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.

Renovate & Preserve

January 12, 2021
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As tax time approaches, it’s also time for Iowans to consider supporting the preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a donation through the Corndog Tax Checkoff.

Throughout its history, the Iowa State Fair has served to educate, inform, and entertain visitors from all walks of life. From the first fair in Fairfield in 1854, to 1886 when it found a permanent home, to today, the Iowa State Fair has been our state’s outstanding salute to agriculture, industry, and achievement.

But a long history and annually hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors takes a toll. The Fairgrounds continue to need the financial generosity and commitment of Fair lovers who support preservation and renovation projects. Through the Corndog Tax Checkoff, it’s easy to make a donation to ensure these vital efforts continue. Every dollar is directed to preserving the historic Fairgrounds.

Whether you complete your state tax forms yourself or involve a professional tax preparer, the Blue Ribbon Foundation asks Iowans to consider making a donation to ensure the Fair remains a thriving tradition for generations to come. Look for “State Fair” on line 57b on Form 1040. Donations are deducted from a refund or added to the amount due, plus are fully tax-deductible on next year’s tax forms.

For 28 years, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has been raising funds in support of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. From the preservation of Grandfather’s Barn in 1994 to the enclosure of the Varied Industries Building in 2001 to the complete renovation of the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building in 2020, one by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were saved from the ravages of time and upgraded for modern use. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds the best in the nation.

Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation with a Corndog Checkoff donation. 


Save the Date

January 4, 2021
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Happy New Year! The Blue Ribbon Foundation hopes everyone had a wonderful holiday. As you start to make plans for 2021, please add these dates to your calendar.

March 31: Deadline for Giving Programs - Celebrate your Fair-loving family with an engraved brick or paver on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Check out the newest program, Spirit of Generosity donor wall inside the 4-H Building. The deadline to have an item in place by the 2021 Iowa State Fair is March 31.

April 15: Deadline to file your Taxes - The Corndog Checkoff provides an easy way to contribute to the Blue Ribbon Foundation through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return. Look for “State Fair” on line 57b on Iowa Form 1040. Every dollar donated is directed to preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

June: Volunteers - Although we don’t have a specific sign-up date or deadline yet, the month of June is when the Blue Ribbon Foundation starts to recruit volunteers. Each year, more than 500 Fairgoers donate their time and energy by helping sell merchandise and bottled water at the Foundation's many stands. We’d love to have your help.

July 1: Iowan of the Day Nomination Deadline - There are so many people across Iowa that contribute to making our cities, towns, and our state a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Now, more than ever - the Blue Ribbon Foundation wants to recognize the most deserving. Start working on your Iowan of the Day application now so we can honor the outstanding volunteer in your life. The deadline to submit your application is July 1. 

July 10: Corndog Kickoff - The Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party is a fun-filled night with your favorite Fair foods and a variety of unique auction packages to satisfy any State Fair enthusiast. As our largest fundraiser, this event gets you ready for the Iowa State Fair while making future renovation projects a possibility.

August 12-22: Iowa State Fair - The Blue Ribbon Foundation is planning new and fun ways to engage donors during the Iowa State Fair! We will sell merchandise, host BINGO, and show off all of the improvement projects completed. Stay tuned for more updates over the next 8 months.

These are just a few of the many fundraising opportunities the Blue Ribbon Foundation has planned for the year. Details about all of these exciting events and programs can be found on our website:

P.S. Are you getting our monthly ENews? If not, sign up on our website. It's the best way to stay up to date!


Celebrating 2020

December 29, 2020
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The year 2020 might be remembered as one of the most chaotic and heartbreaking. People, businesses and special events, like the Iowa State Fair, all suffered. In all honesty, it was the worst year many of us have ever experienced.

However, in trying to keep a positive attitude – the Blue Ribbon Foundation did have a few things to celebrate this year.

Online Benefit Auction: When we realized we wouldn’t be able to gather at the normal Corndog Kickoff, the Blue Ribbon Foundation created the first (and hopefully last) "No Fair - I Do Care!" Benefit Auction. 

Donors rallied behind the Foundation by donating exciting auction packages that displayed talents and highlighted many businesses. Supporters embraced the new technology and did their bidding online. The auction generation $65,560 for Fairgrounds renovations. Whether you won a package or not, your participation and support made a difference. Thank you.

