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.

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!


It's Always a Busy Time at the Fairgrounds!

June 15, 2017

It’s another exciting week here at the Fairgrounds! There is always something fun going on around here. Last week the World Pork Expo was here and it’s safe to say that everyone in the office took advantage as we enjoyed ribs and pulled pork for lunch more than once! This week is the Red Power Round Up for people from all around the world to gather to see the history of International Harvester and agriculture related memorabilia. The Fairgrounds is used for A LOT more than just the Fair. It is great that it can be used to host various events that bring a wide variety of people to the Fairgrounds. Wondering what else takes place here? Check out the Fairgrounds events calendar here.

Projects around the Fairgrounds are another thing that keeps this place very busy! The project I’m most excited to see for the upcoming Fair is the new Midway and Thrill Parks. The entrance to the new Midway is still in early stages, but it is coming along and looking great. It is definitely going to be something to check out at the Fair this year!




The Red Power Round Up event has taken over at the Fairgrounds! 

Silent Auction Packages

June 14, 2017

If we haven’t given you enough reasons to join us at the Corndog Kickoff yet, here are a few more! Take your pick at one of the 214 silent auction packages that you will have the chance to bid on! Here are my top five favorite silent auction packages:

Get a variety of fun things to do around Des Moines all planned out for you!

#41. Catch Des Moines
There is much to see and do in the Des Moines area. Here are some fun options.
• Take in an Iowa Cubs game with four tickets as well as a four person tour and tasting at Summerset Winery.
• Four general farmyard admission tickets to Center Grove Orchard and two burritos each Saturday from Farm Kids Burrito Stand at the Downtown Farmers Market.
• Four brunch buffet certificates for Gilroy's along with two tickets to a Des Moines Community Playhouse performance.

Donated by Des Lux Hotel, Summerset Winery, the Des Moines Community Playhouse, Farm Kids Breakfast Burritos, Center Grove Orchard, Gilroy's, the Iowa Cubs & Catch Des Moines


I never got to go to Disney World as a kid, but I sure would’ve loved to! Take your children on a vacation they will never forget!

#111. The World of Disney
Enjoy the Magic Kingdom with this package.
• Four one-day park hopper passes valid at the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida. They provide admission to a magical experience at each of their unique theme parks within one day.
• The tickets expire within two years and may not be used for admission from December 25-31 of any year.

Donated by Disney


I’m a country music lover, so these tickets to Alabama get me excited! You can’t get these tickets anywhere else.

#115. A Country Classic

Four tickets to see Alabama on August 17 at the Iowa State Fair plus backstage passes for a meet and greet with Charlie Daniels.
• Your seats are in the lower grandstand, section NO, row 1, seats 9-12.
• Four gate admission tickets and a parking pass.
• Before the concert treat yourself with four coupons for the Dairy Barn.

Donated by the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Midwest Dairy Association


These burnt items would be useful and make great décor in your kitchen!

#181. Good and Burnt

Burning wood is a simple method of creating a piece of art.
• A locally made burnt wood sign for your home.

Donated by Burnt Expressions


Calling all chocolate lovers! Here is the package for you.

#191. An Iowa Icon
The Palmer Candy Company has been a mainstay in the Iowa candy market more than 138 years.
• Enjoy a selection of their candies in this package.
• A fine crystal candy bowl with lid is the perfect dish from which to serve these treats.

Donated by Palmer Candy Company & Neal and Marie Fredrickson

Check out all the donation packages in the live and silent auctions in the auction book

Have we convinced you yet? Buy your ticket today! We can't wait to see you. 


Top 5 things you need to do at the Corndog Kickoff

June 13, 2017

The Corndog Kickoff is loaded with fun and excitement. Don’t miss out on any of the fun at the Kickoff, use this checklist.

1. FOOD- It’s number one on my list because food is always the most important to me. Check out all of the food venders that will be at the Corndog Kickoff here. You will not go home hungry with this spread.

2. LIVE AUCTION- There are 30 wonderful live auction packages this year. You won’t want to miss out on these great items. Support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while coming home with some pretty neat finds.

3. SILENT AUCTION- If you are more into silent bidding, there will be a silent auction at the Corndog Kickoff as well. Over 214 packages await your viewing.

4. WINNERS CHOICE- It’s a 1 in 100 chance to take home one of the first five live auction items. Each raffle ticket is sold at $100. Only 100 tickets are available to purchase. The odds are in your favor. Make sure you get your raffle ticket.

5. RAGS TO RICHES- Purchase a rag to play the game. The auctioneer will flip a coin and you raise your rag up if you think it will land heads up. Keep it down if you think it may be tails. The winner takes home half of the pot. Special thanks to our game sponsor, West Bank.

Get your tickets by calling 515-262-3111, online or at the door. 

Don’t forget to check everything off of this list at the Corndog Kickoff. All of this excitement has me pumped for the Kickoff in only 25 DAYS! See you there!


Membership Programs

June 8, 2017

Are you looking for a way to get involved with the Blue Ribbon Foundation? Check out our membership programs listed below!

1854 Society:
The Blue Ribbon Foundation created the 1854 Society in commemoration of the Iowa State Fair sesquicentennial. Funds raised by the 1854 Society helped renovate the Richard L. Easter Museum Complex and donations continue to provide archival quality storage needed for proper preservation of the museum’s historic pieces. With a $1,854 initial membership fee to join this exclusive fundraising group, you receive elite benefits such as gate admission for 2 each day of the Fair with VIP parking, 4 priority seats to a Grandstand concert of choice, access to 1854 Society Hospitality Suite and 1854 Society Shuttle during the Fair, along with much more.

Jake’s Club:
Join Jake’s Club and experience the Iowa State Fair from an exclusive vantage point! Jake’s Club, located on the 2nd floor of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, is a member-only VIP area hosted by the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Club features a full bar as well as a variety of food options. It’s the perfect place to watch your favorite Jacobson Center activities. With a $500 enrollment fee for the first year as well as a $100 membership fee, included is access to Jake’s Club throughout the days of the Fair, admission to all of the evening shows and more.

Fan Fair:
The Fan Fair program is your chance to help restore the grounds of the nationally-acclaimed Iowa State Fair and purchase Grandstand concert tickets before the general public. For each $150 contribution made to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase 2 Grandstand show tickets during a special presale. 

Along with highlighting our membership programs, I also wanted to point out that we are one month away from the Corndog Kickoff! I’m sure the next month will fly by as we continue preparing to make this year’s event the best one yet. If you haven’t gotten tickets yet, they are available here on our website. Don’t miss out on the fun and everything the Corndog Kickoff has to offer!


Picture of Jake's Club located in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center 


1854 reception at the Fair