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 $195 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.

Special People, Special Memories 

January 17, 2023
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We all have those people in our lives that we depend on every day. The friends that go above and beyond to help with whatever is needed. The neighbor that not only does the favor but also does a little bit extra to make our lives easier.   

Are any of these special people also Iowa State Fair fans? What about your family member that never misses a Fair and sometimes attends 9, 10 or even all 11 days. Do you have a sister that typically goes to a Grandstand concert but wants to get to the Fairgrounds for breakfast on the same day? Or a cousin that is up for the challenge of eating all of the new Fair foods featured on-a-stick each year? 

Or maybe you helped your son show his pigs during his 4-H and FFA years in school and now you sit in the stands watching your grandson show the same breed.  

The Iowa State Fair is made up of special people that have precious memories. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s job is to preserve those memories and make sure families all across Iowa can continue to make more in the future.  

To those special people (and Fair lovers) in your life, no matter how many times you thank them – it never seems enough. Consider making a gift to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation in their honor. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the special Fairgoer in your life while supporting Fairgrounds renovations. 

Here are three donor wall plaques that can show appreciation to your loved one. 

Growing Our Future: Ruan Plaza, a greenspace bordering the east side of the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building, made its Fair debut in 2015. A retaining wall between the Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center and the Plaza will now showcase “Growing Our Future”, a program designed to add a vibrant and artful display to the grounds.  

Seven different levels of giving are available, with each customized ¼” aluminum plaque working together to create the overall design. Distinguished by two different sized plaques, each level is recognized with colored “leaves”. The leaves allow for two lines of inscription and can become more personalized on the larger pieces. Donate Here. 

Block By Block: The donor wall is inspired by the barn quilts that hang on the exterior of the Exhibition Center, which represent Iowa’s heritage and strength in agriculture. Just as the structure was built block by block, this unique, decorative wall is a symbol of how individual contributions like yours help piece together projects to make Fairgrounds renovations possible! 

Six different levels of giving are available for the donor wall in the Jacobson Exhibition Center. With each incremental donation level, the plaques increase in size and allow for a more personalized inscription. Donate Here. 

Spirit of Generosity: The “Spirit of Generosity” giving program is designed to honor the character and generous spirit of Iowans. 

Located in the west atrium of the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, the “Spirit of Generosity” panel is a representation of Iowa, demonstrating how independent pieces come together to create our great state and its Fair.  The Blue Ribbon Foundation invites you to support our mission to renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds, keeping it a place where future generations can showcase their talents. Donate Here. 

Thank you for supporting the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. You and your Iowa State Fair memories will always be special to us.  

(Pictured: Just a few of my close friends that love to attend the Iowa State Fair and have fun while I'm working!)

Three "BRF" things to know in January!

January 11, 2023
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Welcome 2023! Here are three Blue Ribbon Foundation things to know for January. 

Deadline Extended:

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has extended our internship application deadline to January 31. We have already hired two interns to join our team this summer and would like to add one more to the group.

Each intern will be a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having significant responsibility for integral programs with the goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair.

Interns will coordinate special events, promote fundraising programs and assist with Iowa State Fair sponsors. Each intern will also be responsible for a variety of social media and marketing initiatives.

Other tasks include database administration, organization of the fundraising auction and merchandise design. It's a busy summer and the Blue Ribbon Foundation promises each student will gain valuable work experience. Plus we have lots of fun because it IS the Iowa State Fair!

Applications due January 31 - Learn More

20 Donors Needed:

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for 100 donors to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. We’ve had 80 donors join the team and only need 20 more!

Money raised from the 2023 T.A.G. Team will be used to renovate the north and east exterior doors of the Agriculture Building.

The updated doors will be detailed with proper craftsmanship to match the historic style. Each custom door will be engineered for function and longevity, following accessibility guidelines. The new doors will enable better security and provide weather-proofing to fix previous issues of large gaps and easy to pop locks.

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.

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

It’s Corndog Time: 

We aren’t talking about a hotdog on a stick but the Tax Checkoff. As a Corndog Checkoff Tax Program donor, your commitment is what makes the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of renovating the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds successful.