“Big Challenges, Bigger Vision” Fundraising Campaign: It’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at the Iowa State Fair’s To-Do List. There are constant improvements that need to be done to keep the grounds functioning. Maintaining the buildings, barns and streets within the 445 acres is a challenge.

With this unique fundraising campaign, the Blue Ribbon Foundation took time to reflect on our mission, goals and vision for the future. Donors joined us in raising more than $50,000 for needed projects to keep the Fairgrounds moving in the right direction. Thank you.

Iowa State Fair Souvenirs: When you can’t visit the Iowa State Fair, bring the Fair home to you. And that’s just what donors did! I can imagine Fair families, staying home, putting together the Iowa State Fair puzzle or playing the State Fair game. All while wearing their matching chocolate chip cookie socks and Butter Cow Stocking Hats.

Shipping thousands of packages across the country kept staff busy this summer and holiday season. We enjoyed the challenge of turning our office into a mini Amazon warehouse. All while knowing we were putting smiles on faces - the kind of smiles only the Iowa State Fair can create.

So what is the Blue Ribbon Foundation most thankful for in 2020? Hands down - our donors! 

The Foundation was flooded with support throughout the year. In addition to monetary contributions, donors reached out to share their favorite Iowa State Fair memories. With the disappointment of the cancelation, also came excitement about the future. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Soon we will be able to look back, reflect on what we learned in 2020 and be thankful for the years to come. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation and believing in our mission to keep the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds a special place for today’s Fair lover and the next generation. Happy New Year!


Iowans across the Country

December 23, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation sells the official Iowa State Fair souvenirs as a fundraiser for our organization. In a normal year, we would set up six stands across the Fairgrounds and provide Fairgoers with t-shirts, hats, and all sorts of merchandise to commemorate their visit to the event.

True Iowa State Fair fans take pride in their State Fair collectibles and the Foundation knew they wouldn’t want a year missing in the collection. With 2020 charms, lapel pins, ornaments, and all sorts of goodies – Iowans purchased items in the online State Fair Store.

Most of the summer and this holiday season, I’ve felt like an Amazon worker. I developed quite the system for downloading orders, gathering merchandise, boxing and creating shipping labels. (A big shout-out to ISF employee, Kenny, for making countless trips to the post office to deliver packages!)

I’d say Iowans are our main customers but these packages are not just staying within the state. In 2020, I have shipped merchandise to 38 states across the country!

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, and Wisconsin

WOW! If we didn’t need proof before…the Iowa State Fair is truly loved by so many. I wonder how many of these supporters are original Iowans that have moved or outsiders that love our event so much they could not go without their annual souvenir.

Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation with your purchases through the online State Fair Store. Staff are already working on fun and creative merchandise for 2021. Enjoy your little piece of the Iowa State Fair throughout the year – we’ll see you in August!


History worth preserving. A future worth creating.

December 15, 2020
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Let's not forget the Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. Annually attracting more than a million people from all over the world, the Iowa State Fair is a great celebration, a salute to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement.

It is the true heartbeat of the Midwest, unequaled and unduplicated. (Just in case we needed a reminder.)

Over the past 160 years the Iowa State Fair has grown, reflecting the development and growth of our great state. What will the next 160 years hold?

You can help determine these future developments by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission to improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Work is still needed on many buildings as we look forward to what the future will bring.

Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation's "Big Challenges - Bigger Vision" Fundraising Campaign. This growing base of donors leads our charge to renovate and preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. A gift of $25, $50, or $100 will secure Iowa State Fair family traditions for the next generation. Donate Today

Thank you!


Wrapping up 2020, Looking Forward to 2021!

December 4, 2020
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Help the Blue Ribbon Foundation keep the stories of past Fair-lovers alive and ready for a grand future by participating in our “Big Challenges– Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign. Join your Fair story with ours in support of the Foundation’s mission to renovate and repair the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

All contributions are valuable and make an impact! Look at what 27 years of support has done already! Donations have helped with small projects like repairing sidewalks, adding air-conditioning or replacing a broken light fixture. These same donations have also helped support large-scale renovations and construction of new buildings such as the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center and the newly renovated Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building.

2020 Renovations:

  • Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building: The 4-H Building has been completely renovated. A portion of the south exterior wall was removed, creating space for a new kitchen facility, storage area and loading bays. An expansion to the west added classroom space, and the interior of the building was revitalized from top to bottom with new lighting, floors and updated restrooms. 
  • Cookie Kitchen: This brand new 4,800 sq. ft. building along Grand Avenue is the main facility for baking the world famous “Barksdale’s State Fair Cookies.” Fairgoers will be able to peek inside through large windows to see cookies baking and purchase a fresh cup or bucket.
  • Livestock Pavilion Restroom: The east restroom updates included tiling the walls, installing metallic epoxy flooring, replacing the toilet partitions, adding solid surface sinks, new counters and improving the electrical fixtures.
  • Reichardt Family Giant Slide: The beloved Giant Slide has moved. The new home for the slide is on the north side of the Walnut Center and west of the Snakes Alive and Railroad Building. This location provides expanded space for riders and spectators.

Upcoming Projects:

  • Pioneer Hall: Pioneer Hall was built in 1886 for the first Iowa State Fair at its permanent location. Of the 67 buildings constructed for that Fair, only Pioneer Hall remains. Routine maintenance is done on the historic structure to keep it functional. Future plans include replacing siding and windows on the west side of the building.
  • Agriculture Building: 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. Crews started reroofing an area of the building in 2018, completed a second section in 2019 and will finish the project in the next year.

Thank you to the following donors that are taking on the challenge and sharing our vision for the future! The Blue Ribbon Foundation will continue the “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign through the end of 2020. Please consider joining our mission. Donate Today -  Thank you!



Holiday Gift Ideas

November 24, 2020
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Are you making a list and checking it twice? The Blue Ribbon Foundation has unique and creative ways to give the person on your Christmas list the perfect gift. Whether you want an Iowa State Fair keepsake or to leave a lasting legacy, there are several ways to support the Foundation’s goal of raising funds to improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

State Fair Store: The Blue Ribbon Foundation manages the merchandise sold in the State Fair Store. Apparel, books, charms, collectibles, hats, and all sorts of fun Iowa State Fair souvenirs. The Foundation is now selling three different Holiday Gift Packages.

  • #1 Holiday Gift Package - $20: This is for the State Fair foodie; this package includes a 2020 Barksdale's State Fair Chocolate Chip Cookie ornament and matching socks.
  • #2 Holiday Gift Package - $27: This package is for the youngest Iowa State Fair fan in your family including the new Fairfield and Friends Ribbon Quest children's book and a Butter Cow stuffed animal.
  • #3 Holiday Gift Package - $35: With an Iowa State Fair puzzle, Butter Cow socks and the brand new Butter Cow stocking hat - this gift will make any avid Fairgoer smile.

Each of these special merchandise packages includes $3 in savings. You can create your own holiday gift package by ordering some of the other fun Iowa State Fair souvenirs in the online State Fair Store.

Giving Programs: What about the person on your list that has everything? The Foundation’s various giving programs are the perfect way for the Fair lover in your life to have their name on a piece of the Fairgrounds. Check out the different options:

  • Block by Block – Individual donor wall plaques create a quilt inside the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center to match the building’s exterior 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 placed in 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 – 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 Jacobson Plaza.
  • Spirit of Generosity –More like a piece of art, the panel is a representation of Iowa, demonstrating how independent pieces come together to create our great state and its Fair. Give a donation to recognize the 4-H’er in your Fair family.
  • 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.

When you donate to one or more of Blue Ribbon Foundation’s giving programs, you are investing in the success of the Iowa State Fair, Iowa’s most celebrated tradition.

Thank you and happy shopping!



2021 Internships

November 18, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking forward and making plans for 2021. With ideas in motion for next summer's Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Iowa State Fair, we are going to need help! In addition to our full time staff and volunteers – we would like interns to join our team.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation will offer its internship program for college students. These internships provide a hands-on opportunity to apply organizational, administrative and creative skills while obtaining significant experience in business, communication, marketing, event planning and sponsorship management.

This is not your typical internship. Each intern will be a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, working directly with staff, coordinating select projects, and making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair.

The four internship positions are outlined below.

  • Public Relations: Publicize and coordinate the Iowan of the Day program. Promote other events with various communication materials.
  • Donor Relations: Coordinate special events, donor communications and correspondence with the corporate sector.
  • Volunteer Relations: Schedule and manage more than 600 volunteers for events.
  • Sponsor Relations: Assist with sponsorship planning process, including marketing, communications and hospitality. Develop informational materials and maintain sponsor profiles. Oversee the logistics of the wholesale water program.

If you know a hard-working, motivated college student who loves the Fair, make sure they are aware of the Foundation’s internship opportunities for 2021. The deadline to apply is November 30.

Do you recognize any of our previous interns?


Holiday Gift Packages

November 12, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is now selling three different Holiday Gift Packages, perfect for the Iowa State Fair lover in your life.

#1 Holiday Gift Package - $20: This is for the State Fair foodie; this package includes a 2020 Barksdale State Fair Chocolate Chip Cookie ornament and matching socks.


#2 Holiday Gift Package - $27: This package is for the youngest Iowa State Fair fan in your family. It includes the new Fairfield and Friends: Ribbon Quest children's book and a Butter Cow stuffed animal.


#3 Holiday Gift Package - $35: With an Iowa State Fair puzzle, Butter Cow socks and the brand new Butter Cow stocking hat - this gift will make any avid Fairgoer smile.


Each of these special merchandise packages includes $3 in savings. You can create your own holiday gift package by ordering some of the other fun Iowa State Fair souvenirs in the online State Fair Store.

Merchandise purchased in the State Fair Store goes directly toward the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of renovating and preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Thank you.


Butter Cow History

November 3, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation sure missed the Butter Cow this summer. Yes, we celebrated our favorite Iowa State Fair icon with the adorable stuffed Butter Cow, funny Butter Cow Security Hat and cozy Butter Cow socks but this famous part of the Fair has a unique history. How much do you know about the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow?

In 1911, J.K. Daniels sculpted the Fair's first butter cow and was succeeded by J.E. Wallace of Florida. In 1957, Earl Frank Dutt of Illinois took over the sculpting duties. Norma “Duffy” Lyon of Toledo, Iowa, began sculpting in 1960, becoming the first woman to sculpt the Fair's butter beauties. In 2006, after 15 years of apprenticing with Duffy, Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines became the Fair's fifth butter sculptor. Only five people have had the job in more than 100 years, now that’s impressive!

The world-famous Butter Cow is located in the Agriculture Building. It starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about 5-1/2-ft high and 8-ft long. Each year, much of the butter is recycled and can be reused for up to 10 years. (I have personally smelled inside the cooler and it has a “unique” odor.)

In addition to the Butter Cow, a companion sculpture also graces the Agriculture Building coolers.

Companion Sculptures by Year:

  • 1996 — Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” (honoring Iowa’s Sesquicentennial)
  • 1997 — Elvis Presley
  • 1998 — An American eagle
  • 1999 — Duffy’s own version of Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”
  • 2000 — Christian Peterson's “The Gentle Doctor” statue (Petersen was Duffy’s mentor)
  • 2001— John Wayne
  • 2002 — The Peanuts Gang
  • 2003 — A Harley-Davidson motorcycle (in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary)
  • 2004 — A birthday cake in honor of the Fair’s Sesquicentennial and an Iowa barn
  • 2005 — Tiger Woods
  • 2006 — “Mr. State Fair” Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair) and Superman (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh)
  • 2007 — Harry Potter
  • 2008 — Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and a tribute to four Iowans who changed the face of the world’s agriculture: Etta May Budd, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug
  • 2009 — A tribute to the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon
  • 2010 —Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (in honor of its 50th anniversary)
  • 2011 — A replica of the 1911 butter cow sculptures. A sculpture of a young girl as a tribute to Norma “Duffy” Lyon.
  • 2012 — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (75th anniversary of the Disney film)
  • 2013 — A tribute to the Historic Lincoln Highway (and President Lincoln)
  • 2014 — A celebration of the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams
  • 2015 — A celebration of the 80th anniversary of Monopoly
  • 2016 — A celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek
  • 2017 — A celebration of the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder and a replica of the Solheim Cup as the tournament visited Des Moines.
  • 2018 — 100th anniversary of John Deere entering the tractor business with a replica of the Waterloo Boy Tractor.
  • 2019 — A celebration of 50 years of Sesame Street.

When you order official Iowa State Fair merchandise in the online State Fair Store, you keep the spirit of the Butter Cow alive year round while also supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission.