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.

2016 Iowa State Fair Recap – August 20 and 21

October 4, 2016
Blue Ribbon Foundation staff kicked off the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair with an early morning on Saturday, August 20…4:30 am early! As we prepared for the 10th annual Fairgrounds 5K starting at 7 am – there was something unique about watching the sun rise on the Fairgrounds.  It’s quiet and calm, unlike any other time.  Despite the rain, 293 Fairgoers participated in the race. The route led runners up the hills of the campgrounds, around the iconic buildings and alongside food concessionaires - it gave participants a new perspective of the Fairgrounds. With the help of our sponsor, West Bank, volunteers and participants, the Foundation raised $19,220. 
On Saturday afternoon, the Foundation honored our 10th and final Iowan of the Day. Although many people may not know Rosemary Beach by name, they may be familiar with the event she started in 1976. Thanks to Rosemary, Cedar Falls has hosted the Sturgis Falls Celebration for the past 41 years where thousands of Cedar Valley residents and visitors pour into Cedar Falls every spring. Rosemary is involved in much more outside of the Sturgis Falls Celebration. She serves as the retired director of the Cedar Falls Historical Society and volunteers for the Cedar Falls Community Theatre, the Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau, the Cedar Falls Questers and the Cedar Falls Representative Citizen Committee. 
One special event took place on the final Sunday of the Fair – the Woodcarver’s Auction. Fairgoers watched A.J. Lutter and Gary Kennan’s masterpieces unfold four times a day during the Fair. This year the woodcarving pair sculpted 40 items including big foot, Herky, Cy and even a cobra.  As tradition, the Grand and Reserve Champion Meats including ham, bacon and dried beef are also sold during the auction. 
Again this year, the Blue Ribbon Foundation participated in the sculpture painting contest. Our 3rd place “Building a Blue Ribbon Future” sculpture designed by Sticks sold for $1000 during the auction.  The Woodcarver’s Auction was a complete success with proceeds totaling $38,300 for Fairgrounds renovations. To date, the auction has raised a total of $689,000.
Looking back at the long days the staff and interns worked during the Fair is unbelievable. I want to personally thank each of the interns for stepping up to the challenge of joining our staff. This is not your typical internship. Each intern becomes a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team. Each is directly responsible for making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. As a previous intern myself – the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s internship program is an incredible learning opportunity, hard work and so much fun! 
The last day of the Iowa State Fair is bittersweet. I’m exhausted after 11 straight days of working practically nonstop to make sure every aspect of the Fair is successful. I’m proud of myself and the entire Iowa State Fair team for executing an event that more than a million people attended. The Iowa State Fair is so special because it only comes once a year for a short number of days.    
As the 2016 Iowa State Fair becomes a memory – I look forward to August. Over the next 300 days, we’ll plan the fun, food, entertainment and with the 2017 theme “Nothing Compares to State Fair Thrills” – we won’t disappoint!
Fairgrounds 5K on Saturday, August 20
Rosemary Beach of Cedar Falls
Cy and Herky woodcarvings
Crowd for Woodcarver's Auction
“Building a Blue Ribbon Future” sculpture
(After each Fair - I struggle to find pictures of the full time staff. Try again next year!)
Quick selfie with Robin
Gina posing at a selfie station
Peter making annoucements at the Woodcarver's Auction with the auctioneer, Al Conover.

2016 Iowa State Fair Recap – August 18 and 19

September 27, 2016

As the Iowa State Fair continued into the final weekend, the Blue Ribbon Foundation rolled through Thursday and Friday with our daily activities and some exciting additions.

On the second Thursday, the Blue Ribbon Foundation hosted Legislative Appreciation Day. It’s a day for our state’s senators and representatives to enjoy the sights of the Fair and our chance to thank each of them for the continued support. Following lunch, the Legislators took a tour of the Fairgrounds to see the renovations and progress the Foundation is making to preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation was proud to honor two outstanding individuals on Thursday and Friday. With an award presentation on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage, the crowds gathered to watch the talent show were also able to learn about special Iowans and the Foundation’s work.

