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 $165 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.

T-Shirt Contest

April 2, 2021
drewnorton's picture

Do you like graphic design? Do you like to doodle? Do you love the Iowa State Fair? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to submit a T-shirt design to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2nd annual T-shirt Design Contest. If you come up with the winning design, you’ll see YOUR creativity emblazoned on T-shirts throughout the Fairgrounds!

The process is simple – create your design (or designs) and email it by May 1st to with "T-shirt design contest" in the subject line. A selection committee will pick the top five designs and post them on the Foundation's Facebook and website for a public vote, May 10-17. The winning design will be announced on May 18th. Prizes will be awarded to the top three vote-getters.

First place – Your design is placed on a T-shirt and will be sold at the Iowa State Fair plus 2 T-shirts, 2 gate admission tickets, 2 Fair Play packs, 2 tickets to the Grandstand concert of your choice, $50 in food coupons, and parking for a select day at the Fair.

Second place - 2 gate admission tickets, $25 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair.

Third place -2 gate admission tickets and $25 in food coupons.

Click here for a complete description of entry details and contest rules.

This is last year's winning design. 




Show Your Love for the ISF on your Taxes!

March 18, 2021
drewnorton's picture

The deadline to file your taxes is right around the corner! When you file your Iowa state income tax return, don’t forget you can support the Iowa State Fair by participating in the Corndog Tax Checkoff. This is an easy way to show your love for the Fair while supporting capital improvements.

What do you love the most? The funnel cakes, Sky Glider rides, food on a stick, free entertainment, premier livestock events, expansive art exhibits or the country’s largest state fair food department? The Iowa State Fair has something for everyone to love. Turn that "State Fair Love" into future renovations of the historic Fairgrounds.

Look for “State Fair” on line 57b on Form 1040 and check off $1 (or more!) to help preservation efforts. Your gift is either deducted from your refund or added to the amount due. Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible. 

The Checkoff has raised more than $2 million since it started and has supplemented restoration projects from the Grandstand to Ye Old Mill. These donations have also helped improve the campgrounds, parking areas, sidewalks and restrooms.

Please join the Blue Ribbon Foundation and other Corndog Checkoff donors to ensure the future of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Thank you!

Giving Program Deadline

March 4, 2021
drewnorton's picture

The Blue Ribbon Foundation offers many ways to support our mission of preserving and improving the Iowa State Fairgrounds. You can honor a friend, commemorate an important event or donate in memory of a loved one. In fact, there are nine unique Giving Programs.

Take a moment to think about your family’s State Fair memories and your special place on the Fairgrounds. Each family has their own Fair Favorites.  You can capture these memories when you donate to one of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s Giving Programs.  At the same time - you are investing in the future of the historic Fairgrounds.

Check out the Giving Program options:

Block by Block - This donor wall creates a quilt inside the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center to match the building’s exterior individual quilt blocks representing counties across Iowa.

Building for the Future – A granite paver or engraved seat plaque at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center.

Buy a Brick - The most popular giving program, personalized engraved bricks grace 15 different locations on the Fairgrounds.

Courtyard of Celebration - Located on the east side of the Patty & Jim Cownie Cultural Center, these pavers celebrate all things artistic on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Growing Our Future - The individual donor plaques add a beautiful display in the heart of the Fairgrounds along Ruan Plaza.

Legacy Terrace - Tree plaques and granite pavers commemorate State Fair fans outside the Grandstand.

Shine On - Add a plaque to the base of a lamp post. There are several new lamp posts along East 31st Street or Jacobson Plaza.

Spirit of Generosity Brand New donor wall inside the recently renovated Bruce Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building. 

Trees for the Fair - With a personalized nameplate on a plaque in the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center or a plaque at the base of a tree, the inscription possibilities are endless.

The deadline to have your brick, paver or plaque in place for the 2021 Iowa State Fair is March 31. Start brainstorming your creative inscriptions today!

Volunteer Opportunity

February 26, 2021
drewnorton's picture

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is extra excited about hosting this year’s Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction after taking a year off. There is so much to do and see at the Iowa State Fair; this fundraising event will give you a little taste of what the 2021 August celebration will look like.

