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.

Oman Family Youth Inn

June 1, 2016
What exactly does the Blue Ribbon Foundation do?  Our website says, “The Blue Ribbon Foundation is a non-profit organization raising funds to help preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.” This answers the basic question of why the Foundation is here, but is that really what people want to know when they ask?  
During my interview I was asked if I knew what the Foundation did. Because I had read the website, I answered confidently that I did.  After getting to know the Foundation as an intern, I think that examples better describe all that the Foundation has done, and continues to do.  
Yes, the Foundation raises funds, that’s why it was created.  We have many sponsors during the Fair, large capital donations, and many giving programs.  Our giving programs include purchasing light posts, plaques for trees, bricks, pavers, and blocks in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center.  These giving programs tell a story though.  Individuals call or visit the office all the time, not intending to “preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds,” but to honor a loved one or beloved tradition.  To the people of Iowa, the Fairgrounds are not seen as a money making event complex, it’s where they’ve made memories.  Honoring and preserving these memories is what the Foundation makes possible.  
Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Jill Oman, who told me about the memories she and her husband Mark were honoring with the renaming of the Oman Family Youth Inn.  Being community minded people the Omans wanted to make a difference and help the entire state. They realized that the best way to do this would be by supporting the Iowa State Fair.  Jill and Mark love how the Fair brings together everyone’s talents from across Iowa to be showcased.  The Youth Inn will particularly help young people across the state, who Jill admires for working hard towards their different projects.  
The Oman Family Youth Inn was built as a Works Project Administration project between 1939-1942.  The facilities include bunk beds, showers, and a kitchen and cafeteria area that hundreds of young exhibitors call home during the Fair.  The Blue Ribbon Foundation makes a difference on the Fairgrounds, but also with all of the Fairgoers who are able to continue making memories. This summer specifically, the Foundation’s work can be seen as the Oman Family Youth Inn is reopened, and is once again deserving of the title “Hilton on the Hilltop.”  

Birdies for Charity Celebrities

May 31, 2016

The first day back from a long weekend brings the first day of the Principal Charity Classic!

Birdies for Charity, a portion of the Principal Charity Classic, is taking place May 31 to June 5 at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines. There’s still time to pledge to the Blue Ribbon Foundation through the Principal Charity Classic website. For all of you unfamiliar with the sport of golf, a birdie is one stroke less than par and par is the average amount of strokes per hole. Through the fundraiser, people can pledge a certain amount per birdie at the Principal Charity Classic. The money pledged through Birdies for Charity goes to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation's mission of preserving and renovating the Iowa State Fairgrounds with current projects like the Oman Family Youth Inn.

2015 was the most profitable year for charities with the event raising over $1.4 million. This Principal Charity Classic also saw over 77,000 attendees, so enjoy the nice weather this week and head out to the Wakonda Club to watch golf celebrities play!

These celebrities include last year’s Classic winner Mark Calcavecchia as well as John Daly, both of whom have won the British Open. After winning the Classic last year, Calcavecchia received bacon inspired slacks and a bacon belt, both of which he fully intends on wearing this year.

Other celebrities that will be in attendance include 18 golfers who won majors from the PGA Tour Champions as well as the winners of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, the Mitsubishi Electric Championship and the Allianz Championship.

You don’t want to miss out on this great event, and we can’t wait to see this year’s results. Enjoy watching the Principal Charity Classic Birdies for Charity!


Golfing and Giving

May 26, 2016

I am closing in on week 3 working at the Blue Ribbon Foundation and this place is definitely a “birdie.” A “birdie” is one stroke better than par in the game of golf. My internship experience has been anything but par over the last three weeks. The love and passion for the Iowa State Fair and the Foundation that fills the air is incredible. Learning about different areas and the history of the Foundation has been very eye opening.

 One of the greatest features of the Foundation is that it targets people of all ages and offers giving programs to accommodate all different levels. One of our newest giving programs is the partnership with the Principal Charity Classic’s “Birdies for Charity” fundraiser. Supporters can make a pledge based on the number of “birdies” made by Champions Tour players during the 2016 Principal Charity Classic, May 31-June 5. For more information, visit The Principal Charity Classic website.