We invite you to continue to support that mission. The Corndog Checkoff provides an easy way to contribute to ongoing renovation efforts through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return.

Please consider donating when completing your 2023 taxes. Look for “State Fair” on Line 57b on Iowa Form 1040. Every dollar donated is directed to preserving the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Read More.

Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2022
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Happy Holidays! With the sun setting on 2022, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation wishes you a joyful holiday and a happy new year!

Thank you for supporting our mission of preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. We are excited about 2023 and look forward to the many future improvements made possible because of your generosity.

Below are a few of our favorite snapshots from the 2022 Iowa State Fair. Only 231 days to go!

Thank you!

Thank You!

November 18, 2022
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It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. Go to work, pay bills, take care of chores around the house, rinse and repeat. And as busy as we are, it’s easy to forget that the whole reason we do these obligatory tasks is so that we can have time to slow down and appreciate the people around us; the people in our lives who make that daily grind worthwhile.

Fortunately, from time to time, there are days where the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation can’t help but notice and appreciate our friends, donors, and volunteers who inspire our organization.

Thanksgiving is one of those days.

We are overwhelmed with thankfulness because we are surrounded by Iowans willing to support our mission. You trust the Foundation to keep your family traditions and memories alive.

On this day of giving thanks, and all the days in between, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is extremely grateful for you. From all of us at the Blue Ribbon Foundation to all of you…Happy Thanksgiving!

List of Donors: Please join us in thanking the incredible donors that have supported our organization in 2022.

These individuals and businesses have attended the Corndog Kickoff, participated in a giving program, purchased merchandise, have given a memorial gift or simply supported our mission with a donation.

The list is a true testament to the love Iowans have for their Iowa State Fair. Thank you.

Click Here to see the full list.

Join Our Mission: Please consider joining our mission to renovate and preserve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy. Donate Today

Online Pottery Auction

November 8, 2022
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s Pottery Auction starts on Thursday, November 10. Have you signed up to participate? 

These collectible pieces would be a special addition to your current pottery collection or a beautiful gift to any Iowa State Fair enthusiast.

Maybe you have a fun connection to one of the pieces or a specific year. I was a Blue Ribbon Foundation intern in 2011 (Beehive Jug). I started as a full time employee in 2013 (Stein). I enjoy planting flowers every spring. The 2002 Large Flower Pot or the 2020 Flower Pot with Saucer would be great additions to my front porch.

Just remember, it’s more than a pottery piece. These donations go toward continued improvements on the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The Details: The pottery auction will run Thursday, November 10 beginning at 10:00 a.m. (CST) to Sunday, November 13 at 8:00 p.m.

Bidding is only done online through this website. To bid, you must register as a bidder and provide the required information on the form, including a valid credit card number.

In addition to the collectible pottery pieces, a few other specialty items are include in the online auction.

  • Mini matchstick holder crocks
  • Iowa State Fair Sesquicentennial Red Wing Pitcher
  • One-of–a-kind sample design pieces made by various potters
  • Corndog Kickoff pottery pieces

Thank you in advance for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation through the pottery auction.

Fall Newsletter Flashback!

October 31, 2022
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Be sure to read this fall’s newsletter to catch up on the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s fundraising efforts and Fairgrounds improvement projects. Included in this blog is a flashback to what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was doing 10 and 20 years ago.

Fall 2022:

  • Iowan of the Day Program: One summer highlight included honoring 10 Iowans during the 2022 Iowa State Fair. This program has been going strong for 20+ years! Thanks to Speed Herrig with Cookies Food Products for partnering with the Foundation for so many years to honor the most deserving Iowans.
  • Corndog Kickoff Highlights: Raising $797,000 is no easy task! Thank you to the patrons, concessionaires, auction donors and volunteers for making the 2022 event such a success. Are there any supporters that have attended each and every Corndog Kickoff?
  • Interns: Each year the Blue Ribbon Foundation hires interns to join our team. Learn more - the deadline to apply is November 30.

