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.

Find Your Fun!

October 18, 2021
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The ISF Marketing Department announced the theme for the 2022 Iowa State Fair last week: Find Your Fun - Find Your Fun at the Iowa State Fair, August 11-21, 2022!

Do you make plans to eat the newest Fair foods and take in a show, or do you show livestock before experiencing a night at the Fair? We're looking forward to all of the ways that we can find fun in 2022!


The new graphics are colorful and feature everything we love about the Iowa State Fair- music, food, rides, and livestock. While we patiently wait for next summer, there are ways you can start “finding your Iowa State Fair fun” by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Iowa State Fair Swag. What’s more fun than showing your love for the Butter Cow than with custom socks, baseball hat, stocking cap or a keychain? Just like your favorite sports team – the Butter Cow has it’s own fan club.  Check out the online State Fair Store.

With the holidays right around the corner, give the Fair lover in your life ISF blue ribbon winning BBQ Sauce or Salsa. A corndog candle, puzzle or Go Fish playing cards make great gifts.

Engraved Brick. What is your favorite spot on the Fairgrounds? What building do you visit first? Is riding the Sky Glider a “must-do” before you leave? Commemorate your State Fair fun with an engraved brick. Some of my favorite inscriptions include “MY FIRST FAIR”, “CORNDOG LOVER” and other personal inside jokes. For a $100 donation, you can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while leaving your mark on the Fairgrounds.  

Enjoy the Fairgrounds year-round by attending an event. Almost every weekend, there is something happening on the grounds. With tradeshows, cheerleading competitions, or craft sales - the historic buildings are utilized for visitors to enjoy. Are you and your significant other “Fair People”? Consider having your wedding or anniversary party on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Buildings can be rented all year long - read more

Your donation not only improves the Fairgrounds for the 11-day celebration in August but helps maintain the buildings for use the other 11 months of the year.  

There is plenty of FUN while fundraising for a special place like the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Iowans take pride in the event and the Blue Ribbon Foundation takes pride in making sure family traditions will last forever. Join in our fun and donate today.  

Did you see THAT during the Iowa State Fair?

October 6, 2021
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There is so much to see and do at the Iowa State Fair. With a million people gathering on the 445 acres of the Fairgrounds and only 11 days to explore your favorite activities and new attractions, the Blue Ribbon Foundation knows it can be hard to see it all. 

Reichardt Family Giant Slide: 
Did you take a ride down the Reichardt Family Giant Slide in its new location north of the FFA Buildings?  This year the slide celebrated 50 years of making people “whoop” with enjoyment!  The slide itself was repainted and placed on an all-new structure. The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff took a ride!


Bruce Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building:  
Did you see the beautiful interior of the renovated 4-H Building? Yes, the renovation of the building was completed in 2020 but the space was finally filled with one of the most important aspects of the Iowa State Fair – the youth! 4-Her’s displayed projects and gave presentations in the new classrooms.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s newest giving program, the Spirit of Generosity, was also on full display in the west atrium. It’s the perfect way to support future Fairgrounds improvements and showcase your name in a unique piece of art.


Four Interns: 
Did you see four interns running around like crazy? Ha! Maybe the first few days of the Fair were crazy for these ladies but they did an amazing job. You could have seen an intern checking in volunteers, restocking merchandise or introducing an Iowan of the Day winner.

Each intern is a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having significant responsibility for integral Foundation programs and making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for the next set of interns. Check out the 2022 internship information on our website. 


For now, we’ll keep reminiscing about the amazing things and people we saw during the 2021 Iowa State Fair. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation. You can soon be on the lookout for improvements coming to the Fairgrounds for 2022.  

Blue Ribbon Beautification Project

September 29, 2021
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Did you see the beautiful murals on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August? If you missed seeing the new artwork, come out to the Fairgrounds to look for yourself. The photos don’t do them justice. Adding the murals to the Fairgrounds were one of the many highlights of the summer – a true beautification project.

