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.

Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser

February 5, 2020
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Peter Cownie, Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director, promotes the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser in an interview with Iowa Live. Join the Foundation this Friday, February 7 for Dueling Pianos and Iowa State Fair food as we celebration our favorite summertime tradition - 6 months early. Buy your tickets online.

Doors to the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds open at 5:30 pm with entertainment starting at 6:00 pm

A special thank you to the event Sponsors: Air-Con Mechanical Corporation, Awards Unlimited, Inc, Mary & Peter Cownie, Daniels Filter Service, Dawghouse Concessions, Dee Zee Inc, Great Western Bank, Iowa-Des Moines Supply Inc, MercyOne, Reliable Roofing, SCI Communications, Mel & Linda Shivvers, US Erectors Inc, Vision Electric LLC 

We'll see you there!

Winter Newsletter – 2020, 2010, 2000

February 3, 2020
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As we move forward into the new decade, the future is exciting for the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is supporting several new projects that will improve the Fairgoer's experience.

What’s new with the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we start 2020? Fresh ideas help keep the Blue Ribbon Foundation successful. A new event is highlighted in the newsletter. Fair lovers are invited to attend the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7. Attendees will enjoy live music from Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds while snacking on Fair-inspired appetizers – all while helping raise money for future Fairgrounds improvements.

This newsletter’s donor profile is SHAZAM. SHAZAM is a national member-owned debit network, processor and core provider. As a company committed to strengthening local communities, SHAZAM chooses to focus their charitable giving in Iowa. For the last three years, SHAZAM has been a $10,000 “Best of Show” Patron at the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party.

Each winter newsletter, we highlight our Champion Circle donors. These donors have contributed to Our Fair’s Future endowment fund. Just for fun, think about how psychics look at tarot cards to try to predict the future. Well, these Champion Circle donors are taking action and planning ahead to guarantee the Iowa State Fairgrounds will remain in the future and continue to be a family tradition for the next generation.

So, what was happening 10 years ago? In John Putney’s Editorial, he writes, “Pat yourself on the back and feel good about your role in making the Iowa State Fair the best it can be – the envy of the entire fair industry.” This celebration was for upcoming renovations plans for the Cultural Center and Youth Inn.

This newsletter featured a recap of the Fairgrounds 5K. The beautiful November day hosted 300 runners and raised $9,000 for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The donor profile was extra unique and featured the book “Bells Goes to the Fair”. This fun story tells the adventure of Bells, Bill and Susan Knapp’s yellow lab. The book was sold and proceeds totally $65,000 were donated to the Foundation.

New fundraising opportunities are incredibly important but so are the fundraising avenues that have been part of the Foundation for 10 or even 20 years. The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way for Fairgoers to show their support while filing their Iowa taxes. These donations are anonymous to the Foundation and have supported the ongoing maintenance. Some improvements aren’t exciting (updating electrical wiring, plumbing repairs, or replacing shingles) but need to be done and aren’t cheap. Thank you for considering the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we enter tax season.

And what was happening 20 years ago? The Iowa State Fairgrounds has grown and new structures have been built to fit the needs of the ever-changing event. Having new structures is an amazing addition to the Fairgrounds but maintaining the current buildings is equally if not more important.

Twenty years ago, the Blue Ribbon Foundation received a $400,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino for the repairs on the Livestock Pavilion’s roof. Fast forward to 2020 - one project for this spring is the renovation of the Livestock Pavilion restrooms. Prairie Meadows once again stepped up to the challenge to help with a $30,000 grant for the project. We are asking donors to also help by joining the 2020 T.A.G. Team. This unique group of 100 donors will be key players in accomplishing a much needed renovation. Join Today.

Listed in all three of the newsletters is the “Roll of Donors”. This is our opportunity to thank the loyal Blue Ribbon Foundation supporters that have joined our mission, some since 1993. All gifts of any size are important and each dollar donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation has factored into our accomplishments over time. Oh how the list has grown!


As we look to the next decade, the Iowa State Fair’s goal remains the same — celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage to further education while offering entertainment and competition for all ages.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to providing a quality environment and facilities to accomplish that goal. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s vision and joining our mission to make it a reality.