Willard Larsen of Camanche was a history teacher and athletic coach for 33 years. He is a member of the Camanche High School Hall of Fame committee and active in his church. Willard is a Master Gardener, serves on the Master Gardener’s advisory board, co-chairman of three gardening events and chairs the Clinton County Fair Vegetable Contest. Willard educates area youth about horticulture through programs like Enviro Kids and Plant Partners.

In 1950, Bob Clark of West Des Moines became the chapter president of the Des Moines Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) and nine years later became the national president. Since then, Bob has volunteered with the American Heart Association for 48 years and served executive roles for the Principal Charity Classic, United Way and the Drake Relays. Even at 90 years old, Bob continues to volunteer and encourages those around him to do the same.

One of my favorite things to see on the second Friday of the Fair is the Clydesdale and Percheron Horse Shows. I’m still amazed at the size of these animals. It’s awesome to hear the click clock of hooves on the pavement outside of the horse barn and watch the 6 horse hitch competitors prepare. Each day of the Fair, a popular place to watch the horse shows is in Jake’s Club, the second floor VIP area of the Jacobson Exhibition Center.

The Club features a full bar as well as a variety of food options. Balcony box seating is available in addition to comfortable couches. I’m sure the 75 current members would agree that Jake’s Club is a prime location to bring guests and entertain clients. The Iowa State Fair paid tribute to Richard Jacobson inside the atrium of the Exhibition Center with a beautiful display of Mr. Jacobson’s memorabilia and a showcase of his philanthropic life.

On the second Thursday and Friday of the Fair, sales at the Fair Square trailer were booming! This year, in addition to the original and peanut butter, a new flavor – salted caramel was added to the mix. These tasty treats are sold for $2.50 and as a fundraiser generated $36,000 for the Foundation. A special thank you to our volunteers for sticking/serving each dessert on a stick and to the Fairgoers for eating them up!

Stay tuned for more 2016 Iowa State Fair highlights.  

