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.

Hitting Milestones

May 7, 2010

Often, we measure our lives in terms of milestones. First day of school. College graduation. First job. The list goes on and on. Tonight, is a personal milestone: my husband is graduating from Iowa State with a Masters in Engineering. After nearly four years of juggling classes, thesis writing as well as a full-time job, it will be completed and we’ll have the diploma in hand! In fairness, I had very little to do with the process itself save for providing moral support, listening to theories about things I don’t understand, and brewing endless pots of coffee.  The journey to this large milestone was marked by many, many small ones, all leading up to the final accomplishment.

We’ve reached many milestones at the Fair as well,  restoring the Varied Industries Building and the Agriculture Building, reaching a record setting attendance of 1.1 million people, building the Animal Learning Center and opening the Jacobson Exhibition Center. Each year marks a new goal met. Throughout the year, we meet our own smaller milestones too. From record numbers of auction packages at last year’s Corndog Kickoff to a successful Fair to the best Fairgrounds 5K we’ve had, we look forward to each small accomplishment.

As Allyson mentioned previously, we’re down to double digits until the Fair, yikes! That’s a milestone in and of itself! We’ll be working hard to make sure that this year’s Corndog Kickoff and Iowa State Fair are the best yet. Tonight, though, I’m going to be enjoying this personal milestone and looking forward to the future!

The countdown is on!

May 4, 2010

After today, it’s only 99 days until the Iowa State Fair! Spring always tends to get me a little anxious about the upcoming Fair, but now that we’re down to double digits, the pressure really sets in!

But, before the Fair, we have the Corndog Kickoff. Countdown: 67  days. For me, the Kickoff might be even a little bit crazier than the Fair. Our duties with the water and merchandise stands during the Fair become a routine operation by the third day or so, but with the Kickoff, you only get one night to make sure everything runs smoothly.

In preparation for the upcoming event I’ve been busy working with our different committees to create photo backdrops, centerpieces, decorate the entrances and the stage. I also coordinate the patron program, communications, set-up, sound, and concessionaires for the event. Emily works with the publicity committee to get the word out and Robin coordinates the live and silent auction. If you’d like to help out by donating to the auction or becoming a Corndog Kickoff Patron, click here!

Tickets for this annual fundraiser, complete with exciting auction packages, fair food sampling, SkyGlider rides and fireworks, will be available online starting May 17th. All proceeds will benefit the renovation and preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds!

So, if you can’t wait 99 days to get that deep-fat-fried corn dog, come to the Kickoff on July 10th and get a taste of our pre-Fair party!

Treasure Our Fair

April 23, 2010

My job is so rewarding. I think that’s why I love it so much. So many things I’ve encountered lately have really made me stand back and look at what we do here at the Foundation and how far we’ve come in just a short amount of time.

The other day when I was talking to Emily, she pulled out an old VHS tape and asked me if I had ever seen it before. It was a video made in 1993 by the Foundation titled “Treasure Our Fair,” which was our first major capital campaign for the Foundation. I watched the 8-minute video in awe, seeing all of the history of the Fair unfold and the importance of the creation of the Foundation. In short, due to harsh Iowa weather over the years, the buildings on the Fairgrounds were crumbling slowly. Countless improvements needed to be made to keep our Fair not just up and running, but the best State Fair in the nation.

In addition to the video reminder of our mission, this year’s Corndog Kickoff features the same principle. Our theme “Building a Blue Ribbon Tradition” will highlight the old and the new and the progression we’ve made over the years to make the Iowa State Fair what it is today. I’ve been digging up a few “before and after” photos that I’ll use at the Kickoff:

Ye Old Mill before renovations.                                           Ye Old Mill was renovated in 1996.

Ye Old Mill before renovations.                        Ye Old Mill was renovated in 1996.

 
Livestock Pavilion before renovations.                                           The Livestock Pavilion was renovated in 2003.

