free 2019 Iowa State Fair volunteer t-shirt, admission into the fair for the day, as well as a single day parking pass. In order to work with the Blue Ribbon Foundation you must be at least 16 years of age, pass a background check and you must work at least one four hour shift throughout the Fair. Some favorite memories that keep them coming back for more each year include the high class people watching, getting to try the new fair food every year, and the stories they get to hear from each person they interact with. 

This incredible 11-day marathon could not be made possible without these dedicated and outstanding individuals. Are you interested in experiencing the Fair through the eyes of a volunteer? Sign up will be available starting June 11th, 2019 at We hope to see you in just a short 64 days on our beautiful Fairgrounds, and don’t forget, next time you walk by a water booth souvenir store be sure to say hi!