Years ago, the Blue Ribbon Foundation hosted a golf outing as a way to show appreciation for our current donors. This was also a way for the Foundation to meet with some prospective donors to discuss what new projects were happening on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 2008 was the last golf outing and this is the second year partnering with Principal Charity Classic’s Birdies for Charity program.

Thank you for continuing to show your love and support for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Check out more information on our website


(BRF staff and Interns at the 2006 golf outing)


23 Years of Volunteers

May 25, 2016
My days, and the Fair Volunteer Schedule, are starting to fill as more Volunteer Registration Forms are submitted.  Every volunteer is appreciated and makes a difference. They also all have their own story.  
Most forms are submitted online, or delivered in the mail, but an occasional volunteer will come in to the office to explain their form to me in person.  In the past three days I have met two volunteers, and received countless registration forms, from people who have been volunteering longer than I’ve been alive.  The Blue Ribbon Foundation has a dedicated volunteer base that has been growing since the Foundation’s creation in 1993.  I was born in November of 1995, so I missed many volunteers’ first three Fairs as Blue Ribbon Foundation Volunteers.  Many things have changed in the last 23 years!
When the Foundation was created, Whitney Houston was on the top of the charts with the now classic, “I Will Always Love You.”  The stuffed animal we all thought would make us rich, Beanie Babies, was first released.  The world was also introduced to Mrs. Doubtfire, and journeyed to Jurassic Park for the first time.  Who knows, maybe this week’s top song “One Dance” by Drake featuring Wizkid & Kyla, will be a song that everyone knows in 2039.  We might actually finally be rich from those Beanie Babies, and Captain America: Civil War might play once a month on cable television.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know our volunteers that have been around since 1993, and I look forward to meeting all of the volunteers that have submitted their very first registration forms.  If you’d like the 2039 intern to write about your dedication in 23 years, registration can be done online!
Just to be safe, continue to save your Beanie Babies!

Outstanding Iowan

May 24, 2016

As I highlight our past Iowan of the Day winners, it is amazing to think how much time and effort these individuals have put in to make our state even better.

This week I chose to highlight a fellow southern Iowan and Seymour High School teacher, Shawn Tait, from Exline, Iowa.

Shawn serves as the prom sponsor for Seymour High and spends her time volunteering with the Boy Scouts soap box derby, serving at Exline Recreation Committee dinners, chaperoning for FFA and being an active member of her church. Shawn was named the Exline Citizen of the Year in 2013.

The 30 members of the Exline Ramblers 4H Club call Shawn their leader. Shawn has been the driving force in getting the club involved in big ways, including cleaning roadsides through the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Shawn makes sure 4H’ers have a project to submit each year and teaches her club how to sew. As a 4H leader, Shawn has had to help with everything from posters to livestock to birdhouses.

The Exline Ramblers 4H Club received a grant for new benches in the Exline City Park, thanks to Shawn’s encouragement. 16 benches made of recycled plastic were also placed at the Appanoose County Fairgrounds.

Shawn also plans service projects for her 4H club where one year, the Ramblers visited a local nursing home to throw a Christmas party. With all of this going on, Shawn somehow manages to plan overnight camp outs and attend her 4H’ers competitions at the county fair.

The deadline for Iowan of the Day isn’t until July 1, so there is still plenty of time to nominate someone who goes above and beyond to give back to their communities! If you know someone like Shawn, consider nominating them today.

How Many Days Left?