January 28, 2020
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Where there is eleven days to do, eat and see everything at the Iowa State Fair. From the food, to the games, rides and competitions… How Do You Fair? Be There: August 13-23, 2020.

“How Do You Fair?” is the 2020 Iowa State Fair theme. In the marketing materials, there are really cool graphics using bright colors and State Fair images. Just as each of the images represents a unique aspect of the Iowa State Fair, every Fairgoer's answer to the question will be different.


The red guitar could represent all of the live music that takes place in the Grandstand each night or on one of the free stages throughout the day. Or it could represent the Bill Riley Talent Show or the hours of music played on top of the hill in Pioneer Hall.

The Ferris Wheel and Corndog are both State Fair staples but really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rides and food. There are three separate Thrill Parks during the Fair dedicated to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. And the food options – on-a-stick, deep-fried, fresh from the garden, dipped, smoked or pickled – the possibilities are endless.

The yellow chick and brown cow represent all of the livestock featured. They could also represent the Animal Learning Center and the baby animals. But maybe they represent the education opportunities during the Fair, like Vet Camp.

My favorite graphic is the blue ribbon. Of course it was probably selected to represent the countless number of competitions that take place during the 11 days focused around livestock, food, art and every silly contest you can think of.

I like to think the blue ribbon represents the Blue Ribbon Foundation. So instead of “How Do You Fair?”, I'll ask “How Do You Support the Fair?”.

Over the next few months, the Blue Ribbon Foundation encourages Iowans to support the renovation and preservation efforts while filing their Iowa taxes. We call it the Corndog Checkoff program. Look for State Fair on line 57b of Iowa's 1040 tax form. Simply fill out the amount you would like to donate. If you are receiving a refund, the amount of your donation will be automatically deducted from your refund. If you owe taxes, simply add the donation to the amount you send in to the Department of Revenue.

August will be here before we know it. Until then (as we patiently wait for winter and tax season to pass) thank you for your support of the Corndog Checkoff.


All or Nothing…or maybe just Half

January 22, 2020
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Most of the time only doing half the job is unacceptable. Like laundry – you wouldn’t wash the clothes without drying them. Or making only half of your bed doesn’t work.

On the other hand, some things are completely acceptable only doing halfway. Like running a half marathon, celebrating your half birthday, or eating half the carton of ice cream.

What about celebrating the midway point to the Iowa State Fair? The Blue Ribbon Foundation wants you to join us at the Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7.

The Iowa State Fair is known for great live music and delicious food in August. The Happy Hour event will have both - 6 months early! Enjoy your favorite Fair-inspired appetizer while listening to the Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds. There will be Corndogs, Popcorn, Nacho Chips, Bacon Cheese Dip, Chicken Wings, Brisket Mac-N-Cheese, Funnel Cakes, and of course, Chocolate Chip Cookies. 

When you purchase your $50 admission ticket, you are supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission. Your donation will go toward upgrades across the Fairgrounds and not just half improvement projects either.

Your donation could be used to repair a sidewalk or replace a broken light fixture in a restroom. These small improvements add up to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds more than a group of historic buildings but a place that holds the traditions that so many Iowans cherish. 

Buy your tickets today and join the Blue Ribbon Foundation in the Elwell Family Food Center as we celebrate the halfway point to our favorite tradition of the year. We’ll see you there! 


A special thank you to our sponsors supporting this year’s event:

• Air-Con Mechanical Corporation
• Awards Unlimited, Inc.
• Mary & Peter Cownie
• Daniels Filter Service
• Dawghouse Concessions
• Dee Zee Inc.
• Great Western Bank
• Iowa-Des Moines Supply, Inc
• MercyOne
• Reliable Roofing
• SCI Communications
• US Erectors Inc.
• Vision Electric LLC


Iowa State Fair Inspiration

January 17, 2020
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A few years ago the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation auctioned off a State Fair inspired print created by Sticks, Inc. at the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party. The artwork said:

Nothing Compares to our Iowa State Fair.
Where millions of people meet, eat and compete. And tap their feet.
Weathering heat and rain to see talent shows, art shows, concerts and this year’s biggest pumpkin.
Where family traditions are made. Alongside the world’s best lemonade and evenings close with a finale of fireworks.