Livestock Pavilion before renovations.               The Livestock Pavilion was renovated in 2003.

For more photos of the renovations made possible by donors and supporters of the Blue Ribbon Foundation, please visit our renovations page.
 

This Sunday, I have the honor fo speaking for a group in Nevada about the Iowa State Fair. As I was pondering what all my 30 minute presentation should cover (because as many of you know, there is a lot to say about the Fair!), I came to the conclusion to talk about what I know best and tell people the blue ribbon story. So many people know the Fair as livestock and corn dogs and it’s so much more than that. It’s family, tradition, competition and celebrating Iowa’s agricultural roots. All which continues to take place because of  the improvements to the Fairgrounds that have been made possible by our loyal supporters. Thank you all for your love of the Iowa State Fair and for making my job so meaningful and fun!

Spring Has Sprung

April 19, 2010

There were times this winter when I wondered if we would ever see sunshine again! Take  a quick drive around the Fairgrounds, though, and it doesn’t take long to see that with the warm weather we’ve been having, spring does in fact seem to be here, finally! Take a look at the spring scenes around the grounds:
 

 

 

 

 

Next time you’re on the Fairgrounds, take a minute to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of spring! The Fairgrounds are sure to change as the Fair draws closer! Enjoy the beautiful weather today!

And the winning bidder is...

April 12, 2010

 

Patrons at the 2009 Kickoff had 43 live and over 100 silent auction packages to bid on. From backstage concert passes to a private patio party or sculpting the tail of the butter cow, there's something for everyone!

Planning is well underway for the 14th annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party, slated for Saturday, July 10. Though it might seem we start working on the Kickoff in February, I actually don’t think there is a time during the year when we don’t give the event some thought. For me, I am always looking for ideas for the auction – in newspapers, magazines, festivals, art shows, etc. – if something catches my eye I always try and get a card or contact information.

This is my eleventh year of working on the auction and boy has it grown. My first Kickoff was in 2000, the last year the event was held in Pioneer Hall, with an attendance around 600. From there we moved to the Agriculture Building and then to the VI Building and now we take up almost 3/4 of it! Last year’s attendance was right at 1500! Just like the Fair, we try to keep some of the traditional aspects yet always provide something new. And, I have to admit that trying to come up with new auction package ideas is sometimes a struggle, especially as we seem to keep raising the bar. Thankfully we have a group of great volunteers who help provide a spark and come up with some excellent packages through their hard work and contacts.

In coming up with auction ideas, the sky is the limit. We throw out ideas like tickets to the Kentucky Derby, vacation homes in Arizona, free airfare anywhere in the US, suites at professional sporting events….whatever we can dream up. And then the challenge is to see who’s network might be able to come up with something plus a bit of chutzpah to see who might try the cold call approach. Our version of the “7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game only it’s “7 Degrees of Connection to the Fair.” This year my goal is to crack the cruise industry and it’s proving to be a tough nut. (And I have to be honest, I’ve been trying for the Kentucky Derby tickets now for three years and have struck out.)

So, if you have any ideas, we would love to hear them. Or, even better, if you would like to donate something to the auction, feel free to contact me! I’ve always said, you don’t have be on the auction committee to help with the auction.

Meet the Interns!

April 6, 2010

You know it’s getting close to Fair time when our office staff nearly doubles in size! That’s right…one of our interns has already started working part-time in preparation for the Fair! We have hired three very bright and talented college students for this summer- Samantha, Billy and Stefany. Sam started working with us part-time in March and Billy and Stefany will join us full-time in May. Check out their bios below to learn a little bit more about the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s interns for 2010:

Samantha Liametz

Samantha, a junior at Iowa State University, is a triple major in Journalism, Business and Communication Studies. During the school year she works for ISU’s fashion magazine, Trend, where she is currently the Communications Director. Sam also works as an office assistant at the Academic Success Center and serves as a student ambassador for the Student Alumni Leadership Council.

