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.

Collecting Brackets, Auction Items and Tax Returns

March 17, 2022
drewnorton's picture

It’s officially March Madness. To most, that means the excitement of college basketball. Cheering for your alma mater, the top seeds or the underdogs. Maybe you filled out a bracket to win the big bucks or more importantly – bragging rights! 

While the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff will watch basketball games, we aren’t focused on collecting brackets. As spring inches closer, we are focusing on summer and the Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction.  We are starting to collect items for the Live and Silent Auctions.

You can help us sell specialty packages by donating an item such as: restaurant gift cards, a private catered party, use of a skybox, autographed memorabilia, and certificates for golf lessons or home repair services. The possibilities are endless. 

Donating an auction package consisting of a product or service you provide is also an excellent way to promote your company. Or you might consider a cash contribution allowing us to purchase a desired item. The 2022 Corndog Kickoff will be Saturday, July 9. Email Robin for more details. 

As March quickly turns to April, the Blue Ribbon Foundation also wants to remind you about the Corndog Checkoff. The Corndog Checkoff provides an easy way to contribute to future Fairgrounds improvements through a tax-deductible donation on your Iowa return. Please consider donating when completing your 2021 taxes. Look for “State Fair” on Line 57b on Iowa Form 1040. Every dollar donated is directed to preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Only 146 days to our favorite summertime tradition. There is plenty to do between now and August 11. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission every step of the way! 


Creative Inscription

March 7, 2022
drewnorton's picture

During one Iowa State Fair, I attempted to eat an egg-on-a-stick every day. I think I made it 7 days in a row before I gave up. It was a bold goal and I started out strong but quickly faded. I really should commemorate the experience with an engraved brick at the Agriculture Building. Maybe with the creative inscription:


The brick might raise some questions to other Fairgoers but it would definitely make me laugh every time I walked by.

It might be a surprise but this would not be the most unique brick inscription found on the Fairgrounds. In addition to family names, Fair favorites and honoring loved ones, there are plenty of bricks with inscriptions of personal inside jokes.  I’ll receive a unique inscription with a donation and just wonder what the story is behind the text. It’s probably a better memory than me trying to eat all the eggs.

The Iowa State Fair is the holder of special memories for countless generations. Fairgoers can capture these memories when they donate for an engraved brick.

Take a moment to think about your family’s State Fair memories and your special place on the Fairgrounds. Each family has their own.  Save these memories by donating to one of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s Giving Programs.  You’ll have a special way to remember your Fair experience while at the same time, investing in the future of the historic Fairgrounds.

Check out the Giving Program options:

Block by Block
Building for the Future
Buy a Brick - Most Popular
Courtyard of Celebration
Growing Our Future - Staff Favorite
Legacy Terrace
Shine On
Spirit of Generosity - Newest
Trees for the Fair

The deadline to have your brick, paver or plaque in place for the 2022 Iowa State Fair is March 31. Start brainstorming your creative inscriptions today.

2022 T.A.G. Team Members

February 28, 2022
drewnorton's picture

A special THANK YOU to the Blue Ribbon Foundation supporters that joined the 2022 T.A.G. team. The purpose of the fundraising group is to celebrate that Together, we can Accomplish our Goal. These members are making an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds. 

Their donations will be used to repair the west side of Pioneer Hall’s exterior. This spring and summer, the deteriorated wood siding will be removed and replaced to resemble the original board and batten construction. Missing building components will be restored while the entire west exterior will be primed and painted.

The project includes the removal or if possible, restoration of existing window sashes. Some windows are repairable while others will be rebuilt to match current size, material and profile. Windows will also be reglazed using the current glass, supplementing new ones if panes are broken or missing.

While you visit Pioneer Hall during this year’s Fair, please take note of the building’s refreshed exterior that holds rich history of the Iowa State Fair. Future generations of Fairgoers will be able to enjoy this 136 year old building year after year.  

The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy. Thank you. 

30 Years of Positive Change

February 22, 2022
drewnorton's picture

Since the Blue Ribbon Foundation started; there have been plenty of positive changes made to the Fairgrounds. To highlight a few:

30 Years Ago: The Iowa State Fair Board of Directors took the needed action to establish the Blue Ribbon Foundation and hire John Putney to lead the charge. Little did anyone know that over the next 30 years, $165 million would be raised and positive changes would transform the face of the Iowa State Fairgrounds forever.

