Blue Ribbon Blog

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s blog!

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $135 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

Celebrate our 25th Anniversary!

April 26, 2017
The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating 25 years! The Foundation, its donors and volunteers have been a key asset to the improvements and renovations that have made your Fair experience one you won’t forget. Join the Foundation’s 25th anniversary campaign by making a donation of $25, $250 or $2,500 to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund. Be a part of the renovations and enhancements around the Fairgrounds to better the experience for years to come. 
Over the past 25 years, the Foundation has contributed to some of the major renovations on the Fairgrounds, including the Administrative Building in 1998, the Agriculture building in 1995, the Grandstands in 1997 and the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center. The service center was the first new building added to the Fairgrounds by the Blue Ribbon Foundation.  
Another building that the Foundation contributed to was the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, and I personally have enjoyed spending time in this building because of my agriculture background. Even though I grew up on a farm, I didn’t get to experience the birth of livestock because we didn’t raise breeding animals. I love this building because it brings the real-world livestock experience to the Fair that not many fairgoers get to see! 
Join the celebration of our 25th anniversary by marking your calendars and purchasing a ticket for the Corndog Kickoff Auction on Saturday, July 8! You won’t want to miss out on our biggest event yet!  

Spring Brings New Beginnings

April 19, 2017
Spring is my favorite season of the year because the grass turns green, flowers are blooming, planters are out in the field and summer is just around the corner! Spring is a time when everything starts to come together. Farmers are able to plant their crop for the upcoming growing season, summer sports and activities begin and the Iowa State Fairgrounds start to fill up as events are happening and people are preparing for the Fair. 
Things are also coming together at the Blue Ribbon Foundation, as we continue to receive donations for the Corndog Kickoff Auction and I have been sending out information for the Iowan of the Day. Nominate an outstanding Iowan in your community who deserves a fun filled day at the Iowa State Fair! You can find a nomination form on our website. We are taking nominations until July 1
There is a lot to look forward to as we are already half way through April. In just a short couple weeks I will be working full time for the Foundation along with the other three interns. I have already been sent out on various errands to do around the fairgrounds, and I can’t wait to see everything come together for the Fair! Various renovation projects are in full swing, such as the Midway project and the project near the VI Building and the sky glider station. It’s rewarding to see all the efforts put forth by the Foundation, its donors and the volunteers come together to make the Fair an even better experience for all the fairgoers! 
Just 112 more days until the Fair! See you there! 

Spring Newsletter: 1997, 2007 and 2017

April 17, 2017

As the spring newsletter hits mailboxes, here is a brief flashback to what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was doing 10 and 20 years ago.

The 1997 spring newsletter announced the beginning of an amazing relationship. William Knapp gave his first donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, a $1 million gift to renovate the Varied Industries Building. Knapp wanted to give back in a way that the entire state of Iowa could benefit. “His gesture is invaluable and precious in the context in which it is given – a spirit of genuine appreciate for his state and her people,” said John Putney, Executive Director at the time of the donation.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation also received a $470,000 gift from the Penningroth Family from their willed estate. In the spring of 1997, construction projects included updates on the east side of the Horse Barn, Grandstand seating area and the interior of the Administration Building.

The first Corndog Kickoff was promoted for a Friday night in Pioneer Hall. The top item in the auction: the privilege of being first in line at the Iowa Pork Producers Tent! The 1997 donor profile highlighted Joyce Lock and Dee Witmack as co-chairs for the Corndog Kickoff. Readers got a sneak peek of the new campgrounds lapel pin and the pie dish pottery piece.

Jennifer Cannon, the Sponsorship Director at the time, wrote the editorial in the 2007 spring newsletter. She wrote about her personal experience with livestock. She went from living in an apartment in the city to a farm in the country. With the 2007 construction of the Animal Learning Center, kids from across the state would have the opportunity to experience the birth of baby animals and have a taste of living on a farm.

The State Fair museum was in the process of being updated with a new basement, an addition, new roof and windows. The building continues to hold Fair artifacts and memorabilia. Four interns were announced to join the staff in the summer months. The 2007 donor profile featured Barksdale’s Concessions. Joe Barksdale was the creator of the warm chocolate chip cookies in a cup. Equally important, Barksdale’s was a loyal contributor to the Foundation and still is today.

In the 2017 spring newsletter, Robin reflects on the Foundation’s 25 years of improvements across the Fairgrounds. Included is information about volunteering for the Corndog Kickoff and the Iowa State Fair. And as in previous years, we are excited to welcome summer interns to our team.

Donation opportunities include becoming a Corndog Kickoff patron, donating an auction item or participating in the Principal Charity Classic’s Birdies for Charity program. There is a update of current projects underway – the midway, west plaza expansion, east 33rd street, stalling barn… the list goes on and on.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is successful because of its supporters – the donors, volunteers, and the Iowans that love the State Fair.  This 2017 spring newsletter highlights some of those people - Governor Branstad, the Iowan of the Day program and the donor profile: the Bohling family.

Check out the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s spring newsletter. You can also join our E-News mailing list to get the inside scoop on Blue Ribbon Foundation activities delivered right to your inbox every month.