Originally from the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, she has never attended the Iowa State Fair, but is excited for the opportunity to experience the Fair behind the scenes as a Blue Ribbon Foundation intern this summer. Sam loves to cook and hopes to attend culinary school at some point in her life. She also enjoys volunteering in her free time.

 

Billy Boyle

Billy is currently a junior at Central College, majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Business Management. He is a member of the Campus Activities Board, planning comedy shows and guest speakers for student entertainment. In addition, Billy serves as the assistant editor for the college newspaper, The Central Ray, and plays on Central’s tennis team.

Originally from Perry, Iowa, Billy spent several summers attending the Iowa State Fair with his grandparents. His favorite part of the Fair is the food; more specifically, turkey legs and pork chops. Billy loves spending time outdoors, sailing, camping, fishing and playing sports. In addition, he is an avid Chicago Cubs fan and also enjoys cheering on the Iowa Cubs and the Buccaneers.

 

Stefany Foster

Stefany is a graduating senior at Northwestern College in Orange City majoring in Business Administration with a Marketing option. She is an active college student working in Northwestern’s Advancement Office, playing intramural sports, serving as a college ambassador and working as a server at a local restaurant. In addition, Stefany is a member of the Business Club and the Honors Club. Stefany is currently finishing up her last semester working and studying in Chicago.

Growing up in Pierre, South Dakota, Stefany attended her first Iowa State Fair four years ago when she came to college in Iowa. Since that time, Stefany has attended each year and has developed a true love for the Fair. In her spare time, Stefany enjoys exercising, reading good books and riding motorcycles.

The interns will be kept busy assisting the Foundation by organizing events and programs such as Iowan of the Day, the 2010 Iowa State Fair volunteers, official merchandise sales, and the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction. They will also be contributing to the blog so you can see what they’re up to this summer!

And the award goes to...

March 19, 2010

It’s a Fair Game was the big new item that the Foundation introduced last summer at the Fair. Following the success of Fairopoly in 2004, we had wanted to create a pathway game of the Fair so that Fair fans could enjoy the trek around the grounds from the comforts of home. Something that was really necessary this winter with all of our snow!

Well, recognition of our game just went national in January. It’s a Fair Game was the recipient of the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) Pyramid Award. There are only 5 categories for this national award and we won for consumer programs. Dan Livengood, co-creator of It’s a Fair Game, jumped through all the hurdles this fall to fill out the application to be considered. From there, the file is reviewed and, most often, passed over, as there are only 3 finalists per category. Dan was tickled pink when he found out in late November that our game was selected as one of the finalists. As with an Oscar, it’s just an honor to be nominated!

In January, Dan attended the PPAI annual convention in Las Vegas where the award was announced at a special, black-tie recommended banquet. He was all set to applaud graciously for the winner of our category when, much to his surprise, it was our game that was announced the winner. Walking onstage, Dan said he imagined that’s what winning an Oscar was like.

Dan Livengood, on right, accepting the Pyramid Award.

It’s a Fair Game was a collaborative effort between myself, Dan and Cathy Rickers, the illustrator. The time, thought and planning (as well as laughter when coming up with the text for the path and when seeing Cathy’s latest images) that went into the game was quite extensive. So, to have it go over well with fans of the Iowa State Fair is great but the cherry on top is having it recognized within a very competitive industry as something special too. That makes all the frustration of trying to fill in the last 3 spaces with something creative all worth it.

Dan Livengood, Robin Taylor and Cathy Rickers with their creation at the 2009 Corn Dog Kickoff.

For more information on the award you can read an article in the PPB magazine’s March issue or see our press release. And, if you don’t have a copy of the award-winning It’s a Fair Game, there are a few left after the 2009 Iowa State Fair. To order just go to our website or contact the Foundation at 1-800-450-3732.

Making Progress

March 15, 2010

 

A view of the Jacobson Exhibition Center from the west.