Peter annoucing the names of Legislators


Willard Larsen of Camanche 


Bob Clark of West Des Moines 


Fair Square volunteers


Fair Square Trailer


Memorial for Richard Jacobson  


2016 Iowa State Fair Recap – August 15, 16 & 17

September 20, 2016
By the time Monday of the Fair arrived, the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff could finally take a breath. We’ve made it through the first four busiest days! 
Instead of running around to check on Fair Squares, merchandise or water sales – I could briskly walk! It was all hands on deck to run the Foundation’s water program. The Blue Ribbon Foundation sold water to concessionaires in addition to Fairgoers at our water stands. An average Fairgoer might not realize that by buying a bottle of water, they are supporting our cause. The history of the relationship between the Fair and those unique green Mt. Valley Spring Water bottles started in 1995. Crystal Clear began selling water on the Fairgrounds in a small booth along Grand Avenue. In 1997, the Blue Ribbon Foundation and Crystal Clear Water formed a partnership and the water sales became a fundraiser. 
Each staff member, intern and summer staffer have developed a routine by Monday.  By having a handle on your specific role, there is time for a little fun. On Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Ribbon Foundation participated in the Outhouse Races. During the race, teams pushed the outhouses down the street, completed a set of obstacles and raced back to the starting point. Thank you to Stivers Ford Lincoln of Waukee for building our outhouse. And an even bigger thank you for the donors that represented the Foundation in the event. 
The Blue Ribbon Foundation honored another 3 individuals as Iowan of the Day winners. Curt Schwanebeck is known as a Knoxville jewel and helped to reopen the local theatre.  He helps with the Community Easter Egg Hunt, makes dolls for children in hospitals and organizes community fun fairs. Curt is also involved in his church and volunteers at the Science Center of Iowa.  
Richard Vorthmann of Treynor has served 35 years as a township trustee and clerk, co-chairman of the Treynor school reorganization committee and helped build the first tanker truck for the local fire department. Richard has also been involved in his church and served as the president of the Town and Country Club. Richard has been instrumental in overseeing the Treynor Can Kennel, a can redemption center that has raised more than $135,000 for local youth programs. 
Edna Schrandt of Decorah has served more than 40 years as a 4-H leader and volunteer for Pony Express Riders of Iowa, an organization that raises money for Camp Sunnyside. Edna has also volunteered over 25 years with United Way and has been recognized for her contributions through several awards.
Each Fair, the Blue Ribbon Foundation trys to find new and creative ways to engage donors. As far as creativity goes – we knocked it out of the park this year with the first ever social painting class. Missy Sharer-Pieters of Messy Missy’s Painting Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown instructed groups of Fairgoers to paint their own personal canvas with Iowa State Fair inspired art. 
With 230 participants throughout the 11 days, Fairgoers showed off their talents while supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission. The total proceeds of $5,200 were dedicated to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund. As the endowment grows, it will provide a reliable source of funding for future renovations and maintenance improvements to the Fairgrounds, ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for generations to come. 
As the Fair continued through the week, it became even more important to try some of the new foods. I ate the Ice Cream Nachos, Not Your Mamma’s Taco, and the Pride of Iowa Wrap. All were incredibly delicious.  It brings a new meaning to the word “teamwork” when you are splitting a massive breakfast quesadilla or cheese curds with your coworkers. 
Stay tuned for more 2016 Iowa State Fair highlights.  
Water crew members kept the water ice cold
Blue Ribbon Foundation Outhouse Race
Huge crowds on Grand Avenue for the Outhouse Race
Curt Schwanebeck - Knoxville, IA 
Richard Vorthmann - Treynor, IA
Edna Schrandt - Decorah, IA
The first painting class was held on Expo Hill
The painting class was moved to the Youth Inn because of quick drying paint
Interns, Francesca and Audra enjoying Pork Chops on a Stick
My favorite tenderloin stand on the Fairgrounds

2016 Iowa State Fair Recap – August 13 and August 14

September 13, 2016
The first Saturday and Sunday of the Iowa State Fair are huge attendance days with more than 211,000 people coming to the Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation prides itself on providing the very best customer service to the guests that are interacting with our merchandise, water and Fair Square booths. 
Who is on the front-line representing the Foundation? Our one-of-a-kind volunteers. This year, our volunteers wore bright purple “Keep Calm, You’re at the Iowa State Fair” t-shirts. You could easily spot our helpers through the crowds, each with a smile on their face. These 600 dedicated Fairgoers gave more than 5,500 hours of their time to help with our mission to raise funds for future renovations. 
Spread across the Fairgrounds we had volunteers selling merchandise and staffing water booths. The sweetest volunteer spot was definitely the Fair Square trailer, sticking the tasty rice krispy treats onto sticks. We can't forget the volunteers driving the 1854 Society golf cart shuttle or helping with the Fairgrounds 5K. 
Our volunteers are not only helpful to customers but also knowledgeable about the Blue Ribbon Foundation. They share information on what improvements have been made and what projects will be next. I’ve even seen volunteers help donors find their engraved bricks. Volunteers are truly part of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team. More information about volunteer opportunities for the 2017 Iowa State Fair will be available in May. 
The Foundation was pleased to honor Iowan of the Day winners Cheryl Wessels of Anita and Steve Smith of Algona. Cheryl is most noted in her community for making 3,000 dresses for the “Little Dresses for Africa” program. She continues to recruit the help of other communities to give to this organization that brings relief to distressed children in Africa. Steve Smtih is a member of the American Legion, Friends of the American Legion, Patriot Guard and the Civil Air Patrol and volunteers with “Hunting with Heroes,” a program that helps disabled veterans learn to hunt again.
On the first Sunday of the Fair, the Blue Ribbon Foundation hosted a brunch for our 1854 Society members. This set of donors absolutely loves the Iowa State Fair! Each supporter believes in the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s work and gives annually to help us continue to move forward. 
The 1854 Society was created 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 including an engraved granite paver at the Museum, gate admission for 2 each day of the Fair, VIP parking, access to a Hospitality Suite, exclusive golf cart shuttle access, and more. 
Throughout the Fair, I wish I had more time to chat with individual volunteers and donors. I love hearing their personal stories, memories, and why they are passionate about the Iowa State Fair. This bond Iowan’s share is more than just an event in August - it’s a treasured tradition that every Iowan can be proud of. 
Stay tuned for more 2016 Iowa State Fair highlights.  
Volunteers selling merchandise at a trailer on Grand Avenue. 
Volunteers selling water in front of the Service Center. 
Peter Cownie, Foundation Executive Director, and Audra Kincart, Summer Intern, honoring Cheryl Wessels of Anita. 
Blue Ribbon Foundation staff, an Iowa State Fair Board Member, and friends celebrating Steve Smith of Algona. 
1854 Society Brunch at the Farm Bureau Shelter House.

