Volunteer Spotlight

May 14, 2024
drewnorton's picture

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.