May 23, 2016
Since I started as an intern here at the Blue Ribbon Foundation in mid-January, I have spent most of my lunch breaks at the nearby Subway. I have recently started bringing in my lunch, but when I frequented the same Subway, the employees would occasionally ask me how many days left until the 2016 Iowa State Fair and I would always answer, too many! When I did not go to Subway for my lunch today, I was reminded that we only have 79 days left! 
79 days left until the biggest event in the state and only 79 days left until corndogs, lemonade and the Giant Slide! Speaking of days left, we have 88 days left until the 5K and only 46 days left until the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction. We are putting final touches on the auction booklet and just sent out the invitation. Tickets for the event are now available for purchase and will remain available until the night of the event. Please make sure to purchase tickets early for our special pricing, and come celebrate the greatest parts of the Iowa State Fair 33 days early. You can purchase tickets on our Corndog Kickoff Tickets page. 
As we are finalizing the auction booklet, we are still accepting donations to be added to the silent auction. Please visit our auction page to see further information, and descriptions of the packages. Thank you to our volunteers that have served on the committees and thank you to the donors of items, without your contribution, the Corndog Kickoff could not have grown into the great event it is!
Patrons enjoying the 2014 Corndog Kickoff. Im sure they cannot wait either! 

Gathering on Grand with Francesca

May 19, 2016

The office has been in full swing and the wheels have been turning. My passion for the Iowa State Fair continues to grow while being a part of the “inside” team. We are 83 days away from the fair, but who’s counting? I often get asked why my love for the Iowa State Fair is so great, and here are the top five reasons.

1. The People: The Iowa State Fair is an event that brings in nearly or over 100,000 people every single day. There are very diverse crowds, especially with attendance reaching a record breaking 115,959 one day, last year. Some may come from a small town farm, some may come from a large city, but they all share one thing in common, the love for the great Iowa State Fair. For most people the Fair is a learning experience. Whether it’s learning about agriculture or the newest trends in the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building, there is always something new to take in. Sometimes my best conversations occur with people who are interested in knowing why we do what we do at the Fair.

2. Camping: This means 11 days with great people! One of my favorite childhood memories was living in our camper in the blazing, August heat on the Iowa State Fairgrounds right across from the Swine Barn and Youth Inn (until they moved exhibitor camping up the hill). Camping in the exhibitor lot with livestock friends was the highlight of my summer. I would pack my clothes mid-July and cry when it was time to leave the Fair. Since I knew the Fairgrounds like the back of my hand, my parents let me run around with friends that were the same way. We loved it. This was our style of vacationing.

3. Livestock Shows: Come August I was ready to show off what I had prepared all summer, my livestock. Late nights and early mornings were real at our house just to walk that animal. Iowa is blessed with the livestock quality at competitions. In order to compete, you have to put in the time to make that animal great. Blood, sweat and tears are definitely shed at least once during preparation days. Although winning is nice, it isn’t everything. The friends and memories that are made during these years of our lives are far above the trophy, banner or picture that will sit and collect dust. Without your livestock “family” the Fair wouldn’t be as congenial as it is. These people are special tools in a tool kit and are resources that you can use to better yourself and the livestock. Whether people realize it or not, they wouldn’t be who they are today without the people that helped them up yesterday from a bad day in the show ring.

4. Food on a Stick: Who doesn’t love food, especially on a stick? Food on a stick has become a staple to the Iowa State Fair. People don’t talk about the plain hamburger they got from a random stand, rather they usually talk about the food on a stick that they inhaled so fast they couldn’t enjoy it. There are nearly 75 different foods you can get on a stick at the Iowa State Fair. Every year they come up with a new item to feature, and it keeps getting better. One of my favorite foods on a stick is the pork chop. The Iowa Pork Producers do an excellent job preparing these. If you walk away from the fair hungry, you didn’t look hard enough. There are food stands for everyone.

5. Traditions: There are many traditions within the limits of the Iowa State Fairgrounds, including the nationally acclaimed butter cow. The talent that goes into sculpting something so unique is incredible. Along with the butter cow, other “must do” traditions include contests, riding the Ye Old Mill and cruising down the Giant Slide. Whether it’s the first or the fiftieth time people come to the Fair, a fun time is to be had. With a group of your best friends, roaring laughter can be heard by the Giant Slide. After cruising down the slide, annual contests are a great way to spend your day. They include everything from a cow chip throwing, yodeling, hog calling to a pie baking contest. The best part is that they accommodate every age and are open to the public.