This year’s Corndog Kickoff will be Saturday, July 10 in the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building. The biggest and most important part of the Corndog Kickoff is the actual auction. Since the event started in 1997, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has been able to offer attendees many unique packages for bidding. Funds raised from the Corndog Kickoff go right back into Fairgrounds renovation projects – including those small bathroom upgrades, sidewalk repairs and even large scale improvements for Fairgoers.

This is where you come in! The Blue Ribbon Foundation would like your help to generate new ideas for one-of-kind packages and turn those ideas into reality. We are holding a Corndog Kickoff Auction Committee Information Meeting on Wednesday, March 10 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom.

If you love the Iowa State Fair and are comfortable talking to people, this would be an easy task for you. Robin Taylor, Blue Ribbon Foundation Assistant Director, will be holding the meeting to highlight more about the Corndog Kickoff Auction Committee. If you have the slightest interested in volunteering, you are encouraged to listen in. Robin will explain the committee and answer any of your questions.

If you have some spare time and wondering how to get involved in the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s fundraising efforts, this is a good place to start. The Corndog Kickoff couldn’t happen without individuals who volunteer. We hope you find volunteering with us a rewarding experience.

Please email Robin at for more details about the Corndog Kickoff Auction Committee Information Meeting.


Together Accomplishing Goals

February 23, 2021
drewnorton's picture

The Blue Ribbon Foundation created the T.A.G. Team to bring like-minded, Fair-loving individuals together to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds an even better place. It was a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals. In 2020, T.A.G. Team members supported the renovation of the east restroom in the Livestock Pavilion.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is once again looking for 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. This year, we are shining the spotlight on the Agriculture Building.

Money raised from the 2021 T.A.G. Team will be used to upgrade 96 lights on the Agriculture Building’s first level, under the balcony. The high efficient, LED lighting will be energy saving. The new fixtures will be dimmable, making it possible to adjust lighting needs for rentals outside of the Iowa State Fair, like corporate events or weddings.

Originally constructed in 1904, the Agriculture Building was one of the first buildings resulting from the major effort to convert the Fairgrounds from wood frame to permanent buildings of brick and stone. The building was renovated in 1995 including a new roof, new windows and doors, in addition to brick and mortar work. The Agriculture Building is one of the best remaining examples of exposition-style architecture in the world.

The facility is now home to the famous Butter Cow as well as the Fair’s vegetable and fruit competitions. Fairgoers can see a variety of floral displays, interesting exhibits or grab an egg-on-a-stick to go.

For a $250 donation, only 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player in the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership in the 2021 T.A.G. Team.

We welcome your participation in our T.A.G. Team so Together we can Accomplish our Goals. Join Today.


Small but Important Improvement

February 15, 2021
drewnorton's picture

Blue Ribbon Foundation donors have been responsible for large-scale improvement projects across the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Let’s look back at the Cattle Barn.

The John and Emily Putney Family Cattle Barn, covering 154,000 square feet with room to hold 1,600 head of cattle, is one of the most commanding structures on the Fairgrounds. The brick building was constructed in two major stages, in 1914 and 1920, uniting the original north and south barns and adding the sale ring.

Many improvements have been made to the Cattle Barn over the years. Updates included a new roof, new concrete floor in the foyer area and both the north and south ends of the west side were extended 35 feet to the sidewalk creating annexes used throughout the year.

Something small (that might seem insignificant but is essential) was recently updated. Earlier this year, crews upgraded the dozen Cattle Barn restroom hand dryers. Yes, it sounds simple but having functioning, hygienic and energy-efficient hand dryers are an improvement to any restroom experience. 

The Fairgrounds is hosting the Iowa Beef Expo this week. With the extra cold temperatures, the Blue Ribbon Foundation knows the new hand dryers will be used and appreciated by all attendees. 

The Foundation will continue to support smaller projects across the Fairgrounds this year. We hope you join our mission!


Next Generation of Farmers, Innovators and Leaders

February 9, 2021
drewnorton's picture

Iowans across the state can cultivate a vibrant future by investing in today's youth. The Iowa State Fair is dedicated to investing in the next generation of farmers, innovators and leaders. The Blue Ribbon Foundation raises funds to maintain the top-notch facilities on the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds - providing an environment for youth to be successful. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has been able to offer the Corndog Tax Checkoff as a way for Iowans to financially support our efforts. While completing your Iowa State Tax Return, simply give a donation on line 57b of Iowa's 1040 tax form.