2016 Iowa State Fair Recap – August 11 and 12

September 7, 2016

The first day of the Fair is filled with mixed emotions – excitement, nervousness, and your adrenalin is pumping as a staff member.

We kicked off the day with Opening Ceremonies held in the updated Oman Family Youth Inn. This three phase/three year renovation project included a replaced roof, air conditioning, remolded bathrooms and new mattress for the bunk beds.  New entrances with extended walkways were added, updated fire alarm systems were installed and the building is now fully handicap accessible because of the elevators. 

To finish the project the windows were replaced, improvements were made to the main floor stage area and an enhanced kitchen facility was added. New landscaping and a paved parking lot completed the north side of the building.

In addition to the generous gift from the Oman family, the Iowa Legislature appropriated a total of $3.15 million to this renovation. The Blue Ribbon Foundation also received a $25,000 grant from Prairie Meadows through its Community Betterment Grant Program. It takes support from the entire state to keep buildings like the Youth Inn available for future FFA and 4-H’ers.

During the first day, we honored Iowan of the Day, Randy Duncan. Randy is a Des Moines native who attended the University of Iowa on a football scholarship. Randy led the Hawkeyes to a Rose Bowl victory in 1959 against California, was placed second for the Heisman trophy and broke a school record formerly held by Nile Kinnick.  Described as humble, Randy raised a family and practiced as a lawyer in Des Moines. In 2012, Randy was diagnosed with brain cancer with less than a year to survive. Four years later, Randy is still fighting and serving as an inspiration for others.

To cap off the first day of the Fair, crowds gathered at the MidAmerican Energy Stage for “Symphony on a Stick”, a performance by the Des Moines Symphony.

On Friday of the Iowa State Fair our merchandise booths were hopping! The Blue Ribbon Foundation sold t-shirts, hats, and official State Fair collectibles as a fundraiser.  Each year Fairgoers collect the Christmas ornament, pottery piece and State Fair plaque. The 18th Edition Cookbook was for sale this year and I wonder how many cookbook enthusiasts have the entire collection. Check out the online State Fair Store for leftover merchandise available for sale. Although we don’t have an official store throughout the year, you can purchase merchandise at our office on the Fairgrounds.

For me, the first two days of the Iowa State Fair are the longest days yet go by the fastest. Despite the rain, hot and humid weather - the Fairgrounds were full of people. My first food item was a crescenti sandwich – one of my favorites. As I developed my routine for the 11 day event, most of the time I was on the move.

Stay tuned for more 2016 Iowa State Fair highlights.  


Opening Ceremonies at the Youth Inn.

Randy Duncan's family and friends honoring him as Iowan of the Day.

Crowd watching the "Symphony on a Stick" performance. 

Fairgoers shopping for merchandise.