Wow! It was tough deciding my top five reasons why I love the fair, because I know I could write many more. There is a reason why the Iowa State Fair is one of the top State Fair’s in the country: IT’S GREAT! The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to maintain the Fairgrounds so all of the things people love at the State Fair can be continued.  Well, I better get back to working on the media kit for the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party. Be sure to get your tickets!



Big Personalities, Bigger Hearts

May 18, 2016
Well, all of the interns made it to week two!  We’re all fully submerged in our projects, and we’re starting to get things done in the office.  
Already I have had innumerous emails, and phone calls from our dedicated volunteers.  Many were replied to with “I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get a response to you, this is my first week in the office.”  Because I started receiving emails in March!  I’ve learned quickly that our volunteers have big personalities, and bigger hearts.  
Today is a big day for me, because the box of volunteer letters that has been sitting on my desk since Friday is leaving for the post office!  One of my first tasks in the office was to create the volunteer letter, and registration materials for the 2016 Fair.  I became acquainted with the Fair’s printing department, learned that there is a machine that folds paper, and learned that it takes an 8 hour work day to stuff 480 envelopes. 
If you don’t receive a volunteer letter in the next week, we would still love to have you join us at the Fair!  Online registration will open Friday.  Just like the paper forms, scheduling will happen on a first come, first serve basis.  I can’t wait to start filling in the schedule! 

Iowan of the Day Hints

May 17, 2016

As the Iowan of the Day deadline approaches on July 1, I am in awe of all of our past winners!

Take 2015 winner Steven Palmer as an example. Steven is a retired law enforcer from Urbandale, Iowa who served in the Polk County Sheriff’s Department and in the Polk County Attorney’s Office as an investigator. Steven is also a veteran in both the United States Coast Guard and Army.  

While in the police force, Steven created a program to help children recovered during drug arrests. Through this, Steven received an award that recognizes outstanding work to keep youth off drugs. Steven also served as the regional coordinator for the Law Enforcement torch runners for eight years.

“Steve is a man of heart,” is one phrase a nominator used to describe Steven. Steven has spent 20 years volunteering with Special Olympics and is currently President of the Board of Directors. Steven has traveled as far as China to help with the World Games and was instrumental in raising more than $110,000 for Special Olympics Iowa!

As if this wasn’t enough, Steven is a member of the Za-Ga-Zig Shriners and the Masonic Temple where he received the grandmaster membership award.  
Like Steven, all of our Iowan of the Day winners since 1997 have done monumental things in their communities.

There is still plenty of time to nominate someone who makes the world around them a better place! Here are helpful hints if you plan on sending in an application:
1)    Submit an organized and neat application.
2)    Think of ways to set your nominee apart. This could be from outstanding letters of recommendation to any coverage on your nominee.
3)    Don’t be afraid to resubmit material! Applications are reviewed for three years and the more material the merrier.

Well, back to work for me. I can’t wait to read all of the Iowan of the Day applications submitted!


Golf Season

May 16, 2016
This year’s annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party will feature some great items that are sure to show you what Iowa has to offer. Just secured today are some passes to the 2017 Principal Charity Classic. These include admission, and access for two to exclusive club areas on the 13th and 16th greens. We have these passes for Saturday and Sunday for 2017! These items are great, because they highlight the talent of local Iowans while showcasing another great charity.
The Birdies for Charity fundraiser is held during the Principal Charity Classic. This unique fundraiser was created to help those organizations in the area with raising money. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is one of those organizations that are benefitting from the Birdies for Charity fundraiser. Supporters can make a pledge based on the number of "birdies" made by Champions Tour players during the 2016 Principal Charity Classic, May 31 - June 5. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will receive 100% of every donation collected and receive a 10% match for all pledges made through the program. Find out more about this by visiting the Birdies for Charity page on our website. 
Continue to show your support for the Foundation and your love of golf by looking for exclusive Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation golf balls at this year’s Iowa State Fair. Please make sure to check our website for updates on silent auction packages and Corndog Kickoff event materials in the next few weeks!