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.

Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn

June 29, 2017
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We’re excited to have Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn at the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction on July 8th to share their delicious Non-GMO popcorn! This tiny popcorn comes from Iowa and was discovered in the 1850s. Tiny But Mighty is doing a #TinyMatters Giveaway to help spread the word and inspire people to do tiny things that make a mighty difference. You can win a year’s supply of their heirloom popcorn, a tiny drone with video and tons of other healthy and fun prizes totaling $6,000 in value. Join the giveaway at Hurry, because the giveaway ends July 4th!

Not only will Tiny But Mighty be serving popcorn at the Corndog Kickoff, but they will also have a silent auction package for you to bid on! Here are the details:

Package #105: No Floss Needed

Amazing taste and no floss needed with this Heirloom popcorn discovered in the 1850s. Grown in Iowa, the popcorn has never been modified or hybridized.

• Within this Tiny But Mighty Heirloom popcorn basket you get three 1.25 lb. bags of unpopped kernels and two 3-pack cartons of Spicy Southwest microwave popcorn.
• Want popcorn on the go? Here are a selection of 4 oz snack packs of popped corn in white cheddar, sea salt and butter flavors.
Donated by Tiny But Mighty Popcorn

If you haven’t yet, make sure to secure your spot at the Corndog Kickoff by purchasing tickets online or calling the Foundation office at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Can’t wait to see you there!



A Side Rail

June 28, 2017
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The Iowa State Fair has a long history of projects that bring change to the Fairgrounds. Over the years as our society transitioned, so has the Fairgrounds. Before vehicles and shuttle busses, Fairgoers traveled to Des Moines via trains, arriving at the spur built to the south side of the Fairgrounds. Gradually, automobiles became the primary mode of transportation and the use of trains faded, leaving the railroad track to never see a train again.  In recent years, the railroad tracks were becoming a nuisance to the maintenance crews who cleared the roads of snow. The rails stuck out, causing the blade of the snowplow to hit the tracks, damaging the blade. Dating back to 1898, the rails were just removed this past year from the parking lot area south of the Fairgrounds.

Randy Schnebbe of RS Welding in Victor, IA was searching for a unique item to donate to the Corndog Kickoff. After coming across the rails, he chose to incorporate them into a memorable piece of furniture. Randy used his creative skills to create a unique sofa table that is truly one of a kind.

The rails from the track were created into the base of the sofa table, showcasing their wear and tear. The table top is a lightly veined marble, a rare find that is no longer commercially available. The marble was mined in Iran and cut in Italy and consists of a creamy white color with veins of gray and sienna, which pick up the colors found in the rails.

Plan to attend the Corndog Kickoff on July 8 to bid on this beautiful piece of furniture that will add a piece of Iowa State Fair history to your home. This table is package #28 of the live auction, which will begin promptly at 8 P.M. This is a specially designed table you won’t find anywhere else. Don’t miss your chance to add this elegant piece to your home!

To purchase Corndog Kickoff tickets, call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 ext. 371 or online at


The stunning marble that is the top of the table. 




Fairgoers exited the train and began walking to the Fairgrounds to enjoy the great, Iowa State Fair! 


A Look at the Past- 25th Anniversary Cultural Center and Photography Edition

June 27, 2017
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Pictures capture some of the most iconic memories. The stories that lie behind a photograph showcase amazing history and generate captivating emotions. Each year, thousands of photographers enter more than 3,600 pictures in the State Fair. Those photos are showcased in the Cultural Center. The talented individuals who capture the pictures are the reason we can figuratively look back at the changes the Blue Ribbon has had the opportunity to be a part of.



The Cultural Center has some history itself. Before it was the now Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center, it was the 4-H Club Girls’ Dormitory. The Cultural Center took on transformations that included new lighting, removing some interior walls, adding new display cases and painting the building inside and out. The Cultural Center now holds a spread of art for Iowan artisans. The Iowa State Fair’s art show is the state’s largest.



The Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to honor our Fair’s history by being a reliable source of funding for renovations and building enhancements. Help up celebrate our 25th year anniversary campaign by donating to the Foundation. We thank you for your involvement now and your continued support in the future.


The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dediated to continuing that legacy. We invite you to join a community of generosity and become even more involved with the fair you know and love. 



Our Wonderful Staff

June 26, 2017
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Take a look at who was featured in the Iowa State Fair Staff Newsletter!

Peter Cownie, Executive Director - Joining the Foundation in 2013, Peter oversees all daily operations.

Robin Taylor, Assistant Director - Joining the Foundation in 1999, Robin Oversees the merchandise, volunteer, and planned giving programs. She also works with accounts and coordinates the Corndog Kickoff Auction.

Meg Courter, Sponsorship Director - Joining the Foundation in April 2017, Meg manages our dozens of Iowa State Fair sponsors.

Drew Norton, Communications Director - Joining the Foundation in 2013, Drew directs the Foundation's communication efforts. She plans special events including the Corndog Kickoff, as well a manages various giving programs, membership programs, and the Iowan of the Day program

Life as an intern can be challenging but when you have these four professionals to look up to it becomes quite the ride!



20... 10... & Now

June 23, 2017
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As we release the summer newsletter, here is a brief flashback to what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was doing 10 and 20 years ago.

The 1997 summer newsletter announced the generous gift of $100,000 from Maytag to be used for improvements to the Family Center then renamed to the “Maytag Family Center”. “Since Maytag produces products that make life easier, simpler and more convenient, programs that enhance family life are one of the major focus areas of our Foundation contributions,” said Leonard A. Hadley, Chairman and CEO of Maytag Corporation at the time of the donation.

Beth Greiner, the assistant director in 1997 shared that the secret weapon to success for the Blue Ribbon Foundation was simply gathering Iowans from all corners of the state and linking their love for the Iowa State Fair. She thanked everyone for the goals they had triumphed in only four short years.

The Corndog Kickoff Benefit prizes were featured in the summer 1997 newsletter as well. The top package prizes were backstage passes to meet Vince Gill, being first in line at the Pork Producers Tent, and riding in the State Fair Parade.

Assistant Director, Robin Taylor, wrote the editorial in 2007. She wrote about the immense amount of meticulous planning that goes into the Iowa State Fair. With master plans come new improvements and renovations including the opening of the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. Expo Hill showcased the new wind turbine donated by MidAmerican Energy and the foods department would move to the Elwell Family Food Center, formerly the Tourism Building.

The $1 million gift from Denny and Candy Elwell of West Des Moines to the Blue Ribbon Foundation transformed the Iowa Tourism Building into the Elwell Family Food Center. CEO and Chairman of the Denny Elwell Company, Denny Elwell said, “Our family is in the fifth generation of fair lovers. As a young child, year after year I have always looked forward to the fair. I enjoyed walking the fairgrounds, seeing it all and especially eating at all my favorite food stands.”

In the 2017 summer newsletter, Meg Courter, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s Sponsorship Director, reflected on her tradition of attending the fair. Included are details about the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Campaign, Corndog Kickoff Patrons, and information about the social painting class to take place at the Fair. New projects include the renovation of the reconstructed midway to the “Thrill Park” and the expansion of the West Plaza.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is successful because of its supporters – the donors, volunteers, and the Iowans that love the State Fair. This 2017 summer newsletter highlights some of those people – Prairie Meadows and the Donor Profile: Dale and Mary Andringa.

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



Getting Closer to the Corndog Kickoff

June 22, 2017
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Today is an exciting day at the office because we just received the Corndog Kickoff auction books! This means that today we will begin putting together the tickets to be sent out. It’s great to start seeing everything come together. Our office also continues to get filled with more and more of the auction packages. It’s so fun for all of us to look at them. Have you seen some of the packages yet? Check them out here.

It feels like the calm before the storm as we know next week is when it will start to get really busy! Although we are getting closer and closer to the Corndog Kickoff, it’s not too late to get tickets. Go online to order your tickets or call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Don’t miss out on the great auction packages, amazing Fair food, and events like Rags to Riches and Winner’s Choice Raffle!



The auction book! 

Seeking Iowan of the Day Nominations

June 21, 2017
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Calling for all great Iowans! Think of a person in your community who does an outstanding job volunteering to better your community. Someone who never says no and can always be counted on to step in. Are they involved with youth and show great personal qualities and achievements? Does this person love the state of Iowa and show true Iowa pride? Have they improved your community? If you answered yes to any of these questions, nominate this person to be the Iowan of the Day during the 2017 Iowa State Fair! We will honor ten different Iowans during the Fair with a day filled with Fair fun for each winner!

Gather materials that demonstrate how this person has been an asset to your community. Supplemental materials include letters of recommendation, awards, pictures, newspaper articles and a list of their involvement within their community. We are accepting nominations until July 1. Don’t hesitate to nominate someone, it could be a day they will never forget!

Nomination forms can be found on our website. Please have them postmarked by July 1. 

It is very rewarding to read each and every nomination we receive. I am proud to call Iowa my home and to have grown up in a state with hardworking, dedicated people who only want to better our state. I am looking forward to receiving more nominations for this great award! 




