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 $200 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.

Leaving Your Mark!

May 16, 2024
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Last week my classes wrapped up for the semester and I am now working in the office full-time! It has been a busy week as I have learned so much and started several different projects related to sponsorship, merchandise, Corndog Kickoff, and more! In addition, we spent time placing bricks around the Fairgrounds for those who have purchased one within the last few months.

The opportunity to buy a brick is open to anyone who would like to leave a mark on the Fairgrounds, while also giving back to the renovation and improvement of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. These renovations include various aspects including buildings such as Pioneer Hall, attractions such as the Ye Old Mill, and livestock barns. The renovations and improvements will allow Fairgoers to continue to enjoy the Fair for years to come. There are two different brick options available:

Standard Brick ($100): Inscription includes three lines with a maximum of 14 spaces per line

Special Logo Bricks ($125): In addition to an inscription, you can include a logo/symbol that can be provided in black and white when you submit your order

Regardless of the specific type of brick chosen, there are 15 different locations around the Fairgrounds that you can choose between when it comes to deciding where you would like your brick to be placed. These include the 4-H Exhibit Building, the Anne & Bill Riley Stage, the Campgrounds Gate Five, the Maytag Family Theatres, the Elwell Family Food Center, the Administration Building, the Agriculture Building, the Dairy Parlor, the Livestock Show Pavilion, Pioneer Hall, the Ye Old Mill, and the Cattle, Horse, Sheep, and Swine Barns.

Having a brick placed can serve several different purposes, including representing your family, a special date/location, or honoring someone who has passed away. It can be exciting to find your brick while visiting the Iowa State Fair each year! In fact, it is also fun for those who walk around and hunt for someone that they recognize.

 If you are interested in participating in this giving program or others that the Foundation offers, please visit our website at, call us at (515) 262-3111 Ext. 371, or stop by the office. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have!

As mentioned above, the other interns and I had the opportunity to help place the bricks this week. Please enjoy a picture of the process below.


- Jayce Reed, Business Relations Intern

Volunteer Spotlight

May 14, 2024
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Our valued volunteers are central to the success of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission. Read about some of them in our "Volunteer Spotlight". 

Carolyn Nelson: Carolyn started volunteering for the Blue Ribbon Foundation in 1999 after her kids graduated from high school. She was already at the Fair volunteering with her hometown Clearfield Lions Club that runs the campground shuttles. The club is honored that 2024 is the 60th year providing this service to the Fair! 1967 was her first time working for Hardenbrook’s, earning $100 after 10 days at $1 per hour! 

In her early days volunteering, she sold water and had a man tell her he didn’t think people would pay for bottled water. However, people liked the idea of buying water rather than pop. Back then, small bottles were $1.50 each. Once, she sold a full case to a family to use in their baby bottles. 

Fair time is family time! Carolyn loves it when her kids and grandkids make memories at the Fair. She cherishes the years her granddaughter Megan sold water with her! Megan would stand out front and bring in customers. In high school, she used this volunteer time as Silver Cord hours. Megan now lives in Wisconsin but comes back for her “special day” at the Fair!

The reason Carolyn continues to volunteer for the BRF is because she loves to visit with people at the Fair! She has sold both souvenirs and water over the last 26 years. However, you will usually find her selling water at the First Church. She loves this location because she can sell water, listen to the music at the Susan Knapp Amphitheater, and watch the shuttle buses loading and unloading.

There is nothing better than the Iowa State Fair where everyone works together and has a great time with family and new & old friends!

Elaine Bohling: The Bohling family will celebrate 25 years volunteering with the Blue Ribbon Foundation at this year’s Iowa State Fair. Elaine Bohling and daughters DeEtta and Natalie started in 1999 to satisfy their 4-H community service hours, usually selling water in Heritage Village. Lynn would take their son, Hank, to see the animals in the barns while the girls volunteered.

Eventually, Lynn and Hank joined in for 4 or 5 shifts, fitting around the kids’ activities.  The family moved to the Grand Concourse water booth where busy traffic keeps them on task greeting fairgoers, selling water, and making correct change. If there is any downtime on cold or rainy days, the family agrees that people watching is fabulous.

