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.

Good Bones

April 21, 2020
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One of my favorite television shows to binge watch is “Good Bones” on HGTV. It is about a mother-daughter duo renovating houses in Indianapolis.  The pair take some of the nastiest, most rundown houses I have ever seen and turn them into beautiful homes for their neighbors.  The show’s tagline: “Every tragic house deserves a second chance because underneath all that mess – you might find some really good bones.”

This got me thinking about the Iowa State Fairgrounds. I found a blurry map of the Fairgrounds from 1910. You can see Grand Avenue and Rock Island were the main roadways with buildings scattered throughout. As you can imagine, a lot has changed in 100 years since this map. A few key structures stood out to me – the Grandstand, Agricultural Building, Livestock Pavilion, and barns for horses, cattle, sheep, and swine.

I found these same facilities listed on the 1950 and 1999 maps. (If I had easy access to maps of every year, I have a feeling I would find these same structures.) These are the “bones” of the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

For more than 160 years, the Iowa State Fair has grown, reflecting the development and growth of our great state. These historical buildings have housed millions of exhibits, events and people. These structures were built to last but over time, each has needed its own set of maintenance.

Cue the Blue Ribbon Foundation. This is where I imagine the Foundation could have its own television show – highlighting the amazing renovations that have taken place, new projects that are being planned and the generous donors across the country that have stepped up to keep the Fairgrounds in the best condition for the next generation.  (Did I mention the two ladies in the show both have red hair? I think I’m a shoo-in as the host!)

The Iowa State Fair is a tradition any Iowan can be proud of, and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is dedicated to continuing that legacy. We invite you to join a community of generosity and become even more involved with the Fair you know and love. Donate Today.


Spring Newsletter: 2020, 2010, 2000

April 16, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s quarterly newsletter hit mailboxes this week. Checkout what is happening now and what our organization was doing 10 and 20 years ago.

What is happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation?
Meg Courter, Iowa State Fair Sponsorship Director, shares her insight on the importance of continuing education when it comes to the Fair industry. “Staff invest in these learning opportunities because the Fairgoer is top of mind every time we consider an attraction, break ground on a brand new exhibition center or renovate a historic building on the grounds. It’s the Fairgoer experience that matters - be it participating in a time-honored tradition, or trying something new.”

Back in February, the Foundation hosted the second annual Halfway to the Fair Happy Hour Fundraiser. The event raised $20,370 for improvement projects. Thank you to the event sponsors and attendees that helped make the night possible. Just remember for next year, the happy hour event really is the perfect way to eat your favorite summertime Fair food in the middle of winter.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has been selling merchandise items as a fundraiser for many years. This year, we need your help. Send us your creative Iowa State Fair T-Shirt ideas for the first ever T-Shirt Contest. The public will vote for the best and prize packages will be awarded to the top designs. Your T-Shirt could be sold during the Iowa State Fair!

This newsletter edition shares information about a new membership program, the T.A.G. Team. This group of donors are supporting the renovation of the Livestock Pavilion restrooms. We currently have filled 54 of the 100 available spots.  Join today because Together, we can Accomplish our Goals.


What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 10 years ago?
In 2010, construction was almost complete on the brand new Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center. This incredible addition to the Fairgrounds has allowed for so many more events to be held during the Fair and throughout the year. Thanks to another generous contribution from Mr. Jacobson, the  4-H Building renovation will continue this spring and be finished this summer.

An Iowa State Fair Cookbook with winning recipes from the famous food department was for sale in 2010. For Fair fans that collect the books, this was the 15th in the series. Fast forward 10 years, and the 20th edition cookbook will be available this year for State Fair foodies.

Three interns were getting ready to join the Foundation staff for the summer. Interns are critical to the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s operations. Each intern takes on a project and becomes part of the team, helping our organization continue to be successful. We will have four college students join us this summer.

Even 10 years ago, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was recruiting volunteers to help at our events. Every year it seems like we need more and more volunteers to keep our organization going. The summer intern will start reaching out to volunteers in June with the online sign-up for the Corndog Kickoff and Iowa State Fair.