Public art adds enormous value to the culture of a community. When traveling across Iowa, in rural and urban communities alike, you will discover their individual charm and community awareness expressed through architecture, murals and art installations. Public art contributes to a community's identity, fosters pride and a sense of belonging.

The Iowa State Fair hosts the state’s largest art show highlighting exhibits in fine arts, photography, and creative arts but these works were only present during the Fair. The Fairgrounds needed to reflect Iowans’ creativity throughout the year and adding public art was the perfect way to do so. Over the past decade, the Iowa State Fairgrounds has taken the opportunity to add more public art but desired to have something that truly made a statement and was a welcoming, interactive design for any visitor.

Located in the southwest section of the Iowa State Fairgrounds is a concrete block building that houses an electrical sub-station. It is a very non-descript building sitting across from one of the Fairgrounds’ busiest entry gates, the gate where all of our Park-&-Ride buses drop off and pick up. It also sits at an intersection within the grounds that is used throughout the year as visitors attend events at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building and the four livestock barns. Plus, it can be seen from the road as people drive by going about their everyday lives.

The concept was to use a local artist to create a mural on each of the four sides of the building. The Liz Lidgett Gallery coordinated the project and recommended local artist and Fair-lover James Navarro. The challenge – the art for the mural had to represent all areas of the Iowa State Fair – food, rides, 4-H, FFA, art, horticulture, camping, families, entertainment, competition, animals, etc. There had to be something within one of the four paintings that anyone could relate to.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation brought the mural idea and concepts to the Fair Board and submitted a grant request to the Meredith Corporation Foundation. Meredith had supported the Foundation in its infancy with in-kind advertisements but had never found a project that was truly the right fit to form a partnership.

When the mural concept was presented to the Meredith Corporation Foundation board, they easily approved it, providing 100% of the funding for the painting and design costs, $15,000. The Foundation covered costs for full artistic rights to the images and the application of a protective coating. The Meredith Corporation is well-known for its commitment to arts and culture and was thrilled to help improve the historic Fairgrounds.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a beautiful park-like facility with grand, exposition-style architecture, lush landscaping and public art. It is a point of pride for the city of Des Moines and our state and serves as an economic generator, hosting more than 350+ event days throughout the year. It is hard to imagine how transforming one non-descript building into a welcoming feature on the Fairgrounds can revive an area and make it a focal point for capturing a family’s visit but this project did.

This small beautification project adds visual interest for all guests walking (or even driving) by during their visit to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provides a backdrop for families to take their photos, year after year. At the 2021 Fair, you could not pass the murals without seeing someone taking a picture of a friend, their family or even for a complete stranger. The smiles were contagious.

Thank you again to the Meredith Corporation Foundation, Liz Lidgett Gallery and James Navarro for making the concept a reality. Send us your family picture in front of the mural – it will definitely be one of the Foundation staff’s new traditions.

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Engraved Brick Deadline – September 15

September 14, 2021
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Did you visit the Iowa State Fair for the first time this August? Or did you win a blue ribbon in the “My Favorite Meatloaf” competition? Maybe your granddaughter showed her goat and the entire family was there to cheer her on.

Commemorate your experience with an engraved brick. A brick is the perfect way to leave a permanent legacy while supporting the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Each brick celebrates a special family memory or honors a loved one. The inscriptions are unique and creative. Staff will place engraved bricks this fall. The deadline to have your brick placed this fall is September 15. You can give a donation for an engraved brick online.

The bricks are used to complete the walkways of 15 different locations: 4-H Exhibit Building, Anne & Bill Riley Stage, Campgrounds Gate Five, Maytag Family Theatres, Elwell Family Food Center, Administration Building, Agriculture Building, Dairy Parlor, Livestock Show Pavilion, Pioneer Hall, Ye Old Mill, and the Cattle, Horse, Sheep and Swine Barns.

Standard bricks are available for $100. Inscription allows for up to three lines using a maximum of 14 spaces per line. Special logo bricks are available for $125. Please enclose or email a black and white copy of your business or personal logo with your order form.

Thank you for celebrating the Iowa State Fair and supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

Thank You!

September 7, 2021
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The first thank you of many goes to the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s volunteers. Thank you to the 594 people that filled 1,378 volunteer shifts during the 11-day Fair. We couldn't have a successful event without your support.

Thank you for helping with merchandise, selling bottled water, assisting with Jake’s Club, BINGO…and the list goes on and on. Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers are truly some of the best Fairgoers. Thank you!

Mark your calendar for the 2022 Iowa State Fair – August 11-21. We’d love to have you volunteer.


Did you take pictures of your crew volunteering during the Fair? Email them to us at

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What's New at the Fair?

August 10, 2021
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The wait is almost over! In just a few days, the 2021 Iowa State Fair will be here. As we patiently wait for the fun-filled 11-days to come, here are some Blue Ribbon Foundation highlights to look forward to during your time at the Fair.

This year’s merchandise will be sold at various locations across the Fairgrounds including the Service Center, Cattle Barn, Little Hands on the Farm, Agriculture Building, Varied Industries Building and the Museum. All locations will open at 9:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM.

Below are some of the new items that will be offered at this year’s merchandise booths:

2021 T-Shirt Design Winner


Silicone Cup

2021 Pottery

Lapel Pin

Don’t be dehydrated while you are at the Fair! Our water booths are open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, and can be found at the following locations:

Service Center, Cattle Barn, Agriculture Building, Riley Stage, Little Hands on the Farm, Heritage Village, Thrill Town and Thrill Ville.


As you stroll through the Fairgrounds, be sure to check out some of the newest renovations and improvements.

Sheri Avis Horner Pavilion



T.A.G. Team: Lights in the Agriculture Building ​

Elwell Family Park

With a busy Fair, here are some important events happening throughout the eleven days:

Outhouse Races: August 17 @ 2:30 PM, Grand Concourse

BINGO: August 18 @ 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Grand Concourse

Legislative Day: August 19 @ 12:00 PM, Farm Bureau Shelter House


Woodcarver’s Auction:

  • Live In-Person Auction: August 22 @ 3:30 PM, John and Emily Putney Family Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center
  • Online Auction opens August 21 @ 10:00 AM and closes on August 22 @ 5:00 PM


Iowans of the Day will be honored the first ten days of the fair at noon on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage. These Iowans are recognized for outstanding service to their communities. Below are the dates and 2021 recipients:

Thursday, August 12: Joy Thiel

Friday, August 13: Kris and Steve Gunderson

Saturday, August 14: Gregg Obren

Sunday, August 15: Jody Rudolph

Monday, August 16: Julie Hitchins

Tuesday, August 17: Georgia Campbell

Wednesday, August 18: Janet Wissler

Thursday, August 19: Bill and Connie Ridgley

Friday, August 20: Carol Messer

Saturday, August 21: Barbara Kniff-McCulla


The anticipation is building up for tasty food, crazy rides, friendly faces, and fun events. We cannot wait to see you at the 2021 Iowa State Fair!

Woodcarver's Auction

August 5, 2021
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Have you ever wondered how you could purchase a masterpiece carved out of wood created at the Iowa State Fair? You have the chance to take one of these unique carvings home at the 2021 Woodcarver’s Auction. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation will host this year’s auction as a hybrid with some items sold in person and other items sold online.

The live in person auction will take place the last day of the Fair on Sunday, August 22 at 3:30 PM at the John and Emily Putney Family Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center. Additionally, twenty-five of the carvings will be available for online bidding starting Saturday, August 21 at 10:00 AM and closing on Sunday, August 22 at 5:00 PM. All proceeds benefit the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of renovating the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Be sure to watch the wooden creations emerge when Keenan and Jenkins carve four times throughout each day of the Fair, August 12 -22, at 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 3:30 PM and 5:30 PM. Past carvings have included wildlife animals and sports team’s logos! The carving takes place between the First Church and Pioneer Hall.