Last week I had the opportunity to walk through the Jacobson Exhibition Center to check out the progress! It’s amazing how far it has come, but there’s still lots to do! With all the melting going on it was a muddy mess but I thought you might like an update of the progress.

A view of the arena.

A view of the arena.

 

The second floor VIP area.

Construction continues as workers scurry around to make sure that the building is ready to go by Fair time! It is a construction zone; I had to wear a hard hat!

While the workers continue to work to make sure that the building is ready to go at Fair time, the Foundation continues to raise funds to make the building possible. We are very excited about our newest giving program, Block by Block, the donor wall that will be on display in the foyer of the Jacobson Center.

Design of the Block by Block donor wall.

Designed to look like a barn quilt, each colored square represents a different donor level. For more information about the donor wall or to make a contribution, go here.

Exciting things are going on around here, we’re excited for you to see the Jacobson Center for yourself this August! Until then stay tuned for more updates! Happy Monday!

The Faces of the Foundation

March 10, 2010

I have been working full-time for the Foundation since November of 2009, so just a little over a year, and since the first day I started I have been meaning to take a staff photo to post on our website. With an office of only four full-time staff, you would think this would be an easy task – not too many schedules to line up for a 5 minute picture. Wrong.

It may have taken over a year to bring up the subject, plan a date and time, and actually take the photo, but we did it! Of course I then immediately went to post it to thestaff page on the website and I ran into complications. But, the picture is taken and now it is up! 

Back Row: John Putney, Executive Director; Robin Taylor, Assistant Director; Front Row: Allyson Krull, Communications Manager; Emily Saveraid, Sponsorship Director

With the warmer temperatures and all this melting snow, it appears Spring is finally on its way! Things are also starting to pick up here at the Foundation. For me, thegiving programs deadline is approaching quickly so I am getting all of those things in order (benches, bricks, donor wall, etc.), as well as other membership programs including Fan Fair and the 1854 Society

One of my biggest projects during the year, though, is the annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party held just weeks before the Fair. I’ve met with each of my planning committees and we will start getting into more of the details in our meetings next week. I can’t believe how quickly time passes! If you have never attended the Kickoff, you must experience “Building a Blue Ribbon Tradition” on July 10 at the Varied Industries Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds…it’s a Fair lover’s dream! Be sure to stay tuned to our blog- I will update you with more Kickoff details in future posts. 

While I’ve only taken time to mention a few of the projects that are keeping me busy at the moment, there is so much more that happens year-round here at the Foundation. John, Emily and Robin also have several projects going on at once, which keeps this a busy place. I know I can speak for all of us when I say that we truly love what we’re doing and we believe in making the Iowa State Fair a better place for future generations. Along with all of our supporters and volunteers, we are proud to be the faces of the foundation.

Attend your local county fair this summer!

March 4, 2010

 

Zone 5 Conference attendees sit in on a session workshop.

Last weekend, Foundation and State Fair staff organized and attended the Zone 5 Conference for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. The Iowa State Fair is a member of the IAFE and hosted the conference. Representatives from fairs large and small from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri & Nebraska came to learn more about the fair industry from speakers, sessions and each other. In addition, our own Allyson Krull sang the National Anthem! Who knew we had such talent on our staff? 

While our involvement in IAFE may not be apparent to the general public, Fairgoers do reap the benefits of our learning! We talk about what works and what doesn’t and share ideas for how to make our fairs better, whether it’s the state fair or a local county fair. 

I love getting back to the Linn County Fair where I grew up. The fair has changed a lot since I participated (for the better, I might add!) and I always like to see what’s new. I consider the county fair my roots, because if I hadn’t started showing there, I might not have made it to the Iowa State Fair! 

Do you attend your local county fair? If you don’t, take some time this summer to stop by! You’re sure to see great exhibits, entertainment and of course food! Consider it an opportunity to get excited about the Iowa State Fair!

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