Even in college, the girls continued to volunteer. As a BRF intern for two summers, DeEtta corralled Lynn and Elaine into volunteering for the Corndog Kickoff held in July and upping our commitment during the Fair.

As the family grew, so did the volunteer hours. All three of Lynn and Elaine’s children are married but they still love to volunteer for the BRF.

DeEtta and her husband live in Kansas and her favorite job is in the merchandise stands. Her daughter Paisley, now 5, can’t wait to volunteer too.

Natalie and husband Dylan volunteer for water and merchandise sales on weekends. They have worked in the new cookie kitchen for other events at the Fairgrounds.

Hank married Shelby and they live in Utah. They loved working the Fair Squares booth but now sell water, host in the Hospitality Suite and drive the 1854 Society golf cart shuttle. 

While their family has evolved, so has the Iowa State Fair and they’ve enjoyed seeing renovations take place and crowds grow. Lynn and Elaine attend all 11 days and volunteer almost every day. They strategize and visit different areas of the Fairgrounds, since you just can’t see everything in a day!

A favorite memory is when Hank was made an honorary water boy after he dunked his head in the icy water tank. He was 14 at the time. They always support the farming food vendors - Cattleman’s Beef Quarters, Pork Tent, lamb stand and the Turkey Federation stand.

The family doesn't campers and live in SW Iowa, so for many years they rent a house to save on travel time to/from the Fairgrounds. The kids and grandchildren stay with them, which adds to the great memories.

Dining Delights

May 13, 2024
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There are so many delicious restaurants to try around Iowa. Since moving here, one of my favorites has been “Bravo!” Italian Kitchen nestled in Jordan Creek Mall—a perfect spot for a satisfying post-shopping meal. And for a dessert fix, Crumbl Cookies has become a beloved go-to, especially for us college students seeking a sweet study snack. However, those are only a couple of the numerous delicious places that we have here in Iowa.

Dining Delights at the Corndog Kickoff features multiple popular restaurants in the Des Moines Metro and Central Iowa area. It’s not an event you’ll want to miss – it’s a chance win a gift card to your favorite restaurant or try something completely new. All it takes is a donation of $20, and you’re able to draw a random gift card of $25 or more!

We would like to thank the restaurants who donated in 2023:

  • 7 Stone Pizzeria
  • A & W - Indianola
  • A Taste of Italy
  • Americana
  • Baratta's
  • Barn Town Brewing
  • Biaggi's
  • Big Grove Brewery
  • Bravo
  • Buzzard Billy's
  • Carl's Gizmo
  • Central Iowa KFC, Inc.
  • Central Standard
  • Chicago Speak Easy
  • Crumbl Cookie
  • Dairy Zone
  • Drake Diner
  • Eggs and Jam
  • Exile Brewing Company
  • Fat Charlie's Tavern
  • Felix & Oscars Restaurant
  • Founders Irish Pub
  • Fresko
  • Johnny's Italian Steakhouse
  • Kava Des Moines
  • Latin King
  • Louie's Wine Dive
  • Gastro Grub & Pub
  • Giordano's
  • G'Mig's
  • Grumpy Goat
  • Gusto Pizza Bar
  • Iowa Egg Council
  • Iowa Taproom
  • Maggiano's
  • Maytag Dairy Farms
  • Mitzi's
  • Monterrey Mexican Restaurant
  • Now or Later
  • Olive Garden
  • On the Border
  • Opa!
  • P.F. Changs
  • Parlor Pizza
  • Rita's Cantina
  • Slim Chickens
  • Smashburger
  • Smokey D's
  • Sweet Caroline's Kitchen & Cocktails
  • Taco John's
  • Taste of Italy
  • The Keg Stand
  • The Other Place
  • Trostel's Greenbriar
  • Waterfront Seafood Market
  • Whatcha Smokin' BBQ & Brew
  • What The Fries
  • Whiskey River - Ankeny
  • Zanzibar's

These generous donations have helped us to make the Corndog Kickoff the delightful event that it is, while raising funds for the historic Fairgrounds. We could not do it without you!