In addition to the words, there were illustrations of the Sky Glider, Giant Slide, Grandstand, Thrill Park ride and the famous Butter Cow. Included were three of the Fair’s favorite animals – horse, sheep, and pig. No State Fair picture is complete without the iconic food – corndog, wonder bar, cookies, turkey leg, cotton candy and lemonade. The artist even included a few things that are special of the state of Iowa - an ear of corn, homegrown veggies and jams, and the downtown Des Moines skyline.

This picture represents what people love about the Iowa State Fair – the fun, traditions, and family memories all capture in one frame. I hope these things inspire you to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

When you choose to give a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation, it changes your perspective of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. You start to look at pictures differently and experience the event in an entirely new way. You become part of Iowa State Fair. You are improving the Fairgrounds for the next generation, offering them the opportunity to share in the special traditions and create their own. Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation and give a donation today.

P.S. We have another inspiring Iowa State Fair print created by Sticks (Pictured Below) available for sale in the online State Fair Store – get yours today.

History Lesson

January 13, 2020
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When planning for the 2020 Iowa State Fair, staff members brainstorm new ideas to offer something special for each person attending the Fair. This goal isn’t anything new – it’s actually 100 years old!

When flipping through the book, “Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story”, I spotted a section on what was happening on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in the 1920s.

A common goal of both the State Board of Agriculture and the State Fair Board was and remains to offer something for every single fairgoer.

  • 1920: The construction of the Cattle Barn was completed.
  • 1923: New 4-H Dining Hall opened serving 9,200 meals to 4-H Club members.
  • 1926: An opera was the main attraction in the Grandstand with 4,500 people in attendance.

Whoa - sound familiar? Yes, many things have changed since 1920 but a few things are still at the heart of the Iowa State Fair.

The Cattle Barn is not only used during the Iowa State Fair but will be used for the upcoming Iowa Beef Expo in February. Since the structure was built, there have been plenty of renovations including a new roof, replacement of all gutters and downspouts and a new concrete floor in the foyer area. Additionally, both the north and south ends of the west side were extended 35 feet to the sidewalk. In the last two years, the overhead doors on the west side of the barn were refurbished by replacing rotting wood and receiving a new coat of paint.

The Iowa 4-H program continues to provide opportunities for youth to develop skills that they can use now and throughout their lives. The building renovation will provide a space for 4-H'ers to showcase their individual talents and accomplishments. This fall, concrete slabs were poured for the restroom area and the new addition. The existing building's roof was replaced and masonry work was completed on the south side. Construction will continue this winter into spring. It will feel like a brand new building when Fairgoers and 4-H'ers arrive in August.

It’s been a long time since an opera was featured in the Grandstand but a variety of music genres continues to appeal to Fairgoers of all ages. Just two years ago, 15,775 people attended the Thomas Rhett concert. And so far, 3 of the 2020 Iowa State Fair Grandstand concerts have gone on sale, with 8 more concerts left to announce.  

Reading about Iowa State Fair history reminds us of the traditions so many Iowans fell in love with. Learning what happened 100 years ago helps the event grow for the future. Although the Blue Ribbon Foundation wasn't around 100 years ago, the support we've received in the last 25 years will help sustain the Fairgrounds for the next 100 years.  

The 1920s on the Iowa State Fairgrounds sounds like it was a good time. I am willing to bet the 2020s will be even better!



Interested in learning more about the Iowa State Fair's history. Pick up your copy of "Our State Fair - Iowa's Blue Ribbon Story"

One Month Away!

January 6, 2020
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When the Iowa State Fair wraps up, Fairgoers start patiently waiting. The Blue Ribbon Foundation knows winter can be the hardest part of the wait. Once you flip the calendar, February is 6 months until the best celebration of the summer. That’s only 182 days until you get to eat your favorite food-on-a-stick and join in the beloved traditions. Stop counting down the days and join the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation as we fast-forward to August!

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is hosting the 2nd annual Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser on Friday, February 7 in the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Attendees will enjoy live music from the Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson & Mike Leeds, eat Fair-inspired appetizers and help support future Iowa State Fairgrounds improvements benefitting you and your family.