This action provides a reliable source of funding for future renovations, building enhancements and maintenance. Your donation will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount due. Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.

Participating in the Corndog Checkoff is a simple way Iowans can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Foundation is determined to maintain the beautiful Iowa State Fairgrounds and help grow the next group of Fair lovers.

Thank you for your loyalty to our great Iowa State Fair and ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for future generations.


Winter Newsletter: 2001, 2011 and 2021

February 1, 2021
drewnorton's picture

The Blue Ribbon Foundation traditionally starts our year by thanking donors. It’s our goal to thank supporters throughout the year but we take extra pride in flipping the calendar and recognizing what our organization is most grateful for – you!

Listed in each Winter Newsletter is the Roll of Donors. All gifts of any size are important to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Each dollar donated has factored into our accomplishments over time. This list includes donations made to our general renovation fund as well as contributions to our endowment since 1993.

Making an appearance in each of the newsletters is also information about the Corndog Tax Checkoff. The program provides an easy way to contribute through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return. When completing your 2020 taxes, look for “State Fair” on Line 57b on Iowa Form 1040.

What’s new with the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we start 2021?

  • Thank you to the donors that took on the challenge and shared our vision for the future! The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2020 “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign raised $82,875 for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Thank you!
  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation is once again looking for 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. This year, we are shining the spotlight on the Agriculture Building. Money raised from the 2021 T.A.G. Team will be used to upgrade 96 lights on the Agriculture Building’s first level, under the balcony.
  • Donor Profile - Debbie Stewart: In addition to volunteering with the Foundation, Debbie is a member of the 1854 Society, a Corndog Kickoff Patron and supports the Blue Ribbon Foundation by purchasing items in the annual benefit auction. It’s truly a family affair since Debbie’s children also volunteer with the Foundation.
  • Read the 2021 Winter Newsletter.

So, what was happening 10 years ago?

  • More than 400 runners and walkers gathered on the Fairgrounds in November for the second annual Fairgrounds 5K. The event raised $11,000!
  • With the newly constructed Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Foundation was welcoming new members in Jake’s Club. This membership program, still active today, is a great place to watch your favorite horse show during the Fair.
  • Donor Profile - Mike and Ann Gersie: Highlighting a Fair loving couple, the Gersies first gave to the Blue Ribbon Foundation in 1993 and have made a donation every year since. The couple have managed to encompass each giving program that’s been offered. With each inscription across the Fairgrounds, there is a simple and friendly message: “Have a great day and enjoy the Fair!”

And what was happening 20 years ago?

  • In 2001, Grand Avenue was scheduled to be graded and repaved in the spring. New lamp posts were added to the street and the Shine On program was created. The program has since expanded to have plaques on lamp posts all across the Fairgrounds.
  • Plans were already in motion for the Foundation’s largest fundraising event, the Corndog Kickoff with an exciting change in the event venue. Because of the growing crowd, the event was moving from Pioneer Hall to the Agriculture Building. The event has since moved to the Varied Industries Building. Save the Date for the 2021 Corndog Kickoff – Saturday, July 10.
  • The Foundation’s expanding website was gaining momentum. You could now give a brick donation or buy Iowa State Fair souvenirs online.
  • Donor Profile – Sticks, Inc: One of the Foundation’s more beautiful relationships was started 20 years ago. Sticks, Inc. donated an item to the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction – something the company still does today. The unique pieces embody the Iowa State Fair and the state of Iowa – consistently one of the most anticipated and high selling items in the auction.

Programs have developed, new projects have advanced and things have changed over the years. Nevertheless, the loyalty of Blue Ribbon Foundation donors continues to grow. Thank you for your support!

Indoor Activities

January 25, 2021
drewnorton's picture

As Iowans hunker down to endure more of the winter season over the next couple of months, the Blue Ribbon Foundation thought everyone could use some ideas for indoor activities. Here are some “Beat the Winter Blues – Blue Ribbon Foundation Style”. 