What was the Blue Ribbon Foundation doing 20 years ago?
In 2000, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation released a History Book filled with 146 years of memories, traditions and historical information about the Iowa State Fair.  The book has photos, stories and celebrates the one-of-a-kind event. There are still a few copies left and available for sale in the State Fair Store.

Staff asked donors to provide their email address for a new database. With plans to bring communication into the 21st century, the Blue Ribbon Foundation created an email newsletter campaign to keep supporters up-to-date. (This is still relevant 20 years later. If you want to receive our monthly ENews, send your email to and we will add you to the list.)

With the support of Cookies Food Products, the Blue Ribbon Foundation promoted the Iowan of the Day program. People across the state were encouraged to nominate the volunteers in their communities to receive a special day at the Iowa State Fair and highlight the positivity in our state. Nominations are currently being accepted for this year’s program.

The 4th annual Corndog Kickoff was scheduled to be held in Pioneer Hall. There is no doubt staff were busy organizing live and silent auction items to display at the event.  From Fair food, Sky Glider rides and fireworks – the Corndog Kickoff has only grown and gotten better in 20 years. Check out our website for details about becoming a Patron or giving to the Auction


To shape your future, you need to understand your past. The Blue Ribbon Foundation thanks the donors that helped shape our organization 10 and 20 years ago. We look forward to growing with our current and future supporters.


Looking for the next "Million Dollar Idea"

April 13, 2020
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Let’s flashback to the 2013 Iowa State Fair. With a theme focused on “Happiness Is”, there were plenty of new and exciting attractions mixed in with classic entertainment. The top new food was a shrimp corndog and improvements had been completed on the Cultural Center. The attendance reached 1,047,246. And… the Blue Ribbon Foundation sold 5,500 of a single t-shirt. (That’s more than we had ever sold before!)

The famous “Butter Cow Security” t-shirts were a huge hit! An unfortunate vandalism situation turned out to be an opportunity for Fair Fans and Butter Cow lovers across the country to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission.

Fairgoers lined up on Grand Avenue outside the merchandise trailer to buy a yellow “Serve & Protect” t-shirt. The creative idea came from Broken Arrow Wear. The local printing company had already produced some of the 2013 Iowa State Fair shirts the Blue Ribbon Foundation was selling.

The idea quickly developed into a design and shirts were printed. Those shirts sold-out almost immediately. The demand was high with entire families buying multiple shirts at one time. One simple t-shirt generated $100,000 for improvements to the historic Fairgrounds. This is a perfect example to show how people are passionate about THEIR Iowa State Fair. 

Fast forward to today. Merchandise sales have helped the Blue Ribbon Foundation raise a total $165 million for renovations over the last 27 years. The Blue Ribbon Foundation wants Fairgoers to show us their creative ideas. During the month of April – we are hosting a t-shirt contest

To enter, send us your t-shirt design by May 1. A selection committee will choose the top five designs. Those designs will be posted on the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website and Facebook page with voting via Facebook “like” or online via our website. Voting will be open from May 11-18. The winner will be announced on May 19. The top three vote-getters will receive an Iowa State Fair prize package.

Click here for a complete list of Guidelines and Rules.


Fairgrounds Construction

April 9, 2020
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Normally the Iowa State Fairgrounds would be moving and shaking as spring arrives with warmer weather. There would be flea markets, horse shows, weddings and other events filling the facilities.  With the current guidelines set in place to mitigate the spread the Coronavirus, the Fairgrounds are closed to the public and events have been postponed.

But don’t worry, the maintenance staff has used the “quieter” time around the Fairgrounds to safely continue work on improvement projects. One of those projects is the renovation of the Livestock Pavilion restrooms. 

The restrooms located within the building have not been updated in more than 40 years. The only toilet facilities in the area, they are heavily used and in desperate need of renovation to meet modern standards. The updates will bring the restroom facilities into the 21st century, providing a better service to our customers and make cleaning them more efficient for our maintenance crews.

The updates include tiling the walls, installing metallic epoxy flooring, replacing the toilet partitions, adding solid surface sinks, new counters and improving the electrical fixtures.

You can be part of this renovation project by joining the T.A.G. Team. It’s a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals. For a $250 donation, the first 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 haven’t reached our goal of 100 members yet – join today.


Iowa State Fair T-Shirt Design Contest

April 2, 2020
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Love the Iowa State Fair? Have a creative streak? The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation is calling all creative Fair fans to design a t-shirt that will be sold at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. Funds from the sale of the t-shirt will be directed to renovations and improvements to the historic Fairgrounds.

To enter, send us your t-shirt design by May 1. A selection committee will choose the top five designs. Those designs will be posted on the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website and Facebook page with voting via Facebook “like” or online via our website. Voting will be open from May 11-18. The winner will be announced on May 19. The top three vote-getters will receive an Iowa State Fair prize package.

1st Place: Your shirt design is produced to sell at the Iowa State Fair, 2 t-shirts, 2 gate admission tickets, 2 Fair Value Packs, 2 tickets to the Grandstand concert of your choice, $50 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair

2nd Place: 2 gate admission tickets, $25 in food coupons and parking for a select day at the Fair

3rd Place: 2 gate admission tickets and $25 in food coupons


Entry and Design Guidelines:



Iowan of the Day

March 30, 2020
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The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation knows there are Iowans across the state stepping up to help their individual communities in this time of crisis.

Let’s celebrate the positivity in Iowa. Let’s praise the volunteers in our hometowns that are taking care of our elderly and children. Do you know an outstanding nurse or teacher in your neighborhood that is working hard to put others' needs first?

Nominate that special person to be an Iowan of the Day at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products are looking for nominations for the award.

There are so many people across Iowa that contribute to making our cities, towns, and 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.

Ten winners will be named Iowans of the Day and each will be honored with a special day of recognition at the 2020 Iowa State Fair. Perks include an introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage, $200 cash, use of a golf cart for the day, VIP parking, gate admission for four, hotel accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown and four tickets to the evening Grandstand event.

For nomination forms, contact the Blue Ribbon Foundation at 515-262-311 Ext. 371 or You can also download nomination forms from our website. The deadline for all nominations is July 1. All nominees must currently reside in Iowa.

In a time of uncertainty, join the Blue Ribbon Foundation in keeping a positive outlook and celebrating what makes our state great – the people.



Giving Program Deadline - March 31

March 24, 2020
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Hello! Today I want to tell you all a little bit more about the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation's Giving Programs. There are unique and creative ways to make a donation, whether you want to leave a lasting legacy or be a part of this year's Fair. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level. The deadline to make sure your item is in place by the start of the 2020 Iowa State Fair is March 31, 2020.

Block by Block - Located in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, a large colorful barn quilt represents Iowa’s heritage and agriculture offering six levels of giving.

Building for the Future - Located in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, you can leave a personal legacy engraved in granite on the west side of the building or have an engraved plaque placed on the back of a seat.

Buy a Brick - These bricks are used to help complete walkways in 15 different locations. Choose your location and what you would like engraved, it's a perfect way to leave a permeant legacy.

Courtyard of Celebration - Located on the east side of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center - celebrate a Fair memory with a personal message on an engraved charcoal concrete paver in the Courtyard’s plaza.

Growing Our Future - Located in Ruan Plaza there are 7 levels of giving. Your inscription will be placed on a “leaf” and then displayed with the other “leaves” creating a beautiful, colorful donor wall. 

Legacy Terrace - Located south of the Grandstand, in the Legacy Terrace you can either engrave a granite paver or place a plaque at the base of the tree.

Shine On - With multiple lamp posts across the Fairgrounds, your donation will help light up the Fair! 

Trees for the Fair - Your donation will help maintain the young and old trees on the Fairgrounds. You can add a bronze plaque with a personalized inscription at the base of the tree.

