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 $150 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.

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.






Those Super Structures

November 7, 2017
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“Those Super Structures” is just one section of the book: Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story. This history book describes the Iowa State Fair from the very beginning in 1854 through 2000 (The year the book was published). Each time I flip through the pages, I learn something new.  Today’s lesson: the State Fair museum.

“Sometime, you really ought to walk around the fairgrounds when there’s nothing going on out there. No State Fair. No livestock shows. No arts and crafts festivals. Nothing.  And then what?

And then, you can take time to notice the buildings – how unique each one is and how beautifully they all blend together. It was no accident that this happened, but rather careful planning for more than a century. While you’re ambling around on the grounds, think, too, about the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. Without it, our fairgrounds could, by now, look much different.”

Mary Kay Shanley writes about the Fairground’s structures and the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission to keep the historical buildings as beautiful as the day they were constructed. Built in the 1800s, the State Fair Museum was once the Polk County Building. Eventually it was used as State Fair storage and opened as the museum in 1982.

In 2007, the exterior and interior of the museum were updated. These improvements included a new basement, an addition to the original structure containing an elevator, a restroom, storage room, work room and exhibit rooms on both the first and second levels. 

The State Fair’s museum superintendent does an excellent job of maintaining the artifacts and adding new displays each year.  Once of my favorite displays is on the Grandstand artists. It's fun to see how so many musicians made the Iowa State Fair a pit stop on their journey to becoming famous. Any Fairgoer should be able to learn some fun facts about Alabama - especially since the band has performed on the Fairgrounds a dozen times!

The entire museum complex continues to receive improvements with the help of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 1854 Society. The money raised through this membership program has allowed the museum to work on cataloguing the Fair history, while building upon the collection as a whole. The museum can now create a digital inventory of all artifacts at the Iowa State Fair - including photographs, movies, and even large physical collections. This makes it possible for the public to have better access to the history.

Read more about the history of the Iowa State Fair and the Blue Ribbon Foundation in the book: Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story available in the online State Fair Store.

In addition to supporting the future of the Iowa State Fair, 1854 Society members receive some special benefits.

  • Gate admission for two each day of the Iowa State Fair and special on-grounds parking.
  • Opportunity to purchase four priority seats to a Grandstand concert.
  • Limited Edition Commemorative Pin denoting year of renewal.
  • Access to a hospitality suite and exclusive shuttle during the Iowa State Fair.
  • Recognition in Blue Ribbon Foundation publications and a special reception during the Fair.

For more than 160 years the Iowa State Fair has grown, reflecting the development and growth of our great state. What will the next 160 years hold?  With your continued support, the Fair will remain a true reflection of what is best about Iowa. 





Summer Jobs

November 1, 2017
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Aside from a few babysitting gigs, my first real job was at the local swimming pool. Not the glamourous role of being a lifeguard but in the hot and sticky concession stand. Starting at 14 years old, I served slushes and jumbo pretzels for two summers. In high school, I upgraded to working at my town’s grocery store. I started as a cashier and moved up to working the courtesy courter. Of course I took my turn at bagging the groceries, stocking the shelves and inventorying product.

Growing up, I watched my two older sisters start working at a young age. (Ironically, one was a glamourous lifeguard and the other worked at the same grocery store just a few years before.) My parents encouraged each of us to have a part time job. I think it taught us responsibility, instilled a work ethic, and gave us pride in managing our own money. 

It’s no surprise I wanted to have a job while attending college. I worked as a tour guide for Iowa State and in the ISU Dining Hall offices. More important than a regular job, internships become crucial to college students wanted to launch a career after graduation.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation offers an internship program to college students. Not only do these students become part of the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff and have direct responsibility for specific projects, they also have the opportunity to further develop their skills while adding new experiences to their resumes.

The Foundation plans to hire two spring semester/summer interns and two summer intern. The four internship positions are outlined below.

  • Public Relations: Publicize and coordinate the Iowan of the Day program. Promote other events with various communication materials.
  • Donor Relations: Coordinate special events, donor communications and correspondence with the corporate sector.
  • Volunteer Relations: Schedule and manage more than 600 volunteers for events.
  • Business Relations: Oversee the logistics of the wholesale water program including oversight of orders, invoicing and summer staff. Assist Sponsorship Director with business functions.

Each intern will also assist with a variety of social media, marketing initiatives, and general office duties. Special to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, there are other potential projects based on an intern’s skill sets. This really means that each internship experience can be unique. If you want to develop a certain skill - chances are the Iowa State Fair has some project that can help you accomplish it.

I am officially biased when it comes to the Blue Ribbon Foundation internships because I was an intern a few years ago. I can guarantee that having the internship with the Foundation helped land my first “real world” job after college. I advanced my writing abilities, developed better customer service and relationship skills.  I worked hard (and lots of long days) to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation accomplish its fundraising  goals - all while having so much fun!

Encourage the college student in your life to apply. Applications will be accepted until November 30.


2017 Interns:



My summer internship in 2011:


A Great State Fair

October 24, 2017
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By the 1960s, the luster had worn off the once grand Iowa State Fairgrounds, and the aging facility seemed to be on life support. Efforts to address its problems and stem the deterioration came to naught, and the decline continued. Some wondered if the fair was a relic of the past that had outlived its usefulness.

Author William Friedricks gives Fairgoers the opportunity to read about the history of the Iowa State Fairgrounds – the good, bad and the ugly. The book: A Great State Fair, The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair outlines how years of neglect almost destroyed the Fairgrounds. Friedricks does an excellent job describing how after a number of efforts to save the facility failed, the Iowa State Fair Board created the Blue Ribbon Foundation, hoping it could raise millions of dollars needed to restore the grounds.

The chapters not only give readers a history of the Iowa State Fair but also explain the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s journey the last 25 years. A sneak peek at the contents…

1. Prelude to a Permanent Fairgrounds
2. Something Worth Saving
3. Coming of the Blue Ribbon Foundation
4. Shot Out of a Cannon
5. “Our State Fair is a Great State Fair” Redux
6. Bigger and Better

Key donations, renovation projects and the critical leadership are described. Photographs are included to paint a picture of how Iowans across the state came together to support the Foundation’s mission. Any State Fair enthusiast is sure to learn something new about the Iowa State Fairgrounds and specifically the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Get your copy of A Great State Fair, The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair through the online State Fair Store or Amazon.  You can also stop by the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 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.

Here at their fairgrounds, people from all across the state and all walks of life will continue to convene, as they have for generations, at their annual summer reunion, where, as the Des Moines Register once explained, “We are not Cyclone or Hawk, urban or rural, newcomer or lifer. We are Iowans.”

Some will eat corndogs, watch livestock competitions, learn of the latest agricultural equipment, or see a Grandstand show. Others might stroll through the animal barns, listen to barkers hawking gadgets in the Varied Industries Building, try a Midway ride, view the Butter Cow, marvel at the Big Boar, or just gawk at other fairgoers. And thanks to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, here they will celebrate all that is Iowa for generations to come.