Purchase your $50 admission ticket online or by calling the Blue Ribbon Foundation office at 515-262-3111 Ext. 371. Admission ticket includes entertainment and appetizers. Doors open at 5:30 pm, entertainment starts at 6 pm.

Let’s celebrate Iowa’s favorite summertime tradition 6 months early!

Thank you to our event sponsors:

  • Air-Con Mechanical Corporation
  • Awards Unlimited Inc.
  • Mary & Peter Cownie
  • Daniels Filter Service
  • Dawghouse Concessions
  • Dee Zee Inc.
  • Great Western Bank
  • Iowa-Des Moines Supply Inc.
  • MercyOne
  • Reliable Roofing
  • SCI Communications
  • US Erectors Inc.
  • It's not too late to be an event sponsorEmail Drew for details. 



Photos from the 2019 event:


Renovations by the Decade

January 2, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation started in 1993 with big ideas. The Foundation set a goal to renovate the historic Fairgrounds one building at a time.  With support from Iowa State Fair lovers across the state (and country) – our organization has raised more than $160 million and improved the Iowa State Fairgrounds for 3 decades!

There have been large projects, constructing brand new buildings but there have been even more smaller improvements made across the 445 acres. Below are just a few highlights over the years.

1993 – 2000:

  • Robert G. Horner and Sheri Avis Horner Service Center, 1995
  • Ye Old Mill, 1996
  • Anne & Bill Riley Stage, 1997
  • Hy-Vee Fun Forest, 1999


2000 – 2010:

  • William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building, 2001
  • Richard L. Easter Museum Complex, 2003
  • Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, 2007
  • Elwell Family Food Center, 2009


2010 – 2020:

  • Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, 2010
  • Patty & Jim Cownie Cultural Center, 2014
  • Oman Family Youth Inn, 2016
  • 4-H Building, 2020


As years pass and progress is made – the Blue Ribbon Foundation looks to the future. To keep the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds in the best condition for the next generation, the Foundation created an endowment. When you donate to our endowment, you give a gift with both immediate and long-term benefits. Endowment donations are invested. A portion of the annual income from the investment can be used to address immediate renovation needs. The remaining funds are reinvested to ensure indefinite support.

As we kick off 2020 - thank you to our loyal donors who have supported us from the very beginning. These Fairgoers have watched the Fairgrounds transform since 1993. And thank you to the donors that just joined our mission in the last year. The Blue Ribbon Foundation would not be successful without each Fairgoer, volunteer and donor.

Cheers to a new year and a new decade!

Holiday Gift Idea

December 5, 2019
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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 help preserve and 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.

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 – The newest giving program, 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.
  • 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.

Honor and Memorial Gifts
This holiday season, do you want to honor a special person in your life or a special event? Has a loved one recently passed away? Tribute gifts can be made in honor of a friend, to commemorate an important event, or made in memory of loved ones. Make a Memorial or Honor Gift to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and celebrate the special Fairgoer in your life.

Thank you for joining the Blue Ribbon Foundation in preserving Iowa State Fair traditions by helping improve the beauty of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Have a wonderful holiday season.



Together Accomplishing Goals

December 3, 2019
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Come join our T. A. G. Team! This new group of 100 donors has been created to bring like-minded, Fair-loving individuals together to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds an even better place. It’s a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals.

The T.A.G. Team is composed of 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. The 2020 improvement goal is to remodel the Livestock Pavilion’s two restrooms.

The Livestock Pavilion was constructed in 1902. The first masonry building on the Fairgrounds, the Pavilion was originally ventilated by a complex fan system that forced in fresh, warm air and drew out foul air at the same time.

One hundred and one years later, renovations to the dilapidated building were completed in time for the 2003 Iowa State Fair thanks to an $800,000 donation by Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. In 2007, Bob and Marilyn Schlutz gave a $125,000 to add air-conditioning to the building. During the Fair, the Pavilion hosts livestock judging, horse shows, and the Governor’s Charity Steer Auction.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has already secured a $30,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino to launch the project. We are asking you to be one of our T.A.G. Team members to make the project happen.

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 in the 2020 T.A.G. Team.

We welcome your participation so Together we can Accomplish our Goals. Donate now to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as a member of the T.A.G. Team.