Sprucing Up

June 20, 2017
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As part of one of our membership programs, you can become a member of the 1854 Society. As a member, your name will be engraved on a brick and placed outside of the Richard L. Easter historic complex. Recently, the Blue Ribbon Staff along with our summer interns, made the one block trip from our office to the courtyard of bricks. We spent the afternoon painting the bricks giving them a clean new look. We are proud to have an area dedicated to our Society members who gift our Foundation to continue to make the Fairgrounds a beautiful place.


(The interns helping lay tape and paint the bricks.)

Other giving programs you can become involved in include:

Block by Block Program
Building for the Future
Buy a Brick Program
Corndog Tax Checkoff
Courtyard of Celebration
Growing Our Future
Legacy Terrace
Shine On Program
Trees for the Fair

If you would like further information about these programs, please visit our website or call the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-3111 ext. 371.

Thank you for your support of the Blue Ribbon Foundation and its’ giving programs. With your investments, you help create the success of the Iowa State Fair, Iowa’s most celebrated tradition!


It's Always a Busy Time at the Fairgrounds!

June 15, 2017
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It’s another exciting week here at the Fairgrounds! There is always something fun going on around here. Last week the World Pork Expo was here and it’s safe to say that everyone in the office took advantage as we enjoyed ribs and pulled pork for lunch more than once! This week is the Red Power Round Up for people from all around the world to gather to see the history of International Harvester and agriculture related memorabilia. The Fairgrounds is used for A LOT more than just the Fair. It is great that it can be used to host various events that bring a wide variety of people to the Fairgrounds. Wondering what else takes place here? Check out the Fairgrounds events calendar here.

Projects around the Fairgrounds are another thing that keeps this place very busy! The project I’m most excited to see for the upcoming Fair is the new Midway and Thrill Parks. The entrance to the new Midway is still in early stages, but it is coming along and looking great. It is definitely going to be something to check out at the Fair this year!




The Red Power Round Up event has taken over at the Fairgrounds! 

Silent Auction Packages

June 14, 2017
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If we haven’t given you enough reasons to join us at the Corndog Kickoff yet, here are a few more! Take your pick at one of the 214 silent auction packages that you will have the chance to bid on! Here are my top five favorite silent auction packages:

Get a variety of fun things to do around Des Moines all planned out for you!

#41. Catch Des Moines
There is much to see and do in the Des Moines area. Here are some fun options.
• Take in an Iowa Cubs game with four tickets as well as a four person tour and tasting at Summerset Winery.
• Four general farmyard admission tickets to Center Grove Orchard and two burritos each Saturday from Farm Kids Burrito Stand at the Downtown Farmers Market.
• Four brunch buffet certificates for Gilroy's along with two tickets to a Des Moines Community Playhouse performance.

Donated by Des Lux Hotel, Summerset Winery, the Des Moines Community Playhouse, Farm Kids Breakfast Burritos, Center Grove Orchard, Gilroy's, the Iowa Cubs & Catch Des Moines


I never got to go to Disney World as a kid, but I sure would’ve loved to! Take your children on a vacation they will never forget!

#111. The World of Disney
Enjoy the Magic Kingdom with this package.
• Four one-day park hopper passes valid at the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida. They provide admission to a magical experience at each of their unique theme parks within one day.
• The tickets expire within two years and may not be used for admission from December 25-31 of any year.

Donated by Disney


I’m a country music lover, so these tickets to Alabama get me excited! You can’t get these tickets anywhere else.

#115. A Country Classic

Four tickets to see Alabama on August 17 at the Iowa State Fair plus backstage passes for a meet and greet with Charlie Daniels.
• Your seats are in the lower grandstand, section NO, row 1, seats 9-12.
• Four gate admission tickets and a parking pass.
• Before the concert treat yourself with four coupons for the Dairy Barn.

Donated by the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Midwest Dairy Association


These burnt items would be useful and make great décor in your kitchen!

#181. Good and Burnt

Burning wood is a simple method of creating a piece of art.
• A locally made burnt wood sign for your home.

Donated by Burnt Expressions


Calling all chocolate lovers! Here is the package for you.

#191. An Iowa Icon
The Palmer Candy Company has been a mainstay in the Iowa candy market more than 138 years.
• Enjoy a selection of their candies in this package.
• A fine crystal candy bowl with lid is the perfect dish from which to serve these treats.

Donated by Palmer Candy Company & Neal and Marie Fredrickson

Check out all the donation packages in the live and silent auctions in the auction book

Have we convinced you yet? Buy your ticket today! We can't wait to see you.