Flashback 10 years ago – Fall 2012:

  • Fairgrounds 5K: The Foundation was promoting one of our more “exhausting” fundraisers. Haha!
  • Expo Hill:  This area was updated for the 2012 Iowa State Fair. Fairgoers enjoyed the covered stage entertainment, which Fairgoers are still enjoying to this day.
  • Merchandise: Iowa State Fair souvenirs change over time to reflect what is popular for buyers. The Iowa State Fair cookbook remains one of the most popular merchandise items, even after 10 years. Start Shopping Online. 
    • You can also purchase merchandise at our office. Just let us know what day you plan to stop by and we will have the items ready for you. Our office is located on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the Earth Home (under the wind turbine, by the Cultural Center and Fun Forest). We are open Monday – Friday from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.

Flashback 20 years ago – Fall 2002:

  • Legacy Terrace: Fairgoers enjoyed the renovations in front of the Grandstand. During the 2002 Iowa State Fair, there was a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony for the new Legacy Terrace space.
  • Bells Goes to the Fair: Susan Knapp wrote the children’s book, Bells Goes to the Fair. The books were sold and the proceeds donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation.
  • Volunteers: Thank you to the many volunteers that sell bottled water and merchandise during the Iowa State Fair. In 2002, more than 350 Fair-lovers donated their time to support our mission. That number has grown to nearly 600 in 20 years!


Programs have grown, new projects have developed and things have changed over the years. One thing that remains constant - the loyalty of Blue Ribbon Foundation donors and volunteers. Thank you for your support!

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!

October 26, 2022
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is holding a special online auction this fall.

Since 1996,  Iowa State Fair fans have been purchasing handmade pieces of pottery in support of Iowa State Fairgrounds renovations. Over the years, select pieces have been given back to the Blue Ribbon Foundation to use once again for the benefit of our renovation efforts. This online auction showcases some of those pieces, including the very first piece from 1996.

Online Pottery Auction

Is your pottery collection complete? Here is the list of every Iowa State Fair pottery piece:

  • 2022 - Water Carafe
  • 2021 - Bird House
  • 2020 - Flower Pot
  • 2019 - Oil Dispenser
  • 2018 - Plate
  • 2017 - Piggy Bank
  • 2016 - Mortar & Pestle
  • 2015 - Square Canister
  • 2014 - Oval Pitcher
  • 2013 - Stein
  • 2012 - Compost Pot
  • 2011 - Small Beehive Jug
  • 2010 - Butter Churn
  • 2009 - Wine Chiller
  • 2008 - Pottery Pot
  • 2007 - Vase
  • 2006 - Utensil Holder
  • 2005 - Baking Dish
  • 2004 - Bread Pan
  • 2003 - Bowl
  • 2002 - Flower Pot
  • 2001 - 2-Quart Pitcher
  • 2000 - Butter Crock
  • 1999 - Covered Bean Pot
  • 1998 - Porringer (bowl with spout and handle)
  • 1997 - Pie Plate
  • 1996 - Utensil Jar

This special pottery auction will run Thursday, November 10 beginning at 10:00 a.m. (CST) to Sunday, November 13 at 8:00 p.m. Bidding is only done online through this website. To bid, you must register as a bidder and provide the required information on the form, including a valid credit card number.

In addition to the collectible pottery pieces, a few other specialty items are include in the online auction.

  • Mini matchstick holder crocks
  • Iowa State Fair Sesquicentennial Red Wing Pitcher
  • One-of–a-kind sample design pieces made by various potters
  • Corndog Kickoff pottery pieces

Thank you in advance for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation through the pottery auction. These donations go toward continued improvements on the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

We’re Hiring!

October 19, 2022
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for college students to join our staff as interns next year. We plan to hire three spring semester/summer interns to help prepare for the 2023 Corndog Kickoff and Iowa State Fair.

DISCLAIMER: This is not your typical internship!

Each intern will become a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having direct responsibility for integral Foundation programs with the goal of making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Foundation would not be successful without the help of our interns. Since the program started in 1993, the positions have adjusted to fit the growing needs of the Foundation. Below is an outline of the current positions.