Make sure to check out all of the giving program details on our website. Thank you.



Meet Donor Relations Intern

March 17, 2020
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Hello! My name is Reegan Den Adel and I am the Donor Relations intern for the summer of 2020. This is my first week here and so far I have learn so much! I am very excited to see what the future holds! I grew up in Madrid, Iowa and I joined 4-H in elementary school and started showing my swine. I have always loved coming to the Iowa State Fair and I was so excited when I finally got the chance to show my swine at the Iowa State Fair.

I am currently a sophomore at Iowa State University. I am majoring in Event Management with a minor in General Business. On campus I am involved in Salt Company, Event Management Club and Dance Marathon. I have recently taken a non-profit class and was able to hold an event for a non-profit company. I love the events industry, I knew I needed an internship where I can work with people and the Blue Ribbon Foundation is just that! I am very excited to see where this summer goes but I am so excited and ready to continue this adventure!


Reegan Den Adel
Donor Relations Intern
Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation
PO Box 57130
Des Moines, IA 50317
515-262-3111 Ext. 377

Those Super Structures

March 10, 2020
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“Those Super Structures” is just one section of the book: Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story. This history book describes the Iowa State Fair from the very beginning in 1854 through 2000 (The year the book was published). Each time I flip through the pages, I learn something new. Today’s lesson: the Livestock Pavilion.

Originally, livestock was housed primarily in temporary sheds and pens. In 1885 - 10 horse barns, 10 cattle barns, roofless swine pens and sheepcotes were built. There were also 50 wells, which supplied enough water for both stock and visitors. The frame barns were on the south end of the Fairgrounds, close to the railroad lines, which is how animals got to the Fair.

The barns were built in a circle, with each being equally distant from the show ring in the center. The structures were hastily built on a tight budget and maintenance became more and more common. In 1902, a massive building campaign included new barns that were built in phases, from 1902-1936.

One of those newly constructed buildings was the Livestock Pavilion. The Pavilion was the first masonry building on the Fairgrounds. It was used for 101 years and just like described in the book, repairs were needed. 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. 

Fast forward 13 more years, there are two restrooms inside the Pavilion that need attention. The Blue Ribbon Foundation has already secured a $30,000 grant from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. The Foundation is asking you to join the T.A.G. Team to make this project happen. Through the support of corporate and individual donors, together we can make improvements that all Iowa State Fairgoers can enjoy.

For a $250 donation, the first 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player to the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership for 2020. Donate now to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation as a member of the T.A.G. Team.




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

Your Iowa State Fair Moment

March 6, 2020
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What is your “Iowa State Fair Moment”? Is it the first time you attended the event? Did you meet your significate other while standing in line for a corndog? Did your grandma take you on the Giant Slide or Sky Glider for the first time? Did you win Grand Champion in your livestock class?

All Fair lovers have at least one, if not several flashbacks that bring a smile to their face when talking about the Iowa State Fair. I have a few and it’s hard to pick my top moment – the first time I attended and saw LeAnn Rimes in the Grandstand or camping with my best friend as she showed cattle. On the other hand, maybe it was my summer as a Blue Ribbon Foundation intern or getting married in the Animal Learning Center. Just like every Fairgoer, I have MANY special Iowa State Fair memories.

In fact, 9,293 Iowa State Fair enthusiasts have celebrated their personal Iowa State Fair memory with a donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation for an engraved brick. The brick inscriptions all across the Fairgrounds are unique and tell stories of people’s connections to the Fair. Some engraved bricks celebrate families, honor loved ones that are no longer here or truly salute everything people love about the great Iowa State Fair.

All of the Giving Program options are available on the Blue Ribbon Foundation website. The Foundation has unique and creative ways to make a donation and leave a lasting legacy on the Fairgrounds. Gifts can take many forms and are welcome at every level. The deadline to have an item in place by the 2020 Iowa State Fair is March 31.

Let’s commemorate those Iowa State Fair moments by supporting the future of the Fairgrounds with an engraved brick.