Link to online auction:


Limited Edition T-Shirts!

July 30, 2021
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Don’t forget to order your exclusive Iowa State Fair merchandise! While there will be a wide variety of Fair t-shirts available at the Fair, the limited edition T-shirts are only available on the website. Get your T-shirts just in time for the Fair!

While the winning T-shirt is only available at the Fair, our online store includes the top six designs from our T-shirt design contest in May. On top of this, there are many new designs that highlight different things we love at the Fair. These designs can only be purchased on our online store.

Be sure to place your order soon to make sure it is here by the Fair. Who wouldn’t want to wear their ‘I’m gonna pop some tags’ shirt at the governor steer show? Check out this design along with many others on our online store.

Orders through the website are open until August 27. All orders will be mailed directly to your home. Check out the link below to access T-shirt store to order your famous Iowa State Fair shirts! (All shirts come in multiple color and size options)




Famous Faces

July 28, 2021
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A few weeks ago we had some of the Foundations’ famous faces at our Corndog Kickoff. We are thankful to team up with so many talented people to share the love of the Iowa State Fair.


In 2006, Sarah Pratt became the Fair’s fifth butter cow sculptor. Sarah had an apprenticeship with Norma “Duffy” Lyon for 15 years before she became the main sculptor. Her twin daughters now work alongside her. They became her official apprentices shortly before turning 14, the same age Sarah was when she went to work with Norma. When Sarah isn’t in the 50 degree cooler, she works as a special education teacher.

Sarah Platt

The Iowa State Fair Food Department is the largest out of any state fair in the country. There are 203 divisions, 809 classes, and over 9,000 entries. Russel Place received 2nd and now make all of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation BBQ. This will be sold at the 2021 Fair.


Russel Place

Dan Livengood, Creator of go fish game and it’s a fair game. In 2004, Dan helped create the “Fairopoly” game. The Foundation called on him again in 2009 to help create the “It’s a Fair Game.”

Dan Livengood


Karen Brockelscby is a quilter extrordaire. She is a part of the Ankeny Quilting and Sewing Circle. Karen has donated many items to our auction throughout the year. She makes the famous t-shirt that are made into pillows. She also donates quilts to the Corndog Kickoff Auction. Karen’s quilt is featured in the top row in the middle of the 2021 Ornament.


Karen Brockelscby

-Gabby McCoy Volunteer Relations Intern

New Hands on the Farm

July 22, 2021
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One of the most beloved attractions at the State Fair is the Andringa Family Foundation Little Hands on the Farm. This interactive exhibit has been teaching kids about life on the farm for years. Little Hands has been engaging kids and handing out those signature Pioneer hats since I was barely old enough to fit one on my own head.

The opportunity to dig in the dirt, ‘milk’ a cow, and pick up a hard-earned popsicle at the end of the route draws kids and families back year after year. This year however, has presented a new set of challenges. COVID-19 is not going to cancel the Fair this year, but it has still brought about some necessary changes across the Fairgrounds.

For the Little Hands Exhibit this looks like reducing the amount of touch points involved by introducing a new passport. Instead of having items that would constantly need to be sanitized by volunteers, kids will earn a stamp at each stop. After completing their tasks, they will still receive a snack at the general store but now they will also have their souvenir passport as a reminder of all they learned at Little Hands to take home.

New passports aren’t the only change you will see at Little Hands this year. It also gained several new sponsors including Kemps Dairy, Iowa Select Farms, Henning Construction, Renewable Energy Group, Sylvan Learning Centers and Iowa Egg Council. These new sponsors have allowed for several new upgrades to the Farm to be possible.

A brand new chicken coop, signs, and even a new milking cow are a few of the additions you will want to keep an eye out for as you make your way through the farm this year. We know change can be difficult at times and this new process may be an adjustment. However, it is always exciting to see good things become even better and for our favorite things, like Little Hands on the Farm, to be able to happen again, in a way that is safer for everyone.