Do you have a favorite restaurant that you’d like to see featured in the 2024 Dining Delights? You may purchase a gift card of $20 or more and then donate it to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. That gift card will then be entered into Dining Delights. That way, you’re supporting a local restaurant as well as contributing to the Foundation. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the Fair season!

Also, it’s not too late to buy your tickets to the Corndog Kickoff. Tickets are available to purchase for $100 through June 30 and $125 beginning July 1. Additionally, patrons at the Blue Ribbon level or higher will receive a reserved table at the Kickoff.

We hope to see you there on Saturday, July 13 at 6:30 pm.

To purchase tickets, become a patron or donor, or learn more about the event, visit our Website.

- Lauren McCullum, Donor Relations Intern


Time To Vote

May 8, 2024
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Time to Vote: Thank you to everyone that submitted a design idea for the Iowa State Fair T-Shirt Contest. The Blue Ribbon Foundation was blown away by the creativity and received awesome t-shirt entries from all across the state. The selection committee made a tough decision and narrowed it down to the top five. Now is the time to vote. Between now and May 14, please vote for your favorite. VOTE HERE

You can also cast a vote via our Facebook page

The winner will be announced on May 15. The top three vote-getters will receive Iowa State Fair prize packages.

  • 1st Place - Your shirt design is produced to sell at the Iowa State Fair, 2 t-shirts, 2 gate admission tickets, 2 Fair Value Packs, 2 tickets to the Grandstand concert of your choice, $50 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair
  • 2nd Place - 2 gate admission tickets, $25 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair
  • 3rd Place - 2 gate admission tickets and $25 in food coupons

Again, the winning design will be featured as an official Iowa State Fair t-shirt available for purchase at the Blue Ribbon Foundation's merchandise booths during the Iowa State Fair and online starting on May 15. All proceeds benefit the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Thank you for participating in the contest. Stay tuned for the winner.

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Never a Dull Day at the Fairgrounds

May 7, 2024
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Although the Iowa State Fair is the largest and busiest event at the Fairgrounds, it is not the only one. Many events are hosted on these grounds throughout the year. Just recently, Bacon Fest was held in the Agricultural building. Featuring the Baberhood Bluegrass Band, a Star Wars Costume Contest, and of course a Bacon Eating Contest, it sure was a success. Take a look at some of the events coming up soon:

Polk County Senior Fest: May 15th

Coming up next week is Senior Fest: an annual event designed for those 60 years and older. The day features music, vendor booths, carnival games, BINGO, and more. The event is held in the Varied Industries Building and all attendees receive a nutritious lunch.

34th Annual Iowa Metaphysical Fair: May 18th – 19th

One of the largest and longest-running fairs of its kind, IMF offers goods and services related to holistic health, spirituality, and metaphysics. Admission includes access to over 100 vendor booths, retain therapy, workshops, lectures, and open galleries. The Fair will be held in the 4-H building.

 June Flea Market: June 1st-2nd

Once a month, the Flea Market brings antiques, décor, jewelry, purses, collectables, and more to the 4-  H Building. It is a great way to support local small businesses and find some unique new items!

2024 National Junior High Finals Rodeo: June 23rd – 29th

The Rodeo will be held at various locations on the Fairgrounds. Approximately 1,200 middle school students from around the world will compete in a variety of events, such as Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Goat Tying, Ribbon Roping, Junior Bull Riding, and more. Along with the Rodeo, one of the greatest western tradeshows in the nation will be open to the public in the Varied Industries Building.

Those are only a few examples of the many events that are held here at the Fairgrounds. If you would like to see the full calendar of upcoming events, check out the Iowa State Fairgrounds Event Calendar.

Since the Fairgrounds are constantly hosting events year-round, it’s important that we maintain their conditions, including each building. Every dollar contributed to the Blue Ribbon Foundation goes into maintaining and renovating the buildings that are home to so many wonderful events. Your contributions not only sustain the physical structures, but also preserve the sense of community that drives each event. So, the next time you attend a fundraising event, give a gift, or contribute in any way to the Foundation, know that you are a part of keeping these beautiful Fairgrounds running.

- Lauren McCullum, Donor Relations Intern


Sheep Barn Renovations Are Underway!

May 3, 2024
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I have really enjoyed being able to come in throughout the semester to begin my work in the office and to get comfortable with the many different aspects of the Blue Ribbon Foundation. In addition to learning about merchandise and sponsorship, I have also been learning about the various ways the public can donate to support renovations throughout the Fairgrounds. One of these ways of donation is through the “Back the Barns” campaign.

The “Back the Barns” campaign allows people to give back in a way that is guaranteed to benefit the youth and adults in agriculture that participate during the State Fair each year. The funds are used to renovate and improve the livestock barns so that we can continue the legacy of having high quality livestock shows. As a past 4-H and FFA member who showed cattle, goats, and pigs growing up, this is super exciting as I continue to come back to watch the livestock shows each year.

Currently there are plans to improve the sheep, horse, swine, and cattle barns throughout the upcoming years. In fact, the sheep barn is going through intensive upgrades from top-to-bottom right now. This includes improved office spaces, installation of underground storm sewers, new roofing, remodeled and new restrooms, repainting, and more!

We would greatly appreciate if you considered giving to this cause as we continue to improve the grounds for fairgoers each year. This campaign makes it easy as you have opportunity to donate a total of $3,000 in three different ways and can decide dependent on what works best for you. Those who donate will receive a special belt buckle and will be listed as a donor on a kiosk at the conclusion of the project. The donation options are listed below:

  • A one-time $3,000 gift
  • An annual gift of $1,000 for a 3-year term
  • Quarterly gifts of $250 for a 3-year-term

You can find more information about donating on our website at Feel free to also call our office at (515) 262-3111 Ext. 371 or stop by our office with any questions. Your generosity is greatly appreciated by many! Be sure to look at the picture below to see the enhanced look of the sheep barn after renovations to the roof, the windows, and more. It will be exciting to see the final product at the conclusion of the renovations!


- Jayce Reed, Business Relations Intern

A Piece of the Puzzle

May 2, 2024
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As we enter the month of May, the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction is inching closer. A combination of good food, music, and tradition, the Kickoff is the perfect way to start the season. This year’s theme, “A Piece of the Puzzle”, symbolizes the millions of pieces of the fair that will come together to create a singular, remarkable event! We have already received so many generous donations, from beautiful quilts and art pieces to vouchers for local attractions. It’s been wonderful to see these items come in, each with their own personal touch and connection to the Fair.

There are many ways you can participate in the Kickoff. If you would like to make a donation, you can find the form here, or feel free to stop by and grab a paper copy. Are you looking for some inspiration on what to donate? Popular items include tickets to a sporting event or concert, behind-the-scenes experiences, and themed baskets. Feel free to get creative with this! You may also participate as a patron by supporting the event with a cash donation. Click here to view the patron benefits and how to become one! 

If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll be interested in Dining Delights: a gift card pull featuring restaurants here in Iowa. If you have a favorite restaurant that you’d like to feature, we are still collecting gift cards of $20 or more. We already have a fantastic variety of places such as Whiskey River and Sweet Caroline’s (one of my favorites!).

We hope to see you at the Kickoff on Saturday, July 13th at the Varied Industries building. Tickets may be purchased online, via mail, phone, or at the event. Don’t miss out!

- Lauren McCullum, Donor Relations Intern

Nominate an Iowan Today!

April 26, 2024
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Growing up in Albia, Iowa, my community was made up of several different local heroes that dedicated many hours each year to the success and unity of Albia. One of these people was my great uncle, Bob Reed. Bob loved his community and made this very evident through activities such as serving on the Monroe County Fairboard, serving as President of the Albia Chamber of Commerce for 3 years, being active during the annual Restoration Days celebration, and doing random acts of kindness expecting nothing in return. It was because of his hard work that he was selected to win the Iowan of the Day award in 1999.

Do you know people like my Uncle Bob that are constantly putting their community and others before themselves? The Iowan of the Day program honors these community heroes and allows them to be recognized for their timeless leadership and service within the community. However, in order for us to do this, we need your help! Please nominate your local leaders by July 1st. Nominees must reside in Iowa and will be considered for three years following the year they are nominated.

With the support of Cookies Food Products, we honor an Iowan of the Day on ten different days of the Iowa State Fair. In addition to being recognized on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage, each winner also receives the following:

  • Four Iowa State Fair admission tickets
  • Four grandstand show tickets for their day
  • Use of the Iowan of the Day golf cart for the day
  • VIP Parking
  • Accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown
  • $200 cash

More information, as well as the nomination form, can be found on the Iowa Blue Ribbon Foundation website here. You can also stop by our office or call us at 515-262-3111 ext. 37 to request a nomination form or to ask any questions you may have. We look forward to learning about your Iowa communities and those who have showed extraordinary efforts within it! Do not forget those nominations are due by July 1st!

- Jayce Reed, Business Relations Intern

One Week Left!

April 23, 2024
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Happy Tuesday! Are you still thinking about entering the T-Shirt Design Contest?  It’s not too late – you still have one week left to submit your designs before May 1! Everyone has a creative side; what better way to show it off than at the Iowa State Fair?  Grab a friend, family member, or coworker and make a day of it! The winning design comes with more than just bragging rights – the first place T-Shirt will be sold at the Fair! However, that’s not all... check out the prizes for first, second and third place:

  • 1st Place
    • Your T-shirt design is produced and sold at the Iowa State Fair
    • 2 T-shirts, 2 Gate Admission Tickets, 2 Fair Value Packs, 2 Tickets to a Grandstand Concert of Your Choice, $50 in Food Coupons, and Parking for a Select Day of the Fair
  • 2nd Place
    • 2 Gate Admission Tickets, $25 in Food Coupons and Parking for a Select Day of the Fair
  • 3rd Place
    • 2 Gate Admission Tickets and $25 in Food Coupons

Now those sounds like some sweet deals to me! This is a great way to get yourself and friends in the State Fair mood as we have finally escaped that persistent Iowa winter weather. Goodbye Winter Blues, hello Fair Fever!

If those prizes aren’t enticing enough, proceeds from the winning T-Shirt sales will support The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s efforts to preserve and improve the historic Fairgrounds. Wouldn’t it be awesome if an item designed by you ended up supporting a good cause too? That’s what I call a win-win.

For further explanation of the rules and guidelines, click here.

If you have any questions, you may email or call (515) 262-3111 Ext 371. 

Designs may be sent to or by mail to the following address:

                Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation
                PO Box 57130
                Des Moines, IA 50317

We are so excited to see your creative designs!

National Volunteer Week!

April 19, 2024
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In honor of the upcoming National Volunteer Week, we would like to extend a special thank you to all of the volunteers who show their hard work and dedication each year!

In the past, we have only requested volunteers for the Corndog Kickoff and during the Iowa State Fair. However, with the willingness of our generous volunteers, we have also been able to expand these tasks into April and May. This past week, we have had volunteers hard at work maintaining the grounds. Volunteers spent their time pulling weeds, clearing away leaves, and trimming trees in preparation for planting flowers in May. This was greatly appreciated and a big help for our two staff horticulturists- Charlie McInroy and Aaron Sudbrock. We love having all hands on deck during these early months of preparation.

Volunteers are truly the backbone to our operation. Whether it is now, at the Corndog Kickoff in July or at the Iowa State Fair in August, everyone’s role is so incredibly important. In fact, the volunteers are what make this all possible as the Foundation only has a team of eight people during the summer. In order for everything to go smoothly and get done well, we need you!

As summer quickly approaches, we will be looking for volunteers to help us out very, very soon! Volunteering allows you to give back to the Foundation so we can continue our mission of Fairgrounds improvements. As a volunteer, you are able to interact with many fairgoers and have fun! You will also receive a free T-shirt, an admission ticket and a parking pass for the day. Therefore, you are able to soak up all of the fair fun before or after your shift!

For more information on how to volunteer, please visit our website at Feel free to also call our office at (515) 262-3111 Ext. 371 or stop by our office with any questions. The 2024 Volunteer Sign-Up will open on May 22nd, so be sure to mark your calendars as the time slots go fast.

We truly could not do it without each of our volunteers. We are so thankful for your continuous support! We look forward to seeing you this year at the Iowa State Fair, but in the meantime, enjoy some pictures of our awesome volunteers helping around the Fairgrounds this past week!