Blue Ribbon Blog

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

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $150 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

2017 Fair Recap: August 17 & 18

September 19, 2017
drewnorton's picture

Day 8 and Day 9 of the Iowa State Fair welcomed nearly 200,000 people to the Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation takes pride in helping those Fairgoers have an unforgettable experience.

Around every corner, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has supported improvements. The first renovation of Grandfather’s Barn and construction of the now Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center were just the beginning. One by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were improved. From unseen electrical updates or simple restroom improvements, to construction of the state-of-the-art Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is determined to make our Fairgrounds one of the best.

In addition to the Midway overhaul this August, the Jacobson Plaza beautification project created a distinct pedestrian and parking area to the south of the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building connecting to the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center and Gate 10. Fairgoers easily navigated this area of the Fairgrounds with new sidewalks, landscaping, and lighting. The additional parking will be utilized throughout the year for events hosted on the Fairgrounds.

Blue Ribbon Foundation dollars also supported updates along East 33rd Street and built the new admissions gate. The updated gate was able to accommodate more Fairgoers. The sidewalks allowed for better traffic flow around Little Hands on the Farm. On a smaller scale, maintenance created new displays in the Agriculture Building and replaced windows on the south and east sides of Pioneer Hall.

On Thursday, the Foundation hosted Legislative 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.

Marian McQuaid of Guthrie Center and Chris Fox of Johnston were honored as Iowan of the Day winners. Marian organized “Friends of the Library,” a group that guided the project of building a new library. Marian also volunteers her time assisting with after school programs, leading story hour for children and writing the weekly library newspaper articles.  She is a member of Homestead Helpers, a support group for the local nursing home and volunteers weekly for the Guthrie County Arts Council, which she founded. Marian has served on various committees to put together events for all members of her community to enjoy, including the Fall Arts Festival.

Chris Fox dedicated his time to the U.S. Army for 27 years, serving overseas for multiple tours and for the Drug Demand Reduction organization at Camp Dodge, educating youth how to stay or become drug free. The U.S. Army led him to opportunities educating youth throughout Iowa about substance abuse prevention. Chris was a key component to the creation of STAR BASE, “Stay on Track” and other leadership skill programs that are being taught in Iowa schools today, affecting over 26,000 students. These programs have been recognized on a national level. Much of Chris’s time the past ten years has been spent volunteering for Ducks Unlimited, which led him to becoming Chairman of Mid-Iowa Ducks Unlimited, and eventually district chairman. Chris has been a volunteer for Blue Ribbon Foundation, selling water during the Fair, assisting with the annual Corndog Kickoff and driving the 1854 Society Shuttle for members during the Fair.

Each Blue Ribbon Foundation staff member is able to have one evening off during the Fair. (AKA - you only work until 6 pm instead of 10 pm!) I enjoyed Friday evening by attending the Little Big Town concert in the Grandstand. It was a very fun show. Can’t wait to see who else will be joining Casting Crowns and Reba in August.

Stay tuned for more 2017 Iowa State Fair highlights.

Legislative Day:


Iowan of the Day - Marian McQuaid:


Iowan of the Day - Chris Fox:



Little Big Town Concert:


Staff and 2017 Interns:


2017 Fair Recap: August 14, 15 & 16

September 12, 2017
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With the first weekend of the Iowa State Fair behind us - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are nice slower days for the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff. My routine of checking on volunteers working the Fair Square stand, merchandise and water booths is under control. During these three days, there are several little activities the Foundation participates in.

On Monday, the Foundation led the Kids Club Activity on the Fun Forest Stage. Kennedy, Donor Relations Intern, read the story “Bells Goes to the Fair” by Susan Knapp. The story gives a tour of the Iowa State Fair, through the adventures of Bells the dog. After the story, the kids did a scavenger hunt. Each year on August 14, the entire Blue Ribbon Foundation staff helps celebrate BRF Assistant Director Robin's son Alex. (Yes, a birthday during the Iowa State Fair calls for candles in an ice cream cone from the Old Fashion Ice Cream Parlor!)

On Tuesday, our most “skilled” donors participated in the Outhouse Races. The Foundation came in 5th place (#1 in our hearts) in the event this year. The squad missed out on the second round by 2 seconds! Thank you to our sponsor, Stivers Ford, for building a new Outhouse – the squatty potty did a wonderful job and looked great.

On Wednesday, the Blue Ribbon Foundation held 2 of the 22 social painting classes. Under the direction of Missy Pieters of Messy Missy’s Painting Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown, Fairgoers painted their own personal canvas or barn board with Iowa State Fair inspired art. With 418 participants throughout the 11 days, Fairgoers showed off their talents while supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission. All proceeds from the painting class are dedicated to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund.

The Foundation honored 3 more Iowan of the Day winners – Patricia Nelson of Winterset, Mary Doak of Grundy Center, and Marty Braster of Centerville.

Pat Nelson played an important role in creating a festival to celebrate the Bridges of Madison County and led the first ever Covered Bridge Festival in 1970. Since then she has continued to donate her time to help prepare for the annual event. Pat also coordinated weddings to take place on the bridges. Pat enjoys sharing her musical abilities with her community. In the 1970’s she put together a community theatre, known as the Apple Tree Players and played as the lead role in a few of the performances. She volunteers her time to her church, singing in the choir and as a soloist, as well as singing for various events within Winterset. Pat also began the Women’s Giving Circle, a group of women who donate money each month to local charities to serve the women and children of Madison County.

The hours Mary Doak spent researching Grundy Center’s history to put together a presentation demonstrating why her town was deserving of a new Main Street is well known in Grundy Center. Along with establishing Main Street Grundy Center, Mary also established the Grundy Center Preservation Commission, the Grundy Family YMCA and the Grundy Center Historical Society. Much of her time spent with the Grundy Center Historical Society was to restore the one-room school house. She has also spent time with children in the local elementary school and assisted with the local museum. Mary began several community events, including the “Magical Forest,” and the Felix Grundy Festival.

Marty Braster’s education in biology and agronomy has led him to opportunities that benefit the entire state of Iowa, as he is leading projects to improve water and soil quality. Not only does Marty develop new soil conservation methods to improve Iowa’s water resources, but he has also volunteered his time in Puerto Rico with the United State Peace Corps improving their conservation methods.  Marty played a significant role in developing the Loess Scenic Byway and the Chariton Valley Switch Grass Project. Marty also enjoys volunteering his time to youth in his community. Marty played an instrumental role in creating a community soccer club that children of all ages could enjoy.

With a little more time and less running around, I found  some delicious Fair food to eat.  I tried the new Apple Taco and also ate a few of my favorites – pork chop on a stick, Chuckies tenderloin, wood oven pizza and a turkey taco. I already miss the yummy Fair food! Stay tuned for more 2017 Iowa State Fair highlights.


Celebrating Alex's birthday at the State Fair:


2017 Outhouse Races:



Painting Class:


Iowan of the Day - Pat Nelson:


Iowan of the Day - Mary Doak:


Iowan of the Day - Marty Braster: 



2017 Fair Recap: August 12 & 13

September 7, 2017
drewnorton's picture

Beautiful August weather equaled HUGE attendance at the Iowa State Fair. The first Friday and Saturday welcomed more than 233,000 people to the Fairgrounds.  With only 4 full time staff members and 4 summer interns, the Foundation relied on 480 volunteers to help us fundraise.

These supporters gave a valuable gift to the Blue Ribbon Foundation – time. Spread across the Fairgrounds, volunteers sold merchandise, bottled water, and Fair Squares. Volunteers also helped with the Canvas Painting Class, assisted in the Hospitality Suite and drove the 1854 Society golf cart shuttle.  Printed on the back of their t-shirts is “VOLUNTEER” but this could easily be changed to “BRF Advocate”, “#1 Supporter”, “Ultimate Fair Lover” or even “MVP”. We honestly couldn’t have a successful Iowa State Fair if we didn’t have the amazing volunteers. More information about volunteer opportunities for the 2018 Iowa State Fair will be available in May.

The Foundation was pleased to honor Iowan of the Day winners Donald Bries of Dubuque and Ron Bell or Mondamin. Donald has been a Cubs Scout leader and a Boy Scouts Scoutmaster for more than 20 years. He headed up the annual Tootsie Roll campaign to raise money for special needs children.  For the past 15 years Don has volunteered for the Dubuque Special Olympics and volunteered for the Key City Sams camping club, serving meals for the Olympians during the Special Olympics and completing community service projects. Donald and his wife are well known for the creation of the All Starts Country Dancers, entertaining residents of the local nursing home.

Ron Bell spearheaded the Mondamin Christmas Party and the Mondamin Heritage Days Celebration. As Mayor, Ron initiated projects to replace the water tower and to upgrade the sanitary sewer system. As a member of the City Council, Ron applied for many grants that led to Mondamin receiving updates to the city park. Just a few of the organizations Ron has spent his time volunteering for are the Harrison County Board of Public Health, Landfill Commission, Conference Board and Emergency Management Commission. Ron also volunteers for the Early Childhood Board, serving as a community representative and secretary, leading efforts to provide education, health and human services to children and their families.

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. 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.

A highlight of my 2017 Fair was getting the chance to talk with volunteers and donors. Throughout the year I hear individual Fair stories and memories but seeing firsthand Fairgoers’ annual traditions come to life is one of a kind. It makes the long days completely worth it.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is helping keep the Iowa State Fairgrounds on the cutting edge for not only our generation but for the future. Stay tuned for more 2017 Iowa State Fair highlights.

Volunteers sold water at 6 different stands across the Fairgrounds. 




Merchandise was available in the State Fair Store, Cattle Barn, Agricultural Building, Little Hands on the Farm, Varied Industries Building and the Museum. 



Lunch break for the interns!



Iowan of the Day Winner, Donald Bries of Dubuque:



Iowan of the Day Winner, Ron Bell or Mondamin:


2017 Fair Recap - August 10 & 11

August 31, 2017
drewnorton's picture

The 2017 Iowa State Fair was one for the books! Thank you to the Blue Ribbon Foundation supporters, volunteers, interns, summer staff, Fair staff, and the list goes on and on. These people truly made the Blue Ribbon Foundation's Fair a success. The next few weeks I’ll highlight the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s incredible 2017 Iowa State Fair.

August 10: We kicked off the day with Opening Ceremonies held in Thrill Ville to celebrate the new Thrill Parks. Midway construction expanded the existing pavement and created an inviting entrance to welcome guests to the new family-friendly amusement rides. Strolling into the Fairgrounds, Fairgoers couldn’t miss the updated admission gate, new road and sidewalks along East 33rd Street.

Other new construction included the West Plaza beautification project. This pathway created a distinct pedestrian and parking area to the south of the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building connecting to the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center and Gate 10. Fairgoers could easily navigate this area of the Fairgrounds with new sidewalks, landscaping, and lighting.

During the first day, we honored Iowan of the Day Carolyn Scott of Bloomfield. Carolyn is actively involved with her local 4-H clubs, teaching the art of sewing to young women and sharing her knowledge about sheep with exhibitors at the Davis County Fair. Carolyn uses her time and talents to plant flowers and maintain them on the streets of Bloomfield. Her talented green thumb has been appreciated by many in Bloomfield, as Carolyn has been a Master Gardner for four years. Carolyn also donates her time advocating for the advancement of women with the P.E.O, a philanthropic organization.

August 11: On Friday, the new State Fair Store in the Horner Service Center was busy! The Blue Ribbon Foundation sold t-shirts, hats, and official State Fair collectibles as a fundraiser.  Each year Fairgoers collect the ornament, pottery piece and State Fair plaque. Having all of the merchandise in one location made shopping easy! (And allowed staff to have a better inventory system, stocking items, and we didn’t worry about the weather!) 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.

We also honored Iowan of the Day winner, Shirley Geadelmann of Clarence. Shirley shares her passion for agriculture with her community through Iowa Master Farm Homemakers, the Cedar County Farm Bureau, local 4-H clubs, and the local Dairy Herd Improvement Association. She has also shared her experiences and knowledge about dairy cows with the Lowden Historical Society and children at the St. Johns United Church of Christ for more than 50 years. Shirley also spends her time volunteering for her local hospital, church, library and Camp Courageous. She led a fundraiser to raise money for a handicap- accessible van in support of the elderly. As an Older Iowans Legislator, she has been an advocate for services to support issues elderly may face.

For me, the first two days of the Iowa State Fair are the longest days yet go by the fastest. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for the entire 11 days and attendance was just warming up for the days ahead.  My first food item was a classic corndog – one of my favorites.

Stay tuned for more 2017 Iowa State Fair highlights.

2017 Interns: Abbi, Emily, Kennedy and Taylor were ready for the first day!  

Iowan of the Day Winner, Carolyn Scott:


Iowan of the Day Winner, Shirley Geadelmann:


New State Fair Store:



The Best Summer of My Life

August 22, 2017
Intern's picture

Well, the 2017 Fair has officially come to an end, and what a thrilling ride it was. Looking back at all the things that have happened since May, it’s definitely safe to say this was the best summer of my life. While I can’t list everything that made up this fantastic summer (because that would become a novel), I can at least give you the highlights.

- Corndog Kickoff- An event I will attend for years to come.
- Blue Ribbon Foundation Staff- They were never frustrated or annoyed (for the most part) with the thousands of questions I asked. I learned so much from them!
- My Fellow Interns- I will remember them forever!
- Volunteers- Getting the pleasure of scheduling almost 600 volunteers was rewarding and challenging all at the same time.

Everyone at the Blue Ribbon Foundation was fantastic. The staff, the interns, they all made my summer what it was. The interns and I couldn’t get through a day without laughing hysterically and quite possibly annoying our wonderful staff a little.

My favorite part was obviously the volunteers. They were all so eager to work, and they truly all love the Fair, which made me love the Fair that much more. I really enjoyed stopping to talk with the volunteers and connecting with them on things we cherished about the Fair.

It really is crazy to think that my summer at the Blue Ribbon Foundation has actually ended. But I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met. While I won’t be an intern next year, I’ll definitely be back, because at the Iowa State Fair, nothing compares.



Book Signings at the Fair

August 3, 2017
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is celebrating 25 years with a new book.  A Great State Fair: The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair, by William B. Friedricks, takes you behind the scenes of the roller coaster ride of ups and downs of the Iowa State Fair’s long history, leading up to the Blue Ribbon Foundation and the remarkable revival it brought about at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, now bigger and better than ever.

The author, William B. Friedricks, will be holding book signings at the Blue Ribbon Foundation merchandise store in the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. on the following days:

Friday, August 11th

Saturday, August 12th

Sunday, August 13th

Wednesday, August 16th

Friday, August 18th

Saturday, August 19th

Sunday, August 20th

Make sure to stop by to meet the author and get your book signed! The books will be sold at all of the Blue Ribbon Foundation merchandise locations for $20. The Fair is just a week away--we look forward to seeing you there!



Book Cover


The Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center is the location for the new Blue Ribbon Foundation merchandise store and where book signings will be held!


Preparing for the Fair

August 2, 2017
Intern's picture

Can you believe there are only seven days until the Iowa State Fair?! Time has flown by this summer and many hours have been put into making the Fair a great experience for all Fairgoers! The fairgrounds have been busy all summer with landscapers planting new flowers and trees, construction workers completing the new Midway project and updates being made in various buildings. We have also 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 and tieing up loose ends before the Fair! The grounds are beginning to fill up with food stands and people who are also preparing to make your Fair experience one you won't forget! 

During your Fair visit, don't forget to enjoy our well known Fair Squares, sold near the Administration Building. This year's new flavor is Birthday Cake in honor of our 25th Anniversary! You can also sign up for a painting class and paint an icon of the Iowa State Fair. 

You won't want to miss out! We can't wait to see you in seven days! 



Food stands are beginning to be set up in preparation for the Fair. 

Brick Placing

July 31, 2017
Intern's picture

Today we were busy placing ordered bricks around the Fairgrounds. I know that everyone has been anxiously waiting to see their newly placed bricks.

If you purchased a brick this winter or spring make sure you find it during the Fair!

Interested in ordering a brick? A new batch will be placed this fall. There are 15 different brick locations across the Fairgrounds.


Paint an Icon of the Iowa State Fair

July 26, 2017
Intern's picture

Enjoy a ladies day out during the Iowa State Fair and join us for a painting class! Take home a painted icon of the Iowa State Fair painted by you! Each painting class takes place on the third floor of Pattie & Jim Cownie Cultural Center. 


The paintings availabe are: 

Honey Lemonade 


Funky Chicken


DNR Crappie




Happy Camper


I love the State Fair


Funny Bunny


Wooly Lamb


To sign up for a painting class, contact Kennedy Plowman at 515-262-3111 ext. 377 or register online

Only 14 more days until the Iowa State Fair! See you there! 


A Look at the Past- Food Department Edition

July 25, 2017
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is excited to be celebrating 25 years as a Foundation. The Iowa State Fair has been growing for over 160 years. The history that lies between times is remarkable. Prime examples are the changes taken place in events like the famous food competitions and the wine and beer making showcases.



Every year, over 9,000 entries compete in the food competition. The food competition began in the Family Center and moved to the Elwell Family Food Center, previously known as the Iowa Tourism Building. This change of location provided additional display and judging space.


The wine and beer making showcase takes place in Grandfathers barn. Iowa is able to showcase the wine and grape, and beer industry at the State Fair. With your help, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was able to renovate the barn in 2008 to continue the showcase.

The past 25 years have been enhancing and compelling thanks to your generosity. We invite you to continue to become more involved with the Fair you know and love by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation 25th anniversary campaign at