Nominate an Outstanding Iowan!

April 12, 2017
The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, the grass is turning green and we are another week closer to the Fair! Each day that passes comes with more jobs to complete in preparation for the Corndog Kickoff and the Fair. 
This week I started sending out information about the Iowan of the Day program! If you know of someone in your community who does an outstanding job with volunteering, community and youth involvement, nominate them to be an Iowan of the Day for one day during the Fair! They will receive $200 cash, four admission tickets for one day at the Fair, four grandstand tickets, hotel accommodations and more! We are taking nominations until July 1. Nominate here
Donations for the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction continue to roll in and I can assure you there are some exciting donations you can have the chance to bid on! Plan to attend the Kickoff on July 8 for a fun filled evening of corndogs and excitement. 
Only two more full weeks of classes at ISU until finals week, and then the fun starts with all interns aboard for the summer! I can’t wait for the adventures we will go on while preparing for the Fair! Mark your calendars for August 10-20 and I will see you there! 

Signs of Spring

April 5, 2017

They say April showers bring May flowers, and with all the recent rainfall, I hope that is the case!

Signs of Spring are all around us and along with those come the preparation for the summer ahead. Every day that passes is another day closer to the Corndog Kickoff and then the Fair! That means the days are getting busier every day. With only three full weeks until finals week, my schedule is jam packed with final projects and studying to do! Donations are rolling in for the Corndog Kickoff and I am excited for the auction because there are some cool donations! Get excited for some great experiences ahead! I am starting to prepare for the Iowan of the Day so be thinking of an outstanding Iowan in your community that deserves to be the Iowan of the Day and put together their nomination packets.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. for the 97th Annual Block and Bridle Convention. While on the plane ride there, I sat by a gentleman from Maryland who attended the Iowa State Fair last summer. I was fascinated and so excited to hear him say how much he loved it! That only got me more excited for the Fair and to meet all the people that attend from all around the country!

From writing nomination letters to organizing donations, I am keeping busy! I am anxious for summer to be here and to see the preparation for the Corndog Kickoff and Fair come together. Just about four more weeks until the rest of the interns are in the office and we will be off to the races! 


Jumping in Full Swing

March 29, 2017
It’s my second week in the office and I am starting to get the hang of things. I have jumped right in working on the projects I will be in charge of this summer. I am excited to see all of my hard work come together at the end. 
One of the main projects of mine this summer is to conduct the Iowan of the Day program. I am proud of the state I grew up in, and I’m looking forward to learning about other Iowans across the state and how they get involved in their communities. Along with the Iowan of the Day, I will be helping coordinate the Corndog Kickoff, keeping track of all the exciting donations we receive. And speaking of donations, we have starting receiving them in the mail! It is so exciting to see the generosity of those who donate! But don’t worry, there is plenty of time for you to send in your donations for the Corndog Kickoff, held on July 8! 
As the public relations intern, writing, organizing donations and nominations and designing various projects is what much of my summer will consist of. I am excited to get to know many new people this summer, from them stopping in the office to me interviewing them for a story. Every person is so different and unique and that is what makes the Blue Ribbon Foundation so special! 
I have a busy summer ahead, but my coworkers and the busy Fair atmosphere will make the journey an exciting one! As March comes to an end, we are one month closer to the Corndog Kickoff and the Fair! Hope everyone is as excited as I am!  

Giving Program Deadline

March 27, 2017
With the deadline for giving programs fast approaching, I started to think about what personal inscriptions I could write for the Fairgoers in my life. To start, my dad has a strong love of music. His favorite spot on the Fairgrounds would be watching entertainment on a free stage or in the Grandstand. An engraved paver or tree plaque in Legacy Terrace would be the perfect option for him. On the other hand, my mom could spend hours walking through Pioneer Hall or exploring the Cultural Center. An engraved brick or Courtyard of Celebration paver would be the best option for her. 
My boyfriend’s favorite thing to do at the Fair is watch the horses, so he would need a block on the donor wall inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center. My best friend grew up camping and showing cattle at the Iowa State Fair each summer. She would need a lamp post outside of the Outdoor Arena. It could commemorate the years she spent showing livestock and how we would run around the Fairgrounds until late into the night. And I know a few people who would need an inscription about spending too much time at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, Steer N Stein, Stockman’s or Jalapeño Pete’s!
What are your family memories and special places on the Fairgrounds?  You can capture these memories when you donate to one of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s giving programs.  At the same time - you are investing in the success of the Iowa State Fair for the future. Check out the options:
The deadline to have your brick, paver or plaque in place for the Iowa State Fair is March 31. Start brainstorming your creative inscriptions today. 

Meet Emily Blum, 2017 Public Relations Intern!

March 22, 2017

Hi everyone!

I’m Emily Blum! My summer has begun early and I am the first intern in the office jumping in full swing preparing for the summer ahead! I grew up on a diversified grain and livestock farm in Western Iowa near Denison and grew up loving the Fair, so there is no doubt that I’m excited to embark on this journey at the Iowa State Fair this spring and summer! Being born and raised on a farm has taught me to love agriculture and the fair atmosphere. Showing pigs through 4-H and FFA, exhibiting non-livestock projects and hanging out in the barns during the county fair was my favorite part of the summer and now I get so spend my whole summer at the great, Iowa State Fair!

