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 $160 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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2018
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It’s the special time of year to reflect on what you are thankful for. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s list is long. We have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. Just to name a few…

  • Thankful for our loyal donors that have supported our mission for the last 25 years. These Fairgoers have watched project after project improve the historic Fairgrounds.
  • Thankful for the brand new donors in 2018. Thank you for joining our charge to keep the Iowa State Fairgrounds in tip-top condition for future Fairgoers.
  • Thankful for the 500+ volunteers that give the gift of time. Sometimes in the summer, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on the “to-do” list. Volunteers keep the Blue Ribbon Foundation moving in the right direction.
  • Thankful for the other Fair staff for the support. It takes all hands on deck to host Iowa’s single largest event and one of the oldest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. The other departments quickly jump on board with the crazy fundraising ideas and help make them happen.
  • Thankful for the interns that join our staff. In the summer, our staff doubles in size and triples in the amount of responsibilities. Without a doubt, we couldn’t be successful without the extra help.
  • Thankful for the people across Iowa and across the country that love the Iowa State Fair. These Fair-lovers donate and encourage others to donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. They are some of our biggest advocates and allow us to continue raising funds to help preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

So this holiday season, between the servings of mashed potatoes and pies – we encourage you to reflect on the reasons you are thankful. If the Iowa State Fair holds a special place in your heart, consider giving a donation. When you give to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, your family traditions and memories will continue for the next generation.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!


Internship Deadline – November 30

November 14, 2018
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation internship application deadline is quickly approaching. Applications will be accepted through November 30. Our internship program is unique and offers special opportunities for students.

  • Real world experience. Interns aren’t running errands or getting coffee, they have direct responsibility for integral Foundation programs. Students become true members of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team.
  • Networking. Students work alongside professionals with the opportunity to meet hundreds of donors, volunteers and business owners from across the state.
  • Resume Builder. Interns utilize their existing skills and are able to expand their skill set by completing projects they might not have previous knowledge of.
  • Time Management. Working in a fast paced environment teaches students how to multitask, a skill you can use in the future.

In addition to learning and gaining experience, it’s our hope that each intern builds confidence throughout the summer. Internships should help set the foundation for a student’s career.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for students eager to help meet our goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will hire two spring semester/summer interns and two summer interns. Again, the application deadline is November 30.

Read more about the specific internships and how to apply.


Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser

November 5, 2018
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Picture yourself walking down Grand Avenue. You can feel the warm sunshine on your face. You hear music playing, children laughing, and animal noises coming from the barns. Your mouth starts to water as you inhale the unmistakable aroma of your favorite food-on-a-stick. Sound great? Stop imagining and join the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation as we fast-forward to August!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition six months early at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. Make plans to join us on Friday, February 8th in the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

With winter fast approaching, why not celebrate our favorite summertime event early? The evening will include live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds, appetizers and fundraising. Get your event tickets today!

Raising $150 million since 1993, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has played a crucial role in generating funding for improvements to the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Iowa State Fair is a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing the tradition by providing high-quality facilities.

Please consider being a sponsor of Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. With your support, we can ensure that Fairgoers will continue to create lifelong memories. The brochure explains the levels of participation available for prospective sponsors. As a sponsor, you will receive admission tickets and recognition in event publicity materials.

We thank you in advance for being part of this brand new fundraising event. With your help and support, we will continue to make improvements that will benefit all Fairgoers.



Fall Newsletter: 1998, 2008 and 2018

October 22, 2018
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation? Check out the Foundation’s fall newsletter. It highlights all the fun and fundraising success over the summer. A recap of the Corndog Kickoff, the Bingo Fundraiser, the Canvas Painting Class and details about the 2018 Iowan of the Day winners.  Included is a special thank you to the volunteers that sold merchandise, bottled water and Fair Squares during the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation would not be successful with the support of our volunteers. THANK YOU!

Darin and Deanna Bennigsdorf are showcased in the Donor Profile for their membership in the 1854 Society. The Foundation is proud to announce special donations from Prairie Meadows and the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. Read about the awesome improvement projects coming soon.

Merchandise items for sale include ornaments, cookbooks, cutting boards, and a fun Tic-Tac-Toe Board. Check out all the available State Fair swag in the online State Fair Store. You can also purchase merchandise at our office on the Iowa State 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.

A special thank you to 2018 Interns - Julianna, Macy and Savannah. The trio worked hard to help the Blue Ribbon Foundation accomplish a huge list of projects throughout the summer. We are currently looking for 4 college students to join our team for the summer. Read about the internship details on our website. 

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 10 years ago? In 2008, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was celebrating the support of two Iowa businessmen – Richard Jacobson and Bruce Rastetter for their contributions to the Foundation. These gifts would lead to the construction of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center.

“Every contribution gets us closer to our continued goal to not only renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds, but to improve them as well for us, now, and for our children tomorrow,” said John Putney, former Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director.

American Concrete donated land to the Foundation to expand the campgrounds. The 2008 Corndog Kickoff raised $250,000. Popular merchandise included the new charm bracelet, Iowa State Fair wine and the John Deere 4320 tractor.  Special Foundation volunteer, Richard Craig, was highlighted for his exciting style of selling bottles of water. Fairgoers couldn’t resist his bubbly personality and friendly demeanor, back then or now.  Richard volunteered during the 2018 Iowa State Fair too.

Ten years ago, the Foundation was preparing for the Fairgrounds 5K fundraiser and continuing to grow our loyal group of donors.

What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 20 years ago? In 1998, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was partnering with Hy-Vee to create the Fun Forest. This park in the heart of the Fairgrounds is a playground, children’s activities hub and has a free entertainment stage. Even after 20 years, the area east of the Agriculture Building is packed with families throughout the Fair.

The 1998 Fair must have been hot because the Blue Ribbon Foundation water sales hit a record $100,000! Water sales were possible with the support of the Ruan Corporation for the use of a refrigerated trailer and John Deere for the use of gators for water delivery.

Hagie Manufacturing was highlighted in the donor profile and the Polk County Farm Bureau Shelter House was constructed. “Fair Buddies” (farm themed stuffed animals), lapel pins and denim shirts were the hot selling items in 1998.

The Foundation’s Legacy Tree program started because a devastating storm destroyed several trees across the Fairgrounds. This program is just one of the many giving program options available today.

To shape your future, you need to understand your past. The Blue Ribbon Foundation thanks the donors that helped shape our organization 20 and 10 years ago. We look forward to growing with our current and future supporters. Doante today.



2019 Iowa State Fair Favorites

October 16, 2018
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Last week the Iowa State Fair announced its theme for 2019: Fair Favorites. From the food, to the games, to the competitions, Nothing Compares to Fair Favorites at the Iowa State Fair!  Your Fair Favorites help make nothing comparable to the Iowa State Fair!

This made me think about my personal Iowa State Fair Favorites.

  • Favorite Food: Pork Chop on a Stick
  • Favorite Building: Animal Learning Center
  • Favorite Contest: Giant Pumpkins
  • Favorite Exhibit: Decorated Cakes in the Elwell Family Food Center
  • Favorite Fair thing to do on my Night Off: Concert in the Grandstand

Every person that attends the Iowa State Fair would have a different answer to those 5 questions.  The new theme also got me thinking about Blue Ribbon Foundation Favorites. There is no doubt that our donors support the Blue Ribbon Foundation because the Iowa State Fair is one of their favorite summer traditions. 

Reasons the Blue Ribbon Foundation is Fairgoers’ Favorite:

When you give to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, your contribution allows major capital improvement projects across the Fairgrounds to happen. Your support helped build the Service Center, Animal Learning Center, and the Jacobson Exhibition Center. Your donation keeps the historic Pioneer Hall and Grandfather’s Barn functional for new Fairgoers to explore. Your generous gift will help the Blue Ribbon Foundation maintain the streets, sidewalks, and buildings to keep the Fairgrounds in top-notch condition throughout the year.

Thank for to our loyal donors and new donors as we plan the 2019 Iowa State Fair. Just remember, nothing compares to your State Fair favorites. The things you can’t miss, the things you always need to eat or see or do. Maybe this year, you will find a new favorite? Maybe this year, you will give a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy.


Standing by my favorite Iowa State Fair dessert!



We’re Hiring

October 8, 2018
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Would you like to help plan the 11-day Iowa celebration that entertains 1 million guests every August? What about organizing an event that raises more than half a million dollars for Fairgrounds’ improvements? Can you picture yourself promoting the Iowan of the Day program, coordinating 600 volunteers, managing 75 sponsors or welcoming hundreds of donors?

Up for the challenge? Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s team as a 2019 Intern.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation will hire four interns. Each intern will become a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having direct responsibility for integral Foundation programs with the goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Foundation would not be successful without the help of our summer interns. Since the internship program started in 1993, the positions have adjusted to fit the growing needs of the Foundation. Below is an outline of the current positions.

  • 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.
  • Sponsor Relations: Assist with sponsorship planning process, including marketing, communications and hospitality. Develop informational materials and maintain sponsor profiles. Oversee the logistics of the wholesale water program.

An important aspect to the Foundation’s internship is that each student is able to utilize their existing skills when completing a project. Interns work independently and have the opportunity to take ownership of a specific task. At the same time, we challenge our interns to expand their skills by completing projects they might not have a previous knowledge of. As a staff, we do our best to prepare students for the real world working environment. 

If you know of a college student looking for an internship, encourage them to apply. The application deadline is November 30. 

Recognize any of these hard working previous interns? 







Fairgrounds in the Fall

September 25, 2018
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With the 2018 Iowa State Fair a month behind us, it’s time to take a break. Just kidding!

Over the last month, staff have worked to clean up the Fairgrounds, tally results and share all of the wonderful moments captured at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. Departments will continue to meet this fall to discuss what worked well and what needs improved moving forward. Construction projects have already started and the 2019 Fair planning is underway.

The Fairgrounds are much quieter right now compared to August but there is always something happening inside the gates. The Fairgrounds will host the Quilt Show, Horse Shows, Flea Market and a Book Sale in the upcoming weeks. Have you ever considered renting a Fairgrounds' building for your next event?  Or maybe you'll plan to attend the Craft Show, Pet Expo or Cheerleading Championships. It's a busy place.

Earlier this month, the Blue Ribbon Foundation updated the online State Fair Store. The shopping experience is more user friendly and easier to navigate. Take a look to see if you missed any merchandise items during the Fair. Staff have been shipping Iowa State Fair souvenirs across the country. Merchandise can also be purchased at our office on the Fairgrounds. We are located in the Earth Home – up the hill, under the wind turbine, across from the Fun Forest. Our office is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.

What else has been happening this fall? Engraved bricks have been ordered and will be placed in the next month. Watch your mailboxes for the fall Newsletter in the next couple weeks. It will include a recap of the successful summer, feature special holiday merchandise, and highlight donations for future Fairgrounds improvement projects.

The fall is a great time to reflect on the chaos of summer. A lot of thank you cards have been written since the Fair ended. Thank you to the 500+ volunteers that donated their time during the Fair to sell merchandise, bottled water and Fair Squares. Thank you to the summer interns that joined our staff. We appreciated your help making the Fair a success. (College students: consider joining us next summer!) A very special thank you to the first time donors and longtime supporters for continuing to the help the Blue Ribbon Foundation improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

A few 2018 Iowa State Fair photos:


Savannah Keitzer, 2018 Donor Relations Intern, and Robin Taylor, BRF Assistant Director, took the golf cart to the Youth Inn and enjoyed an early morning breakfast.


The Blue Ribbon Foundation hosted a Bingo fundraiser along Grand Avenue. 


Peter Cownie, BRF Executive Director, promoted the Fair Squares on KCCI. 


Macy Evans, 2018 Public Relations Intern, showcased this fancy throne during the Woodcarver's Auction. 


This family purchased matching Iowa State Fair t-shirts. What a fun tradition!


There was a full Painting Class on the 3rd floor of the Cultural Center. It was the third year for this fundraiser.


Julianna Curtis, 2018 Volunteer Relations Intern, stopped for a quick picture with volunteers working in the State Fair Store. 


Blue Ribbon Foundation Staff: Meg Courter- Sponsorship Director, Drew Norton - Communications Manager and Robin Taylor - Assistant Director

Single-Largest Individual Gift in the History of the Iowa State Fair

August 24, 2018
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Richard O. Jacobson Foundation Donates Single-Largest Individual Gift in the History of the Iowa State Fair

$10 million gift will be used in part to renovate the 4-H Building

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has received the single-largest individual gift in the organization’s history, a $10 million donation from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. Six million will be used to renovate the 4-H Building, while $4 million will support the Foundation’s endowment, Our Fair’s Future.

“The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is extremely grateful to the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation for this generous, record-setting gift, which will enhance millions of Fairgoers’ experience for years to come,” said Peter Cownie, Executive Director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. “Simply put, this gift allows us to continue preserving the history of the Iowa State Fair, while improving the grounds and the facilities for future generations.”

The 4-H Building renovation will commence following the 2019 Iowa State Fair. The building will be renovated from top to bottom with new lighting and floors, updated facilities and restrooms, construction of a new kitchen facility, and creating additional classroom space.

“Mr. Jacobson cared deeply for the Iowa State Fair, its agricultural history and its support of young people interested in learning more about agriculture,” said the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. “We’re pleased to announce this gift to the Iowa State Fair to support the backbone of the Fair — its agricultural roots."

The $4 million endowment donation will help support the 4-H Building, the Jacobson Exhibition Center, Jacobson Plaza, and Jacobson Hall in the future. Mr. Jacobson’s generosity and previous donations helped build all these facilities for the benefit of Fairgoers. These facilities enhanced the reputation of the Iowa State Fair.

In recognition of this gift, the newly renovated 4-H Building will have a dedicated memorial in honor of Richard O. Jacobson. Jacobson was a businessman and philanthropist who has helped the Blue Ribbon Foundation continue the proud tradition of the Iowa State Fair. This $10 million gift brings the total contribution from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation to $15 million.

“The Jacobson Foundation’s continued generosity will help enhance the Iowa State Fair’s ability to continue timeless traditions and create lasting memories,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO. “We are so grateful for Mr. Jacobson’s longtime support of the state of Iowa and the Iowa State Fair.”

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Since its 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.




Come See us at the Fair!

August 1, 2018
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The Fair is upon us! People from all over the world are settling into the Campgrounds, preparing their prize-winning livestock, and rolling in their food and drink stands for an exciting 11 days in Des Moines, Iowa. From August 9-19th, the whole state of Iowa will celebrate its single largest event and one of the country’s oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions—the great Iowa State Fair!

Beginning in 1854, the first Fair was held in Fairfield, Iowa and attracted an estimated 7,000-10,000 people. As of 2002, the Fair surpassed the one million visitor mark and has continued to do so almost every year since, setting a record-breaking number of 1,130,071 visitors in 2017. This year, we expect another memorable year filled with world-renowned entertainment acts, more than 80 foods on-a-stick, and 600 pounds of butter to bring our famous Butter Cow back to life!


Since 1993, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has been working toward our mission of preserving and improving our beloved and historic Fairgrounds. Over its 26-year lifespan, the Foundation has raised over $138 million through public and private contributions to support this mission and fund over 40 projects.

The Grandstand renovation project is complete - with an additional 4,000 seats, new restrooms, and the new Kum & Go Stage funded by Kum & Go and Kyle and Sharon Krause. This exciting renovation will accommodate larger musical acts and provide an exceptional entertainment experience for all concert-goers.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation also provides funds for this and other projects through our annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party and through our many giving programs. You can visit your family’s engraved brick or personal lamp post at this year’s Fair!

You can also come find any of the Foundation staff members or our many friendly volunteers throughout the grounds during each day of the Fair! Refresh your thirst during the summertime heat at one of our six water booths; purchase a memory for you or a loved one by stopping by one of our merchandise locations; and indulge your inner-child with our classic crisped rice treats on-a-stick at our Fair Squares booth!

Our annual Painting class will be held almost every day of the Fair at the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center, where you can bring one of your favorite aspects of the Fair to life with the stroke of a brush! We will also be holding our first-ever Bingo tent on Grand Avenue. Stop by to see some of our local celebrites announcing the Bingo numbers and donate just $1 to play for the chance to win half of the total earnings per game!


Whether you come for just one day or are hunkering down for a whole two weeks of camping, we would love to share many new memories with you at this year’s Fair and ensure that Nothing Compares to Iowa State Fair Moments!

Helping you make your Fair MOMENTS unforgettable

July 26, 2018
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With the Iowa State Fair right around the corner, the Blue Ribbon Foundation team is busy! It is hard to believe that the great Iowa State Fair is only 13 days away!! Time is flying by this summer and countless hours have been put into making sure that every Fairgoer makes their own MOMENTS this year at the Iowa State Fair.

The Fairgrounds have been busy all summer with landscapers planting new flowers and trees, construction workers completing projects and updating various buildings. We have been busy at the Blue Ribbon Foundation scheduling volunteers to work at our various merchandise and water booth stations, organizing each of the recognition days for the Iowan of the Day recipients, planning B-I-N-G-O, painting classes and SO much more!

During your Fair visit, don’t forget to try the new fan-favorite Fair Square- Krispy Kokonut! A tasty crispy treat with chocolate and toasted coconut. Drop on by the 3rd floor of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center for a painting class! The class is being taught by Missy Pieters, owner and artist at Messy Missy’s Painting Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown- Sign up here to guarantee your spot. And NEW this year is B-I-N-G-O on Wednesday, August 15th all day! Don’t be afraid to make NEW MOMENTS this year.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds are filled with people preparing to make your Fair moments unforgettable. You won’t want to miss out!