  • 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.
  • Sponsor Relations: Assist with sponsorship planning process, including marketing, communications and hospitality. Develop informational materials and maintain sponsor profiles.

An important aspect to the Foundation’s internship is that each student is able to utilize their existing skills when completing a project. Interns work independently and have the opportunity to take ownership of a specific task. At the same time, we challenge our interns to expand their skills by completing projects they might not have a previous knowledge of. (As a staff, we do our best to prepare students for the real world working environment.)

There is a wide range of tasks each intern will complete including social media, marketing initiatives, organization of fundraising auction, designing merchandise and other event materials. An intern will organize the Woodcarvers’ Auction, create event invitations and advertising materials.

Previous interns are currently working at: Amazon, American Royal, Caesar Entertainment, Dotdash Meredith, Farm Credit Services of America, Flynn Wright, Freeman, Heritage House-A WesleyLife Community, Jeid Studio, Lessing-Flynn, Mahaska Soil & Water Conservation District, Office of the Governor, PDM Precast Inc, PepsiCo, Realtor - Misty SOLDwisch, Two Rivers Marketing, UnityPoint Health, Windsor Valley Dairy…the list goes on and on.

After graduation, some interns completed graduate school, moved across the country or stayed in Iowa to start their career. There are several previous interns that now volunteer with the Foundation or have other connections to the Iowa State Fair – sponsors, exhibitors or just avid Fairgoers!

If you know of a college student looking for an internship, encourage them to apply - Internship Information. (Applications will be accepted until November 30.)

P.S. Two former interns are now full-time Blue Ribbon Foundation staff members! 

2022 Iowa State Fair Recap: August 20, 21

October 10, 2022
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The last weekend of the Iowa State Fair is bittersweet. It’s a mix of exhaustion, more hustle and a little bit melancholy that it’s all almost over.

Our final Iowan of the Day was on Saturday. (The Fair is months away but it’s never too early to think about nominating the outstanding volunteer in your community. You can celebrate your hometown hero in a special way at the 2023 Iowa State Fair.)

Jeannine Liljedahl – Essex: For 20 years, Jeannine has volunteered with the Community Food Pantry. She is the co-founder and director of the Little Red Wagon where meals are delivered to homebound residents. She manages approximately 100 volunteers and serves up to 2,000 meals every year. Jeannine assists her community by serving as a board member for Southview Village for low rent housing, is an active Foundation member and gift shop volunteer at the Shenandoah Medical Center, and is a part of PEO, the Shenandoah Book Club and the Essex Study and Service Club.

On Saturday, August 20 the Fairgrounds welcomed the largest crowd in history – 128,298! We know some of those Fairgoers attended the demolition derby in the Elwell Family Park. Crowds enjoyed the further enhancements to the space. The grandstand increased by 1,000 seats, while a roof and a press box were added to the structure. The Elwell Family Park also hosted a truck & tractor pull and short course motorsport racing throughout the Fair.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation participated in the concrete statue contest and placed 3rd in the professional category. Twenty-six entries from various artists were entered in the contest. Artists had the task of painting a traditional barn. Thank you to Sticks for painting our barn. It was beautiful and sold at the Woodcarvers’ Auction for $11,000.

On Sunday, August 21 the Woodcarvers’ Auction raised a new fundraising record of $79,137. All proceeds from the auction are dedicated to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund. A special thank you to Chainsaw Artists - Gary Keenan and T.J. Jenkins for producing such outstanding pieces of art. 

During the Woodcarvers’ Auction, Peter Cownie (Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director) and Gary Slater (Iowa State Fair CEO and Fair Manager) announced an upcoming improvement project. Over the next several years, the livestock barns will undergo a historic $25 million renovation. The Cattle, Horse, Sheep and Swine barns will be renovated from top to bottom with updated roofing, flooring, lighting, restrooms, and offices. Each barn will have additional upgrades for specific needs.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation received a $5 million donation from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation to begin the renovation project. Iowa Select Farms and Jeff & Deb Hansen have committed $2 million specifically for the Swine barn portion of the renovation. The Foundation will also receive $12 million from the state’s “Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.” All Iowans are welcome to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s fundraising efforts needed to complete the project. Make your donation online today. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is a small buy mighty team. Thank you to the interns, volunteers and the other Iowa State Fair staff that help make our organization run smoothly. The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission to preserve and improve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds wouldn’t be possible with the support of our donors.


THANK YOU for attending the Iowa State Fair and for buying a t-shirt, bottle of water or an engraved brick. The list of creative ways to support our organization is endless. Every donation of any size is important.  

Thank you for trusting the Blue Ribbon Foundation to make the needed improvements to YOUR beloved Iowa State Fairgrounds ensuring your family will enjoy the tradition for many years.

2022 Iowa State Fair Recap: August 17, 18, 19

October 4, 2022
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Days 7, 8 and 9 of the Iowa State Fair seem like a blur! It’s over the halfway point, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is ready to finish with a busy weekend. Each day is something new and exciting. Although the Foundation staff have been enjoying the Iowa State Fair for several days, it’s always someone’s first visit and we want to make sure it’s just as special as those who have attended every day.

The three Iowan of the Day winners:

Kathy Jo Porter – Waterloo: Passion is what drives Kathy Jo to work endless hours. In 2015, Kathy Jo launched Kaden’s Kloset and has worked tirelessly to help care for children in foster care or adoptive situations by providing them with essential items. She serves an average of 400+ children every year. Recently, Kathy Jo launched the Kaden’s Kloset Christmas Wonderland where each child in the Waterloo foster care system receives clothing and a few special gifts for the holiday. 

Bonnie Wood – Pocahontas: Bonnie has devoted her time to community projects and organizations including the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce, Pocahontas Women’s Club, volunteering at the Rialto Theatre and leading Main Street Stitchers. Bonnie saw an opportunity for enhancements to her community through the Elbert Park Improvement project, adding a new playground and trail to the town. Through her work, she has been described as a “catalyst volunteer” because of her positivity, organization and passion for the Pocahontas community.

Amy Ryan - Forest City: Amy has volunteered as a Race Director for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation coordinating 5K remembrance runs for firefighters and veterans. She has helped raise $75,000 for the Foundation. Amy also puts together care packages for the military, every year. She brought Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Forest City and now every child in town receives a free book to read each month. Amy volunteers using the app “Be My Eyes”, allowing her to video chat and provide visual assistance to blind and low vision people in her community.

Playing BINGO on the Grand Concourse is one of our favorite activities for the Wednesday of the Fair. This year, 4,000 Fairgoers played 81 games of BINGO raising $4,054! This is a record in the 4th year the Foundation has hosted the fundraiser. 

On Thursday, the Blue Ribbon Foundation welcomed Iowa Legislators to the Fairgrounds. Approximately 175 legislators and their families enjoyed the Iowa State Fair. The Foundation utilized the new Alliant Energy Landing. Just another example of the brand new space being used for special events.  

The Maytag Family Theatres received some upgrades this summer and is home to the new Kitchen. The Kitchen demonstration area showcased 5 sessions each day to full crowds. Sessions included wine mixology, cooking with honey, how to construct a wedding cake, hot chocolate bombs and even a play dough/slime demonstration. 

Did you happen to see this lovely young woman running between the Iowa of the Day presentation, stocking the merchandise booths, organizing the chainsaw woodcarvings or maybe eating plenty of Barksdale’s Chocolate Chip cookies? This would be our Public Relations Summer Intern, Brooklin Border. Not just for 11 days, but all summer long -she worked hard to support our mission. Brooklin took ownership of her specific projects and did an amazing job representing the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Thank you. 

Laura, Kenna and Brooklin will be a tough group of interns to replace next summer. If you know of a college student that might be interested in the Blue Ribbon Foundation's internship program, have them apply. The deadline is November 30. 

Stay tuned for more 2022 Iowa State Fair highlights.