My passion for agriculture leaded me to Iowa State University, where I am currently a junior majoring in Agriculture Communications. I stay very busy with club activities and responsibilities, as I serve as a public relations tri-chair for the 2017 Bacon Expo, as well as a member of the Block and Bridle club serving on multiple committees. I am also a member of the Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow club and a contributing writer for the College of Ag and Life Sciences publication, CALS Connections. As you can tell I love being involved in as many things that I can handle!

This summer I am excited to be the public relations intern. I will be in charge of the Iowan of the Day program and will be a member of the selection committee for the winners of each day of the Fair! I will also be assisting with the Corndog Kickoff. My first week in the office has left me excited and ready to take on my role as the public relations intern for the Blue Ribbon Foundation!

Me (right) at the 2016 Bacon Expo with my favorite mascot, Cy!

Me (right) at the 2016 Bacon Expo with my favorite mascot, Cy! 

My family and I posing for a picture during harvest, my favorite time of year!

My family and I posing for a picture during harvest, my favorite time of year! 

State Fair Swag

March 20, 2017

Today is the first day of spring but the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff started our spring cleaning around the office weeks ago. With the clutter cleaned up, a few treasures were discovered. Stored in the back of a closet were two merchandise items, a tote bag and sweatshirt - Iowa State Fair swag from 1994!

The canvas tote bag has the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s first campaign logo, “Treasure Our Fair” while the crew neck sweatshirt highlights Fairgrounds’ buildings. Merchandise sales have been a successful avenue of fundraising for the Foundation from the very beginning.

You can buy almost anything during the Iowa State Fair – a mattress, a hot tub, a mop that will change the way you clean. But remember when you purchase a souvenir from the Blue Ribbon Foundation; you are supporting the Iowa State Fair’s future. The proceeds from merchandise sales go right back into Fairgrounds’ renovation projects.

The Foundation has sold series of merchandise items – cookbooks, pottery pieces, lapel pins, and Christmas ornaments. Each year there are t-shirts, charms, hats, prints – some commemorate the year and specific Fair theme. With the State Fair more than 100 days away, we are already searching for new souvenirs to sell in August.

Broken Arrow Wear created and printed the sweatshirt in 1994. The Foundation still partners with this Des Moines company for t-shirt designs - remember the Butter Cow Security shirts? Thank you Broken Arrow Wear for your continued creativity! The Blue Ribbon Foundation has partnered with several other Iowa businesses for merchandise.

The State Fair Plaques are created by Sticks. John Bosley, Bozz Prints, produced a print of the Iowa State Fair fireworks sold during the 2016 Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will continue our partnership with Isabel Bloom to sell a custom piece. Willow Avenue Pottery from Panora makes our annual pottery piece. Competitive Edge prints t-shirts and Sigler produced the latest edition of the cookbook.  Our lapel pins are made in Mt. Pleasant Hill by Staats. There is something incredible valuable about supporting a business from your home state. It makes the merchandise even more special.

If you have a merchandise suggestion, please share it with us! We want to know what Iowa State Fair swag is your favorite. 

Check out the State Fair Store online or stop by our office if you are around Des Moines. 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.


10 Things about 1993:

March 14, 2017
10 Things about 1993:
  • The cost of a first-class stamp: $0.29 
  • The cost of a gallon of regular gas: $1.11 
  • The cost of a dozen eggs: $0.87 
  • Billboard’s Top Song:  “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap!  
  • Winner of Academy Award for Best Picture:  Schindler's List 
  • America’s Top TV Show: Home Improvement 
  • Winner of Superbowl  XXVIII : Dallas Cowboys
  • Fiction’s Best Selling Book: The Bridges of Madison County  by Robert James Waller 
  • 98 million people watched the last episode of Cheers
  • And…The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was created.
The Blue Ribbon Foundation was established by the Fair Board to conduct a major capital campaign for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Foundation set a goal to raise $6 million in two years and $30 million in ten years. With hard work and an overflowing amount of support - this goal was reached and surpassed. In 25 years, the Foundation has raised $128 million and supported 40 major improvement projects across the Fairgrounds.
In celebration of our organization’s journey, we are hosting a 25th Anniversary Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to celebrate our history while creating awareness about our mission for the future.
From the very beginning, the Blue Ribbon Foundation strives to do more than expected. The organization is not only thinking about the future but planning for the stability of the Fairgrounds for the next generation. What will the Iowa State Fair and Foundation look like in 25 years? 
The proceeds of the 25th Anniversary Campaign will be 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, building enhancements and maintenance to the Fairgrounds, ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for generations to come. 
The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy. We invite you to join a community of generosity and get even more involved with the Fair you know and love. Donate online or fill out the Donation Form.
Placing the first engraved bricks:
Constructing the Service Center was the first project:
The first mess was just the beginning: