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.

2016 Highlights

December 28, 2016
The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has much to celebrate over the past year. Below are a few 2016 highlights that stick out in my mind. 
January: Hired four interns for the spring and summer. Thanks again Marcus, Kelsey, Francesca and Audra for joining our team. Just a few days left to turn in applications for the 2017 intern positions
February: With help from volunteers, we sold merchandise at the annual Iowa Beef Expo. 
March: Promoted Fan Fair presales, 1854 Society and Jake’s Club memberships. Collected all giving program donations and inscriptions. 
April: Received donations for the Corndog Checkoff from Iowan’s Tax Returns.
May: Started recruiting, organizing and scheduling our 600 summer volunteers. Crews finished the second phase of the Ruan Plaza and Oman Family Youth Inn. 
June: Participated in The Principal Charity Classic’s “Birdies for Charity” fundraiser.
July: Hosted our 20th annual Corndog Kickoff and raised an unbelievable $684,600 for future renovations to the Fairgrounds. 
August: Celebrated 10 Iowan of the Day winners at Iowa State Fair. Generated more than $736,000 in fundraising with merchandise, water and Fair Square sales.  
September: Recovered from the Fair. Cleaned the office. Took a vacation. :)
October: Placed 45 engraved bricks across the Fairgrounds.
November: Peter and Gina attended the IAFE (International Association of Fairs & Expositions) Convention to learn and share ideas to improve the Foundation.
December: Sold and shipped State Fair merchandise for the holidays. Most popular items were the Giant Slide, Riley Stage and Sky Gilder ornaments. 
As the Blue Ribbon Foundation counts down to the New Year, there is lots to be excited about in 2017! With constructions projects, new fundraising opportunities, and celebrating the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 25th anniversary!
There is one countdown that is always on my mind… only 224 days until the 2017 Iowa State Fair. There is plenty to do between now and August. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is grateful for every volunteer and donor that supports our work. We wish only the best to you and your family in 2017!
Corndog Kickoff
Opening Ceremonies at the Oman Family Youth Inn
Fairgrounds 5K
Foundation team in the Outhouse Races
Painting Class
Quick Selfie - Drew and Robin 
Gina posing at the photo booth

Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2016
Wishing you a holiday season filled with peace and joy! Thank you for your continued support of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.
- Peter, Robin, Gina and Drew

Sounds of the Season

December 7, 2016
Typical sounds this time of year include holiday music, commotion in the kitchen and soon enough while hear giggles of children playing in the snow. I’m sure students and teachers alike are counting down the days until the holiday break from school. Everyone deserves a few days off from work to celebrate the Christmas season with family and friends. 
The sounds I hear around the Iowa State Fairgrounds are a bit different. Today on the Fairgrounds I hear - construction, the maintenance department setting up for upcoming events, and Fair-lovers stopping by the Administration office. 
  • The current construction on the new Midway area is still going strong. Crews are working daily to have the space ready to go by summertime. New pavement, updated utilities, and extended water/sewer lines are continuing to take shape.
  • With craft sales, livestock shows, and dinosaur displays – the Fairgrounds’ buildings are booked this month. The maintenance department does an excellent job of setting up, tearing down and making sure these events go off without a hitch.
  • The Administration Building has a steady flow of customers stopping to purchase 2017 Fair gate admission tickets, Hairball concert tickets (Reminder: Hairball will perform in the Jacobson Exhibition Center on February 3) and the featured quarter zip sweatshirt. All great ideas for Christmas. 
There is another set of sounds coming from the Blue Ribbon Foundation office - packaging merchandise items to ship, shuffling of internship applications and 2017 Grandstand concert artist music. 
  • There are hats, shirts, collectibles, etc. available in the State Fair Store online. You can also purchase items at our office. 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. (Who wouldn’t want a butter cow shirt, butter cow bobblehead or butter cow earrings?!)
  • Popular again this year is the gift of an engraved brick on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. I’m happy to put together a gift card explaining your brick donation to the Fair Fan on your list.
  • Summer internship applications are due December 31. Please help us spread the word to current college students. The Foundation would like to hire 4 interns with focuses on public relations, event planning, volunteer management and business. Students can join our face paced environment for the summer.
  • The Iowa State Fair will announce the first set of Grandstand concerts for the 2017 Fair on Friday. Purchase great seats to one of these concerts by joining Fan Fair. For each $150 contribution made to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase 2 Grandstand show tickets during a special presale. The first presale will be Monday, December 12 at 10:00 am through Tuesday, December 13 at 10:00 pm.
With so much going on in the month of December, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is reminded again how thankful we are for each and every donor that makes our special “sounds of the season” possible.  Thank you!
The Iowa State Fair has this quarter zip sweatshirt avialble for sale. 
Gina, Sponsorship Director, during the Fair with 2016 interns, Audra and Kelsey.
The engraved brick on my desk. Engraved bricks on the Fairgrounds are popular Christmas gifts. 

Right Around the Corner

November 30, 2016

Well folks, it’s the last day of November. Where has the time gone? Christmas is right around the corner.

As soon as the Thanksgiving dinner dishes were clean – I started playing Christmas tunes! I’ve got the lights hung, decorations out and glitter on just about everything around the house. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is also getting into the holiday spirit this month. A few things to keep in mind for December:

  • 1854 Society and Jake’s Club membership renewals were mailed to current members. Check out more information about these programs. New members can join now and enjoy the benefits this summer.
  • The Iowa State Fair will be announcing some of the Grandstand entertainment in time for Christmas. Join Fan Fair to access these concerts before the general public during special concert presales.
  • Construction is continuing to roll, at least until the snow falls. Plans are coming together for the new midway area. The updated area will include rides, entertainment and a more family-friendly environment. A separate area is also planned that will feature rides and games appropriate for younger kids. New pavement, updated utilities, and extended water/sewer lines will all be included in the project.
  • The Foundation hires 4 interns to help prepare for the Corndog Kickoff and Iowa State Fair. The internships are a great learning experience and offer a variety of skills needed for future endeavors. Intern applications are due December 31. 

Never miss a beat with the 2017 Iowa State Fair calendar available for $6. You can order your calendar online in the State Fair Store or stop by the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s office on the 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.

Give a gift of the Iowa State Fair to someone special on your list. Maybe an engraved brick, their name on the donor wall or State Fair admission tickets - there are many options to celebrate the Fairgoer in your life. This holiday season will be filled with family traditions, just like the family traditions created during the special 11 days in August. When you give to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, you help sustain the Fairgrounds – not just for your family but for thousands of families. By supporting our mission, you can continue your beloved family tradition while providing the opportunity for future Fairgoers to create their own memories. Donate Now!

Midway Construction:


2017 Iowa State Fair Calendar:


Decorated House for December:

Thanksgiving Words

November 23, 2016
In an attempt to be creative this Thanksgiving, I’ve made a list of things the Blue Ribbon Foundation is thankful for – one for each letter of the word “Thanksgiving”!
T is for the Iowans that annually give to the Corndog Tax Checkoff. This is a simple way to support the Iowa State Fair while completing your taxes.
H is for the countless hours of the volunteers that give their time to the Foundation. Whether you are helping plan an event, selling a bottle of water, or folding tshirts – your help is always appreciated. 
A is for official Iowa State Fair apparel and merchandise sold in August and throughout the year online in the State Fair Store. When purchasing a tshirt, calendar, or hat – you are helping the Blue Ribbon Foundation while sporting your favorite summer activity. 
N is for the new and returning members in the 1854 Society, Jake’s Club, and Fan Fair membership programs. This loyal group of donors believes in the Foundation’s mission for the future. 
K is for the Corndog Kickoff attendees. Our largest fundraising event (raising $684,000 last summer) would not be successful without the auction donors, patrons and Fair-lovers attending. 
S is for the amazing State Fair Staff!  The 60+ staff members are willing to step up and assist the Foundation with whatever is needed. (An extra special thank you to Peter, Robin and Gina for being awesome co-workers!)
G is for the Foundation’s giving programs. Thank you to the Fairgoers that donate for an engraved brick, paver, etc. You are not only supporting the Foundation but celebrating your favorite State Fair memory. 
I is for the interns that join our staff in the summer. The Foundation could not accomplish our goals if we didn’t have your assistance. 2017 intern applications are being accepted. 
V is for the visionary donors who have made outright gifts or estate plans that assure future funding for maintenance and improvement of the Fairgrounds through the Our Fair’s Future endowment fund.
I is for Iowans across the state. Each year, more than a million people visit the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation prides itself on keeping the Fairgrounds beautiful for all. 
N is for the improvements that are happening now and in the next few years. The Fair has big plans to make sure the Iowa State Fair and Fairgrounds stay at the top of our game! 
G is for the generosity of our donors. Since the Foundation was created in 1993 – more than $118 million has been raised to preserve and improve the Fairgrounds. This would not be possible without each and every donor. 
During this season of giving thanks, we appreciate your friendship and continued support of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. Warmest wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!
What was more delicious than the Iowa Turkey Federation's Turkey Taco at the 2016 Iowa State Fair? Maybe some Fair-lovers will atempt to make their own turkey tacos this year for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Hairball is Back!

November 17, 2016

The Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center will once again be rocking as the Iowa State Fair hosts the ultimate 80s arena rock impersonation act, Hairball on Friday, February 3, at 7:30 p.m.

For those of you that have seen Hairball during the Iowa State Fair, you know it is more than a concert - it’s an event! This is your chance to hear all of the top Guns n’ Roses, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Ozzy, AC/DC, Journey and Poison songs.  Gather your friends, family and mullets for a 100% full-on, no-holds-barred, exciting, chaotic, fiery party. Tickets are on sale now.

I never get the chance to see Hairball in August during the Fair but I love seeing them in the Jacobson Exhibition Center at the beginning of the year. I am normally a country music fan but enjoy listening to these rock hits. There is always a large enthusiastic crowd of all ages that attends the show. It’s also a good excuse to get out of the house in the middle of winter. This will be my 4th time attending the Jacobson concert but I know there are fans that attend each and every year.

As the Fair staff gears up to promote and organize the Hairball concert – we get closer to the 2017 Iowa State Fair Grandstand concerts. Once again, Grandstand concert attendees can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while ordering tickets to their favorite shows…early!

The Fan Fair program is an opportunity to secure premiere Grandstand concert tickets at the 2017 Iowa State Fair while supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s effort to renovate the Fairgrounds. For each $150 contribution you make to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase two Grandstand concert tickets prior to the general public.

Again this year, there will be multiple concert on sale dates. As a Fan Fair member you will have access to purchase tickets during special presales before individual concerts. All tickets will be purchased online through Etix. Fairgoers will be able to purchase gate admission tickets at the same time. There will be no paper order forms.

Those contributing $150 or more will receive ticket ordering information and instructions. Only donations made specifically to the Fan Fair program qualify for these tickets. Contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Please mail completed forms to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Fan Fair donations can also be made online at

There is no a deadline to donate to the program. Fan Fair donations will be accepted until all of the Grandstand Concerts have gone on sale. Once a presale is complete, tickets will be available to the general public. Please contact the Blue Ribbon Foundation with any questions.  You can email me at or call 515-262-3111 Ext. 371.


November 7, 2016
The Iowa State Fair hosts the largest food department of any state fair and continued to grow this past August by adding 31 new food contests at the Elwell Family Food Center. More than 9,925 entries were submitted for judging - divided into 203 divisions and 809 classes. A record breaking 197 pies were entered. There was a total of 649 exhibitors featured in the food department for the 2016 Fair and $72,700 worth of premiums distributed.
These award winning recipes are showcased in the official Iowa State Fair cookbook. The Blue Ribbon Foundation currently has the 16th, 17th and 18th edition cookbooks for sale. You’ll discover fresh, new ideas for everything from main dishes to appetizers, pies to cakes, soups to salads, desserts to snacks. These cookbooks represent the talented and dedicated food department exhibitors.
Packed with recipes for anyone’s taste and culinary skill level, this book is perfect for the novice cook or experienced chef. I was thumbing through the newest edition and found two recipes that might give a twist to your upcoming Thanksgiving meal – Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars and Sour Cream & Onion Turkey Meatballs. As I prepare to host my very first Thanksgiving dinner – I’m looking for any and all suggestions to make my cooking experience fun and unique. 
The very first Iowa State Fair Cookbook, Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Recipes, was released in 1983. While the book has evolved over the years, its purpose has remained the same; to highlight the Iowa State Fair Food Department.
One very special person in the food department is Arlette Hollister.  Arlette has been a mainstay in the food department at the Iowa State Fair for nearly 30 years. Arlette and her family have been attending the Iowa State Fair for more than 50 years, and she has spent every Fair since the summer of 1986 as the Food Department Superintendent. Through Arlette's efforts, the food department has grown from 27 divisions to 228 divisions and entries have increased from 4,053 to 10,597.
Arlette helps coordinate the Foundation’s special food judging Corndog Kickoff packages. This year’s winners helped judge the “Seafood Prepared in the Heartland” contest and the “Tassel Ridge Creation” contest. These were just two of the five judging opportunities that attendees could bid on during the silent auction. Keep this in mind for the 2017 Corndog Kickoff, there are sure to be different food judging packages available at the July event.  
The Iowa State Fair is 275 days away, leaving plenty of time to spend in the kitchen perfecting a new recipe. Let one of these cookbooks be your guide for delicious food from Iowa’s favorite summer activity!
One of my favorite things to see in the food department is the fancy decorated cakes. 

November Calendar

November 1, 2016

It is the first day of November and a beautiful 72 degrees outside. I love this weather!

Yesterday I was able to finish laying the engraved bricks. With inscriptions of “1st State Fair” and “Food Family & Fun Traditions”, the engraved bricks are just one of the many ways to commemorate your love of the Iowa State Fair. There were also several “In Memory of” bricks. Families celebrate loved ones by honoring their memory on the Fairgrounds.

Engraved bricks will be placed again in the summer. Check out the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website for a complete list of giving programs. This is the perfect was to show your love of the Iowa State Fair while supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission.  Side note: Engraved bricks would make excellent Christmas presents for any Fairgoers on your list.

This week my computer’s hard drive malfunctioned. Fortunately all of the information is saved, but I am without my computer until the problem is fixed. I’ve moved my work to a summer intern’s desk. It’s the same desk I sat at when I was an intern five years ago. Each year the internship program continues to grow and develop with each student that fills the position. I’m excited to see more applications this month.

As I look ahead to the weeks of November, the calendar is filling up. The Foundation will start making plans for our annual Holiday Party, organize our end-of-year giving efforts and have the first brainstorming session about the 2017 Corndog Kickoff. (Save the date for July 8!)

This fall, the Fan Fair program is back in action for 2017. Once again, for each $150 contribution made to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase 2 Grandstand show tickets during a special presale. I’m excited to hear who will be taking the stage in August.

In only 9 shorts days, I will take a personal vacation to Orlando. I’m excited for a change of scenery even with this gorgeous weather. At the end of the month - Peter, Gina and other State Fair staff will attend the International Association of Fairs & Expositions Convention is Las Vegas.  The Annual Convention is the largest event serving fairs, shows, exhibitions, and expositions. Convention attendees network and learn from each other and top professionals during the intensive four days of workshops, special seminars, round table discussions, and social events.

Just a reminder, the Fairgrounds are open year round to the public. Feel free to swing through the grounds to see changing leaves on the trees or current construction projects. Don’t forget to stop by our office to say hello. 


Internship Opportunities

October 24, 2016

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is currently promoting our upcoming internship opportunities. We hope to hire two spring semester/summer interns and two summer interns. DISCLAIMER: This is not your typical internship.

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 our growing needs. 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 three events.
  • Business Relations: Oversee the logistics of the water program including management of summer staff, orders, distribution, and warehouse organization.

An important aspect to a Foundation internship is that each student is able 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 previous knowledge of. (As a staff, we do our best to prepare students for the real world working environment.)

There is a wide range of tasks each summer intern will complete including social media, marketing initiatives, organization of fundraising auction, coordination of Fairgrounds 5K race, designing merchandise and other event materials. An intern will organize the Woodcarver’s Auction, coordinate the Fair Squares, create event invitations and advertising materials.

I’ve stayed in touch with a few previous interns and I did a little digging to see where other Foundation interns are currently working: Amazon, Lessing-Flynn, Webspec Design, Fourge Social, Schwan’s, United State Senate, Russell, Kansas State Navigators, Target, Keller Williams Realty, American Heart Association, Wells Fargo, Chamber of Commerce, Corner Post Marketing Communications, Iowa 4-H Foundation…the list goes on and on.

After graduation, some interns completed graduate school, some moved across the country and some stayed in Iowa to start their career. There are several previous interns that now volunteer with the Foundation or have other connections to the Iowa State Fair – sponsors, exhibitors or just avid Fairgoers!

If you know of a college student looking for an internship, encourage them to apply. (Applications will be accepted until December 31.) 

A few intern pictures:


Fall Newsletter: 1996, 2006 and 2016

October 17, 2016
The Blue Ribbon Foundation recently published its fall newsletter. It highlights the 2016 Iowa State Fair including the social painting class, Iowan of the Day winners, Fairgrounds 5K results and a thank you to our volunteers. The issue recaps the Corndog Kickoff, promotes upcoming internship opportunities and focuses on future renovation projects with Pioneer Hall and the Midway. In the donor profile section, West Bank is featured for their support. Also included is a shopping section with special State Fair merchandise for the upcoming holiday season. Be sure to read this newsletter and the other quarterly editions on our website. 
I get excited each time a newsletter is printed because it emphasizes the Foundation’s mission and our progress of preserving the Fairgrounds for future generations. I believe it is important to know where you have been in order to continue to grow for the future.  I decided to pull out the fall newsletters from 10 and 20 years ago to see what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was working on. 
The 2006 newsletter highlighted the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s relationship with Bill McNarney. Bill gave the Foundation its very first gift by volunteering his time to draw 15 of the Fairgrounds buildings. The Foundation used those images on note cards, post cards and sold prints. Bill passed away after the 2006 Iowa State Fair but left a wonderful legacy with the McNarney Prints. 
Ten years ago the Blue Ribbon Foundation celebrated the new Susan Knapp Amphitheater and groundbreaking for the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. Iowa businessman and philanthropist Bill Knapp continues to be a supporter of the Foundation. 
Fairgoers could order a copy of the 13th edition Iowa State Fair cookbook. (We are now selling our 18th edition!) Morris Grabau was featured in the donor profile. Today, Morris is still a member of the 1854 Society and continues to volunteer. 
The 1996 Iowa State Fair was filled with Blue Ribbon Foundation success. That year’s fall newsletter highlighted the christening of the renovated Ye Old Mill and the expanded Anne and Bill Riley stage. The Pella Plaza was created and the re-opening of the Farm Bureau Pioneer Hall
William and Betty Andrus were showcased in the donor profile. A donation of $109,000 was given by the Iowa Bankers Association for improvements to the 4-H Building. Popular merchandise items 20 years ago included the Ye Old Mill lapel pin, a carousel ornament, t-shirts and hats. (How many people have a complete lapel pin collection?)
Growing Statistics:
1996: 102 volunteers helped generate $31,500 during the Iowa State Fair. 
2006: 480 volunteers and $352,000 was raised in water and merchandise sales. 
2016: 600 volunteers and $736,000 was raised with merchandise, water and Fair Square sales.
Many things have changed in the last 20 years. New merchandise, new projects, new staff…the list could go on and on. One thing has remained the same - our dedicated volunteers and loyal donors. As the Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to grow over the next 20 years – we thank you for the continued support!