Thank You

August 31, 2016
Simply put… the month of August flew by. As I look back at the craziness of the 2016 Iowa State Fair, most of the month feels like a blur. In the upcoming weeks, I plan on recapping special moments of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2016 Fair experience. 
First and foremost – I want to say THANK YOU to everyone that helps make the Iowa State Fair and the Blue Ribbon Foundation a success!
Thank you to my fellow Iowa State Fair and Blue Ribbon Foundation staff members. Each employee has an important role in making the 11 day event not only happen but an incredible success. Each department works the entire year to make their role perfect. Working together as a team, we make the Iowa State Fair one of the best!
Thank you to our summer interns and part time staff. Each intern individually completes projects that add to the successful summer. I look forward to seeing where each of them ends up after finishing college and starting their own careers. 
A huge thank you to the 400+ volunteers for giving your time to help make our organization’s fundraising efforts possible. With 7 merchandise booths and 6 water stands, our volunteers work from morning until night every day of the Fair.  
Thank you to the generous donors for believing in the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission and supporting our work. The renovations across the Fairgrounds would not be possible without the passion of Fairgoers that want to see the Iowa State Fair stay in tip top condition for future generations. All donations – small and large are valued and greatly appreciated. 
And a personal thank you to my friends and family.  Sometimes I wonder why I choose to have such a crazy job in the summer.  They completely understand that I “disappear” during the month of August. This massive event can also cause a bit of stress at times but my family’s love and support reminds me that I have the best job!
As much as I’ll miss the action of the Iowa State Fair – I’m looking forward to September. 
Kelsey and Audra, summer interns, checking in volunteers for a shift.
The water crew - keeping our booths loaded with water. 
My biggest Fair supporter!

August Come She Will

August 2, 2016

There are eight days until the Iowa State Fair and the Fair looks like it could start tomorrow! It’s amazing to see all of the food stands when I have become so used to seeing the grounds empty.

As others begin to set up, I’m seeing all of my hard work this summer begin to wrap up. I’m approaching the ends of my to-do lists and will make my daily Fair schedule this afternoon! What seemed so far away in May arrived in the blink of an eye.

One of my favorite wrapping up projects is writing the speeches for our Iowans of the Day. The award presentation takes place daily at 2:30 p.m. at the Anne and Billy Riley Stage. Be sure to make time in your daily Fair schedules to hear all about these outstanding Iowans who make their communities a better place to live.

One of my other wrapping up projects includes sending the registration packets for Fairgrounds 5K participants! There is still plenty of time to register before the race on Saturday, August 20. Registration is $40 and includes a Fair admission ticket, $5 in Fair food coupons, a Fairgrounds 5K t-shirt and a free Fair Square coupon.

August has always been one of my favorite months with my birthday and the start of a new school year. This year I have those events to look forward to as well as enjoying eleven days of the most wonderful time of the year. I hope you are all as excited for August 11-21 as I am!


Gathering Ground

July 28, 2016

We are just days away from the Iowa State Fair but who is counting? It is amazing to see the work around the Fairgrounds being done. Yesterday as the interns and I took our lunch on the bleachers of MidAmerican Energy Stage, it came to my attention that we as Fair staff are not the only ones that get to enjoy the preparation of what I call the greatest time of the year. There were two mothers that brought their kids to the park outside our office and had a picnic on the MidAmerican Energy stage, how cool! Every day we see at least one family, if not three or four that utilize the park. The Fairgrounds are more than just a piece of land; it’s a gathering ground for the Des Moines Metro community year-round.

Every day the interns always talk about how we can’t believe the Fair is already here. We have been gearing up for this time since we started, which seems like yesterday! Calls are being made quite frequently to confirm last minute details, mail is being sent, volunteers are confirming their schedules and Iowans of the Day have been selected.  The office has been busy to say the least.

I have been to the Iowa State Fair for the duration of the Fair for the past 14 years and every year it amazes me the new attractions I discover. This year I have been told I get to attend the outhouse races and potentially participate in the celebrity goat milking contest. That’s what I get for raising goats, being put on the spot at a contest in front of a crowd. Needless to say, I think it will be an unforgettable Fair! The newest attraction I am most excited for is the painting class that is going to be offered on Expo Hill. Messy Missy’s has put together seven phenomenal paintings that represent different aspects of the Iowa State Fair. Check out our website for a full schedule of the different painting times. Also be sure to check out our website to register for the 10th annual Fairgrounds 5K, you won’t want to miss out on the fun!

(Outhouse Races 2015)

(2 of the 7 paintings) 


Nothing Compares to My State Fair Souvenirs

July 27, 2016
The last few days the other interns and I have taken our lunch to the “Original and Famous” Bud Tent.  The tent’s not full of people yet, but from an empty picnic table in the shade we can watch the great Iowa State Fair take shape.  Just in our daily half hour breaks we’ve seen the propane tanks get installed on Rock Island, the red fencing go in for the Big Boar and Super Bull, and many people staring at their phones playing Pokemon Go.  
The Foundation specifically is having fun as our merchandise starts to trickle in!  At the Corndog Kickoff my dad was the winner of a silent auction package including a souvenir pennant from the 1958 Iowa State Fair.  While we don’t have any pennants, maybe in 60 years someone will bid on our 2016 items as a reminder of simpler times.  I specifically have my eye on a quarter zip sweatshirt, and maybe starting my own charm bracelet.  I’ve seen how special the charms are to so many Fairgoers, and the Rooster charm for this year is pretty cute! Pictured are a couple of our available hats, bell, piggy bank, and Isabel Bloom Corn sculpture.  These are just a few of the great souvenirs that will be available for this year’s Fair.
2016 Iowa State Fair Souvenirs
We are happy to take orders over the phone for the 2016 pottery piece, Mortar & Pestle, and 2016 Sticks plaque “Giant Slide!”  All other 2016 merchandise will be available at the Fair.  If you need to continue your collection of lapel pins, charms, t-shirts or any other memorabilia, please come see us at one of our seven merchandise booths August 11th through the 21st!

And the Winners are...

July 26, 2016

It’s already been one week since we’ve chosen our Iowans of the Day, and I’m so excited to meet each and every one of them at the Iowa State Fair! This year’s line-up includes outstanding Iowans who have contributed to their individual communities in diverse ways.

Our northern Iowa winners have truly done it all. Together, their list of accomplishments includes publishing 850 articles and six books about the history of Iowa’s Great Lakes, creating the Sturgis Falls Celebration, being a 4H leader for 40 years and organizing an annual celebration on the 4th of July for the community and veterans to enjoy.

Our other hometown heroes are equally as impressive. Their accomplishments include making 3,000 dresses for children in Africa, reopening the community’s closed theatre, being the previous national president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, helping to build a new Fairgrounds and dedicating their life to teaching the community about horticulture.

These individuals will be recognized with their own day at the Fair. He or she will be recognized on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage and presented as an Iowan of the Day daily at 2:30 p.m. Along with accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, they will each receive a cash prize, Grandstand and Iowa State Fair admission tickets and use of the Iowan of the Day golf cart.

I am pleased to present the 2016 Iowans of the Day:

Randy Duncan of Des Moines – Thursday, August 11

Aubrey LaFoy of Arnolds Park – Friday, August 12

Cheryl Wessels of Anita – Saturday, August 13

Steve Smith of Algona – Sunday, August 14

Curt Schwanebeck of Knoxville – Monday, August 15

Richard Vorthmann of Treynor – Tuesday, August 16

Edna Schrandt of Decorah – Wednesday, August 17

Willard Larsen of Camanche – Thursday, August 18

Bob Clark of West Des Moines – Friday, August 19

Rosemary Beach of Cedar Falls – Saturday, August 20

Thank you to all of those who submitted an application, it’s because of you that this great program is able to continue. As a reminder, applications are reviewed for three years. Find out more about this year’s Iowans of the Day at the Iowa State Fair August 11-21!