25 Years Ago: Bill Knapp presented a $1 million challenge grant to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. This gift was monumental in the renovation of the Varied Industries Building. This donation generated a spark that led to the Blue Ribbon Foundation and Fair lovers collaborating to create needed changes to the historic Fairgrounds.

20 Years Ago: The Blue Ribbon Foundation office moved from downtown Des Moines to the Earth Home on the Fairgrounds. A smart change to relocate to where the action was. Although we haven’t made many improvements to our physical office space, it sure feels like home to the staff.

15 Years Ago: The original State Fair Museum was renovated and the Animal Learning Center was constructed. These two buildings truly represent the Iowa State Fair. One holds the history of the 11-day event and the other showcases the future of agriculture with baby animals born every day of the Fair. 

10 Years Ago: The Blue Ribbon Foundation created Our Fair's Future, an endowment program that focuses on planned giving. Since then, 35 donors have joined the Champion Circle. These visionary donors have made estate plans providing a wonderful, lasting legacy to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation's endowment fund.

5 Years Ago: Construction was in full swing on the Sandra Freeman Dowie Midway Plaza. The expanded midway footprint created Thrill Ville and now accommodates larger attractions. The area is used year round for event parking and as a vehicle training space for various organizations. 

Today: The Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to encourage Fairgoers to support our mission through the Corndog Checkoff and many giving programs. Staff is preparing for another Corndog Kickoff fundraiser and has already started recruiting hundreds of volunteers for the summer. The Blue Ribbon Foundation also has exciting improvements ready to be made – the brand new Alliant Energy shelter house, the next phase of the Elwell Family Park and the creation of a demonstration kitchen. (Stay tuned for more updates!)

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the amazing changes that have been made possible with the support of Blue Ribbon Foundation donors. Thank you.  Do you want to be part of future preservation and improvement projects? Let’s keep the positive changes coming. Donate Today

Corndog Checkoff - FAQ

February 16, 2022
drewnorton's picture

What is the Corndog Checkoff? 
It’s a fundraiser for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Corndog Checkoff provides Iowans an opportunity to participate in the renovation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds by making a donation when filing their taxes. 

Where do I find the Corndog Checkoff on my tax forms? 
The Corndog Checkoff, officially titled State Fair, is found on line 57b of the Iowa Tax Form 1040. (Or ask your tax preparer.) 

How much can I give and how will my donation affect my return? 
According to Iowa law, you may contribute at least one dollar to the Corndog Checkoff. Your contribution will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount you owe.
How much money has been raised to date? 
Since the Blue Ribbon Foundation began in 1993, more than $165 million has been raised. Of that amount, the Corndog Checkoff has generated $2 million. 

When I attend the 2022 Iowa State Fair, what new renovations will be complete? 
The next phase of the Elwell Family Park will be completed and the west side of Pioneer Hall will be restored. A brand new shelter house will be built just east of the Livestock Pavilion. Continued maintenance to the buildings, streets, sidewalks and other smaller improvements projects will keep the Fairgrounds in tip-top condition. 

How can I make a difference when $165 million has already been raised? 
While fundraising efforts have been successful thus far, continued support from all Fairgoers is vital to keep the momentum going, finish what has been started, as well as help preserve the past improvements made since 1993. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation continues to fundraise by collaborating with the corporate sector, applying for federal and state grants and utilizing in-kind services. 

Are there other ways Iowans can participate in renovation efforts? 
Yes, there are many other ways to help support the renovation efforts on the Fairgrounds. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has various giving programs, sells official Iowa State Fair souvenirs and has planned giving opportunities. 

For more details, visit

Blended Giving: Make an Impact Now and Later

February 14, 2022
drewnorton's picture

You can make a difference at the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation both today and tomorrow. How? By combining a current gift with one for the future. This type of giving, called blended giving, allows you to make an even bigger impact than you thought possible.
Making a blended gift is easier than you think. Simply choose a gift that works for you today and pair it with one for the future. 

Make an Impact Today: Cash or check, Stock or appreciated assets, Tangible personal property, Life income gifts, Donor advised fund                    

Make a Difference Tomorrow: Gift in your will or living trust, Retirement plan assets, Bank or brokerage accounts, Life insurance policies

Why Blended Giving?
When you combine a gift today with a gift for the future, you:

  • Help the Blue Ribbon Foundation plan for the future with confidence, while meeting our needs today
  • Ensure we can continue preserving the historic Fairgrounds while making improvements all Fairgoers can enjoy today
  • Inspire others to give, while creating an Iowa State Fair legacy 

Plan Your Giving Strategy
Finding the best combination of gifts to meet your charitable and financial goals can be challenging. We are happy to work with you and your financial advisor or estate planning attorney to help you find the best giving options to meet your needs.

Do More Through Blended Giving
See the impact you can make on the Iowa State Fairgrounds both today and in the future. Contact Robin Taylor, Blue Ribbon Foundation Assistant Director at 515-262-3111 Ext. 373 or to learn more, or for help getting started finding the right gift for you.

Information contained was accurate at the time of posting. The information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor. 

Only 5 Months Away

February 9, 2022
drewnorton's picture

The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party is only 5 short months away! Save the date for the 2022 Corndog Kickoff on Saturday, July 9.
The Corndog Kickoff is the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s largest fundraising event. Nearly 2,200 people fill the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building each year to bid on over 30 live auction packages and 200 silent auction packages. Guests can samples all of their favorite Iowa State Fair foods before a Sky Glider ride and fireworks show. Since 1997, the event has raised a total of $7.2 million toward Fairgrounds renovations.

Do you have a little extra time to volunteer over the next 5 months? We could use your help! 

Auction Committee: The auction, being a critical piece of the Kickoff, needs volunteers to generate new ideas for packages and help make them a reality. Would you like to volunteer on the Auction Committee? If you are comfortable talking with people and love the Fair, it's an easy task. 

Dining Delights:  The Blue Ribbon Foundation will feature “Dining Delights”, a gift card activity at the Corndog Kickoff. For a $20 donation, attendees will grab a mystery gift card as their prize. Would you like your favorite restaurant to be featured? Would you help support the Blue Ribbon Foundation by asking that restaurant to donate a gift certificate? 

Or, support two businesses at once by purchasing a gift card and donating it to the Foundation to use in Dining Delights! We are seeking donations with a value of $25 or higher to highlight restaurants across the state.

Email Robin for details about joining the Auction Committee or Dining Delights. You don’t want to miss this pre-Fair tradition!


January 26, 2022
drewnorton's picture

While 60% is a failing grade in some situations, that isn’t the case with the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s T.A.G. Team. It just means we ONLY have 40 open spots in our 2022 membership program. 

Thank you to the 60 donors that have joined our mission to renovate the final side of Pioneer Hall. This group of 60 Fair-loving individuals knows that Together we can Accomplish our Goals. Will you join our T.A.G. Team? Join Now

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. Money raised from the 2022 T.A.G. Team will be used to repair the west side of Pioneer Hall’s exterior.

The process of renovating the building’s entire exterior started in 2018. Finishing the west side of the building will complete the restoration project. The deteriorated wood siding will be removed and replaced to resemble the original construction. Missing building components will be restored while the entire west exterior will be primed and painted.

The project includes the removal or if possible, restoration of existing window sashes. Some windows are repairable while others will be rebuilt to match current size, material and profile. Windows will also be reglazed using the current glass, supplementing new ones if panes are broken or missing.

Pioneer Hall was built in 1886 for the first Iowa State Fair held at this location. Of the 67 buildings constructed for that Fair, only Pioneer Hall remains. Originally a poultry building, then an employees’ dormitory and a storage facility, Pioneer Hall was re-opened in 1996 after the replacement of the foundation and footings.

The facility houses antique displays, music and the Rural Americana Olde Tyme Competitions. All ages participate in the famous cow chip or rubber chicken throwing contests. There is also yodeling, joke telling and husband calling competitions. Fairgoers can watch a furniture maker, blacksmith and printer showcase their trades, or enjoy the sounds created by fiddlers and whistlers.

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 2022 T.A.G. Team.

Thank you again to the 60 donors that have joined us. Please consider filling one of the 40 open spots. Join Now


Alliant Energy - $1 Million Donation

January 21, 2022
drewnorton's picture

Blue Ribbon Foundation receives $1 million donation for new facility
Alliant Energy donation will be used for new meeting facility

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is excited to announce a generous $1 million contribution from Alliant Energy to build a new shelter on the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

The new structure will replace the 23-year-old picnic shelter just east of the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion. The project, which is scheduled for completion in time for the 2022 Iowa State Fair, will nearly double the former space as well as provide accessibility in accordance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The surrounding area will receive modern upgrades to improve the functionality of the space and provide a safe location for family and business events during the Fair and throughout the year.

“Projects like this one set a new standard for Fairground facilities,” said Peter Cownie, Executive Director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. “This project will become the catalyst for numerous future improvements. Alliant Energy’s generosity will benefit all Fairgoers and we are grateful for their support. We cannot thank them enough.” 

The open-air facility will include craftsman style columns, higher ceilings with fans, two paved ADA-compliant accessibility points, LED lighting, asphalt shingles and expanded landscaping. New paving around the structure will eliminate some of the last gravel on the lower Fairgrounds.

“Alliant Energy is proud to be a longtime supporter of the Iowa State Fair,” said Terry Kouba, President of Alliant Energy’s Iowa energy company. “Our gift today demonstrates our company value to make things better. We hope the facility improvements and enhancements do just that and are enjoyed by generations to come.”

The new facility is the only publicly available rental space during the Iowa State Fair. The project also expands the marketability of the Fairgrounds, another attractive component for large and small groups. Shows like the World Pork Expo, Good Guys Car Show and National Junior High Rodeo as well as political events, weddings, receptions and corporate retreats will make use of the modernized facility. 

Thank you Alliant Energy for supporting the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

Shelter before and after demolition:

Celebrating our partnership. Pictured below: Robert Durian (Alliant Energy Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer), Peter Cownie (Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director) and Gary Slater (Iowa State Fair Manager and CEO)

Alliant Energy staff look forward to a brand new facility on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Pictured below: Robert Durian, Aimee Davis, Robin Sempf, Leah Rodenberg and Julie Bauer

About Alliant Energy
Alliant Energy Corporation (NASDAQ: LNT) provides regulated energy service to 975,000 electric and 420,000 natural gas customers across Iowa and Wisconsin. Alliant Energy's mission is to deliver the energy solutions and exceptional service customers and communities count on – safely, efficiently and responsibly. Interstate Power and Light Company and Wisconsin Power and Light Company are Alliant Energy's two public energy companies. Alliant Energy is a component of the Nasdaq CRD Sustainability Index, Bloomberg’s 2020 Gender-Equality Index, and the S&P 500. For more information, visit and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

Warm Thoughts & Bundle Up

January 20, 2022
drewnorton's picture

When the wind chill is negative degrees for multiple days, all you can do is think warm thoughts and bundle up. The Blue Ribbon Foundation can help you with both!

Imagine walking down Grand Avenue in the middle of August on a hot day in the sun. You just finished eating your favorite fried food on a stick. You picked up a bottle of ice-cold Mountain Valley Spring Water from the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s stand. You head into the Horner Service Center to check out the new Iowa State Fair souvenirs. Sounds like a perfect day.

Flashback to reality! As we patiently wait 7 months until Fair time, you can add a warm Iowa State Fair sweatshirt to your winter wardrobe to help make these cold days much better. Or maybe you need a Butter Cow stocking hat to wear as you shovel the driveway. There are also socks with all your Fair Favorites available for sale - Chocolate Chip Cookies, Butter Cow, or Corndogs

Thank you for not only supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission during the summer while attending the Iowa State Fair but ALL year long. Thank you for your donations in the spring, fall and winter months when the Iowa State Fair isn’t always at the top of mind. Your contributions throughout the year go toward improving the Fairgrounds. 
This winter the Fairgrounds will stay busy with the buildings nice and toasty hosting several events. Trades shows, go-kart races, a circus, a concert, flea market, wrestling meet, and even a cat show will be held on the Fairgrounds. These events are made possible because the buildings are well maintained all year long. And again, that’s because of your support. Thank you.

We hope all our Fairgoers stay warm as we make it through this season. Let’s just remember that summer and the Iowa State Fair are worth the wait!