Engraved Brick Donation: Get the entire family involved to come up with a unique and creative inscription for an engraved brick on the Fairgrounds. Does your family ride the Ye Old Mill every year? Commemorate the experience with your own brick. I can see it now… 




Iowa State Fair GamesWhat better way to spend an evening indoors than playing a game. 

  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation has “It’s A Fair Game” available for sale. It is similar to the game of Life where each player has a career, travels and experiences new things. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. Our version is all about the Iowa State Fair. Your career could be as a State Fair staff person, entertainer or exhibitor. You participate in contests and eat Fair food as you make your way across the Fairgrounds to the campgrounds.
  • The Blue Ribbon Foundation also has a puzzle available in the State Fair Store. This two-sided puzzle features a beautiful photograph of a Fairgrounds’ sunset. The other side is a brick pad complete with real donors’ names and inscriptions.

New Recipes: Who feels like trying something new in the kitchen? Take advice from experts and their blue ribbon winning recipes in the 20th Edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook.

  • Mexi-Mac’N Cheese, Tailgatin’Chili or Cinnamon Chip Scones all sound delicious to me!


Read a New Book: Take time this winter to learn more about your favorite summertime event. There is a history book with details, interesting stories and lots of photos from past Fairs. You can also learn about the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s history as an organization in the book, A Great State Fair - The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Revival of the Iowa State Fair.

If you are like me, dreaming of summertime keeps you motivated in the winter. Does your summer To-Do List, include any Blue Ribbon Foundation related activities? 

  • Iowan of the Day: Do some brainstorming about what community members in your hometown went above and beyond to help others. Consider nominating that person as an Iowan of the Day during the 2021 Iowa State Fair.
  • Stay tuned for details about the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction, Saturday July 10. Want to be involved with the event? Donating an auction package consisting of your product or service is an excellent way to promote your company, as it will be seen - and bid on - by nearly 2,000 attendees.
  • Volunteer: Each year, more than 500 Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers donate their time and energy by selling merchandise and bottled water at the Foundation's many stands. Stayed tuned for volunteer information in June 2021.

Winter in Iowa can be a beautiful time of year but we are thankful it's only one of the seasons. Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we count down the days to the Iowa State Fair – less than 200 days to go!


Reflecting on History

January 19, 2021
drewnorton's picture

When flipping through the Iowa State Fair History Book, I came across a short article on the original State Fair roller coaster. With the last several months feeling like a roller coaster ride – it caught my eye.

The State Fair Roller Coaster

Some people somewhere in Des Moines are living in houses built from a wooden roller coaster.

The roller coaster was constructed in 1908 northeast of the Grandstand and was owned by Jimmie and Johnny Kenenan of Oklahoma City. Before the Fair resumed in 1946 after a four-year hiatus because of World War ll – the decision was made to tear down the coaster because it was rotting around the footings.  Materials were in short supply, so that spring, former Fair Secretary A.R. Corey’s two sons along with 12 other men, dismantled the coaster and sold the lumber to a carpenter for construction of houses.

According to an article in The Des Moines Register, “To the hardened roller coaster addict, the Fair ride was tamer than those at Arnolds Park or Riverview in Des Moines. But tens of thousands of others found it plenty exciting.”

What a neat piece of history that makes the Iowa State Fair unique. I’m sure at the time Fairgoers missed the roller coaster when it had to be removed. But just like today, the Iowa State Fair is continuing to evolve. It’s a balance of keeping the history/traditions but adjusting to the changes in technology and advancements.  The midway as a whole has changed since 1908 but the fun games and rides for all ages continue to get better year after year.

Another part of this story stood out to me – “Before the Fair resumed in 1946 after a four-year hiatus”. Don’t forget, the Fair was postponed because of World War ll. And 75 years ago, maintenance crews were making improvements to the Fairgrounds before the Iowa State Fair returned. Fast forward to now – that’s exactly what staff is doing today!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is supporting small and much needed improvement projects across the Fairgrounds to prepare for when we can gather this August to celebrate the Iowa State Fair!

As I’ve said before, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I bet 75 years ago, there were Fair lovers that were excited to welcome back the event after the hiatus and stepped up to donate their time and resources to make sure the Fair came back better than ever.

You play an important role in fulfilling the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of helping the Iowa State Fair thrive.  We look forward to seeing you, your friends, and your families at the Fair this summer.