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.

The Fair might be over but hold your horses...

September 18, 2019
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During the 2019 Iowa State Fair, did you find yourself exploring the Horse Barn? The Fairgrounds were flooded with Belgians, Clydesdales, Draft Ponies, Miniature Horses, Percherons, and Shires.

These beautiful animals traveled from across the country to participate at the Iowa State Fair. Yes, not just Iowans showcased their horses. Participants from North Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan and even Canada traveled to our great state to compete.

Participants were judged on every aspect of showing the various breeds including: showmanship, horsemanship, timed events and games. Adults in addition to 4-H and FFA students showed in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center. With so many classes, exhibitors also used the Livestock Pavilion and the Bob & Deb Pulver Outdoor Arena.

The Jacobson Exhibition Center hosted a packed crowd for the annual Cowgirl Queen Contest. That same crowd also lined the streets outside of the Horse Barn to watch teams prepare their Six Horse Hitches. These are two of the most popular shows to see.

Were you in the crowd this year? If you spend time in the Jacobson Exhibition Center, consider joining Jake’s Club and experiencing the horse shows from an exclusive vantage point!

Jake’s Club, located on the 2nd floor of the Exhibition Center, is a members-only VIP area hosted by the Blue Ribbon Foundation. The Club features a full bar as well as a variety of food options. Balcony box seating is available in addition to comfortable couches. It’s the perfect place to watch your favorite Jacobson Center activities or simply take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Fair. Read more on the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s website.

Whether you are an equestrian professional or just starting to learn about the animals – you can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while watching the horse shows from the best seat in the house.



2019 Iowa State Fair – Top 11

September 5, 2019
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In no particular order, listed are 11 highlights from the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 2019 Iowa State Fair.

1. Socks: The hottest merchandise item was the Butter Cow Socks. We sold out of the adorable socks during the Fair - that’s 1,200 pairs of socks! We can’t wait to see folks rocking these sock throughout the year. Don’t worry, we still have the fun Corndog socks available. Check out the online State Fair Store to pick up your Iowa State Fair souvenir.

2. Iowan of the Day: Honoring 10 Iowans across the state is always a highlight. Congratulations again to the 2019 Iowan of the Day winners. Thank you for helping make Iowa a better place to live. The Blue Ribbon Foundation was honored to celebrate each of you during the Fair.

Jody Reynolds, Des Moines
Carol Jebens, Delhi
Buffi Honeck, State Center
Aaron Van Beek, Sioux Center
Kelsey Bumsted, Solon
Warren Van Dyke, Greene
Richard McClure, Sidney
Pat and Nancy Corkrean, Winterset
Vicki Lage, Perry
Mary (Kimberly) Rueter, DeWitt

A special thank you to our sponsor, Cookies Food Products, and the Des Moines Marriott Downtown for making the program possible. Nominate an outstanding volunteer from your community as Iowan of the Day for the 2020 Iowa State Fair.


3. Water Sales: Volunteers sold $2 bottles water at 8 stands across the Fairgrounds. The first Saturday of the Fair must have been extra hot because water sales totaled $20,000!


4. Interns: During the Fair, our interns are in charge of their specific projects. They each have tasks that keep them busy from 7:30 am until 10 pm. In between the chaos, the interns are able to enjoy some special activities. This year, all four interns participated in the Outhouse Races. We’d never seen them move so fast to earn a 4th place finish!


5. BINGO: The second annual Blue Ribbon BINGO was a success! With $1 playing cards per game and the lucky winner receiving half the amount collected - it was a fun day for all ages. A total of 3,005 people played 73 games of BINGO. The Blue Ribbon Foundation raised $2,381. Thank you to the Better Business Bureau for sponsoring the day of BINGO. 


6. 4-H Building Renovation: With the help of the Governor of Iowa and the Iowa State Fair Board, the Blue Ribbon Foundation announced the 4-H Building renovation plans. The Foundation received the single-largest individual gift in the organization’s history, a $10 million donation from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation. Six million will be used to renovate the 4-H Building, while $4 million will support the Foundation’s endowment, Our Fair’s Future. With plans in motion, the building will be renovated from top to bottom with new lighting and floors, updated kitchen facilities, restrooms, and additional classroom space.


7. Painting Class: A total of 212 Fairgoers participated in the Blue Ribbon Foundation's Painting Class fundraiser. With $7,420 raised, all proceeds from the painting class are dedicated to Our Fair’s Future, the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s endowment fund. A special thank you to Messy Missy's Art Studio in Marshalltown for leading the classes.

8. Engraved Bricks: Staff help several donors find engraved bricks. Did you know there are 15 different brick pad locations? Engraved bricks are a wonderful way to celebrate a loved one or commemorate your time spent at the Iowa State Fair. Bricks are placed twice a year. The fall deadline is September 15. Donate for your engraved online

9. Woodcarver’s Auction: The 2019 auction raised a record $65,300! A special thank you to Chainsaw Artists - Gary Keenan, T.J. Jenkins and Klint Kenik for producing outstanding pieces of art. The Foundation also auctioned off the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion Ham, Bacon and Dried Beef in addition to the 2019 concrete elephant statue - Baby Mine. Mark your calendar to join the Foundation for next year's Woodcarver's Auction on the last day of the 2020 Iowa State Fair, August 23, in the John and Emily Putney Family Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center.


10. Volunteers: Thank you to the 654 people that filled 1,407 volunteer shifts during the 11-day Fair. We couldn't have a successful event without your support. Thank you for helping with merchandise, selling bottled water, assisting with the painting class, BINGO…and the list goes on and on. Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers are truly some of the best Fairgoers. Thank you!

11. Staff: Cheers to our hard working staff! We were able to snap a quick photo of the full-time staff with the interns. It is rare that we are all at the same place at the same time. Divide and conquer is a motto we follow. 


With gorgeous August weather, outstanding entertainment and exhibits – it’s no surprise the Iowa State Fair had record breaking attendance. Among that million visitors, there is a group of donors that support the Foundation’s mission and help keep the Iowa State Fairgrounds in top-notch condition for the next generation. Thank you - truly “Nothing Compares” to the great Iowa State Fair.

Iowans of the Day Selected for 2019 Iowa State Fair

July 25, 2019
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This summer my main task has been publicizing and organizing the Iowan of the Day program. The Blue Ribbon Foundation began the Iowan of the Day program in 1997 to honor Iowans who have truly made a difference in their communities. It has been so fun receiving many nominations of truly deserving Iowans. I have gotten to read through them and take notes, and I am blown away by the amount of time and effort nominated individuals put into their communities for other people. A passion for volunteerism is a remarkable quality to have and I aspire to be like these nominees. This year, the judges reviewed dozens of nominations and selected those who demonstrate integrity, Iowa pride, hard work and dedication to their area. 

Each winner will have a day of recognition at the Iowa State Fair. He or she will be recognized on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage and presented as an Iowan of the Day. Along with accommodations at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, each will receive a cash prize, Grandstand and Iowa State Fair admission tickets, use of the Iowan of the Day golf cart, VIP parking, and a goodie bag.

The 2019 Iowan of the Day recipients are:

Jody Reynolds of Des Moines – Thursday, August 8th
Carol Jebens of Delhi – Friday, August 9th
Buffi Honeck of State Center – Saturday, August 10th
Aaron Van Beek of Sioux Center – Sunday, August 11th
Kelsey Bumsted of Solon – Monday, August 12th
Warren Van Dyke of Greene – Tuesday, August 13th
Richard McClure of Sidney – Wednesday, August 14th
Pat and Nancy Corkrean of Winterset – Thursday, August 15th
Vicki Lage of Perry – Friday, August 16th
Mary (Kimberly) Rueter of DeWitt – Saturday, August 17th

Thank you to all the nominators who submitted worthy Iowans to be recognized. Please remember that all nominations will be considered for three years after your submission and you can always send in additional information!

Make the Iowan of the Day presentation a part of your #FairFavorites this year August 8-14 at 2:00 and the 15-17 at 1:00 at the Anne and Bill Riley Stage!

 (Pictured is a 2018 Iowan of the Day, Brenda Lee Larkey.) 

- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

Join us for the 4th annual Painting Class!

July 24, 2019
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I don’t know about you, but this summer has gone by so fast. It is crazy that the Iowa State Fair will begin in 14 short days! I am so excited for the Fair to begin and to see the crowds enjoy their favorite activities at the Fair.

Whether you have attended the Fair for years or this is your first time coming, there is something for you! Every day of the Fair the Blue Ribbon Foundation will be offering a painting class to “Paint the Fair.” This will be the 4th annual social painting class, and this allows Fairgoers with the opportunity to have fun and give to the future of the Fair. All proceeds from this class will be dedicated to our endowment fund, “Our Fair’s Future.” As this endowment grows, it continues to provide funding for current and future renovation projects to the Fairgrounds.

Classes will be offered each day of the Fair at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center on the 3rd floor. However, there will be no classes held on Tuesday, August 13 and the mornings of Sunday, August 11 and 18. If you can’t make it during the day, night sessions will be offered on August 10,11,15,16 at 6:00 p.m.

The cost of attendance is $35 which includes a canvas, paint, brushes, and instructions on how to paint your favorite Fair scene. These classes will be taught by Missy Pieters, owner and artist at Messy Missy’s Studio & Gallery in Marshalltown.

If you are interested in signing up please take the time to complete our online Painting Class Registration Form. On-site registration will be available half an hour before each class starts. Each class has space for 50 painters, so sign up today!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at or (515) 262-3111 ext. 377.

- Maggie Mathiasen

Competitions at the Fair!

July 18, 2019
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The Iowa State Fair is 20 days away!

The Iowa State Fair is known for being a great State Fair! One of the things that makes our Fair so great are all of the different competitions that take place! This year for the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual Corndog Kickoff, held last weekend, the theme was “Let the Competition Begin!” Attendees sat at tables with centerpieces themed after some of the Iowa State Fair competitions and got their picture taken to look like they were part of muttin’ busting and the outhouse races. Read on to learn about more competitions that you may have never heard about at the Fair!

Checkers Tournament
Youth Checkers: Friday, August 16 • 9 a.m. Registration: 8 to 9 a.m.
Adult (18 years +) Checkers: Saturday, August 17 • 9 a.m. Registration: 8 to 9 a.m.
Administration Building Porch, east side Contact: Tim Moore, 319/325-3635,
DESCRIPTION: A board game with two opponents; the object is to capture your opponent’s pieces.

Wednesday, August 14 • 11 a.m. • Older Iowans Day at the Anne and Bill Riley Stage sponsored by Pepsi with media sponsor CW Iowa 23 Registration: 9:30 a.m.
East of the Anne and Bill Riley stage
Contact: Kathie Ruth, 515/967-7092,
DESCRIPTION: Dress up your favorite hat and show it off at the Fair

Tuesday, August 13 • 2:30 p.m. Grand Concourse Sponsored by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses
Contact: Darlene Kretzschmar, 515/988-0583,
DESCRIPTION: Teams gather and create home-made outhouses on wheels and compete in a relay race.

Bags Tournament
Saturday, August 17 Registration: Singles: 9-9:45 a.m., Doubles: 9 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Singles: 10 a.m. Doubles: 12 p.m. Grand Concourse
Sponsored by VPS

Contact: Ryan Beck, 515/975-0419,

DESCRIPTION: Toss corn-filled bags into an angled board. Players score points by hitting the board or making it in the hole.

Visit to learn more about different Fair time competitions. Remember to take part in all your #FairFavorites but also branch out and try new things!


- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

The Fair is just around the corner... we are keeping busy!

July 17, 2019
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Things are starting to get busier and busier around the Fairgrounds now and the Blue Ribbon Foundation interns are excited to start welcoming hundreds of people of to the Fairgrounds. Tomorrow a large group of the Blue Ribbon Foundation volunteers will be gathering on the Fairground in preparation for their jobs during the Fair. Volunteers will receive a meals catered by Campbells Food’s, schedules, this year’s volunteer t-shirt and more!

It seems like I am buried in manila envelopes, tickets, and t-shirts but I am loving it! There are still around 80 spots available to volunteer with the Foundation this year! With only 22 days until the start of the Fair I can’t wait to see everyone’s smiling faces serving water and selling merchandise to the thousands of Fairgoers. Interested in taking some time out of your day to volunteer? Click the link below to access our sign up page and view our available shifts. We would love to add you to the volunteer crew this year! Have questions about volunteering? Feel free to contact me or call 515-262-3111 Ext. 379.


It's Corndog Kickoff Time!

July 2, 2019
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Hello everyone and happy July! July means a busy month for all of us here at the Foundation. The Kickoff is only a short 11 days away and we couldn’t be more excited for the event to get here. As you may know, the Fair has a major volunteer force helping to make every day a success, and the Kickoff is no different! A group of around 100 volunteers come together to serve food, sell tickets, supervise auctions, help you get the perfect Instagrammable picture at our photo backdrops, and more! The Corndog Kickoff volunteers help the night become one of the best and most memorable pre-Fair parties the Fairgrounds has ever seen. We are looking forward to seeing our volunteers show up the night of the event bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for an incredible night.

The Foundation is always looking for ways to add to the Corndog Kickoff, and this year with the help of our volunteers we are excited to debut a few new items! This year G Migs from West Des Moines Iowa will be alongside some of the tastiest and most savory Fair foods yet serving up their delicious pretzel bites and beer cheese appetizers. Accompanying G Migs in its introductory year at the Kickoff, the Foundation will be holding a scratch ticket raffle game where guests can buy a ticket for $10 and win some incredible prizes. A little birdy told the interns there may be a chance to win some Grandstand concert tickets as well! Who isn’t smiling when you are surrounded by delicious Fair Food and unique auction packages? Our photo booths are sure to put a smile on your face; this is your chance to fulfill your State Fair Dreams of competing in the legendary Outhouse Races. This is your chance to race down the Grand Concourse in the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s custom outhouse, collect your toilet paper roll and cross the finish line. Never got the chance to compete in Mutton Busting as a kid? Problem solved! The Blue Ribbon Foundation will be there to cheer you on to victory as you stand next to your very own sheep! If this all sounds like too much fun to be missing out on, tickets are still available to purchase for $125 through the Foundations website at; or at the door the night of the event. Start to get your smiles polished and your bidding arm ready it’s Corndog Kickoff time!



Summer Newsletter: 1999, 2009, and 2019

June 28, 2019
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What’s happening at the Blue Ribbon Foundation this summer?

The Blue Ribbon’s Summer Newsletter is out and up on the Foundation’s website. This issue highlights new Fair merchandise items, upcoming events such as the Corndog Kickoff, and of course a profile of some of our wonderful donors. Make sure to mark your calendar for the 2019 Corndog Kickoff on Saturday, July 13!

The Newsletter also includes information about Blue Ribbon’s ”Paint the Fair” classes held every day during the Fair. These will be held on the third floor of the Patty and Jim Cownie Cultural Center. Sign up early and get your spot!

What was happening 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, The Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center was under construction and was to be completed by the 2010 Fair. The Elwell Family Food Center had also recently been under construction, but was going to be open to the public for the first time during the 2009 Iowa State Fair.

This issue highlighted several different merchandise items including the new custom-designed board game “It’s a Fair Game”. A pottery wine chiller, Elwell Family Food Center lapel pin, china box, soup bowl mug, and ornament were also included as new merchandise items.

Lorne and Kathi Scharnberg, founders of Katecho Inc. were recognized as gracious donors in the donor profile of the newsletter. The Scharnbergs have been attending the Iowa State Fair since the 1980’s when they first moved to Iowa. Their love and faith in the Fair have brought them back to enjoy the fun Fair festivities year after year. The Scharnbergs have also been attending and donating to the Corndog Kickoff since 2001.

What was happening 20 years ago?

In the 1999 Summer Newsletter, former Blue Ribbon Executive Director John Putney is pictured on the front cover with former Governor Vilsack. On May 24, Vilsack signed the Iowa Legislature’s bill for state infrastructure funding into law, allocating $10 million over the next two years to rebuild the Varied Industries Building.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation was premiered several new and fun merchandise items for the 1999 Fair. Items included “Fair Buddies” stuffed animals, a variety of bucket hats, double-ferris wheel pins, embroidered shirts, stainless steel mugs, and covered bean pots. There were also several fun auction items allocated for that year’s Corndog Kickoff. Backstage passes with Reba McEntire, brand new Maytag Washer and Dryer, hot air balloon ride, and a ride on the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch were just a few!
The donor profile featured the Taylor family of Taylor Ball Industries. Jack and Gabriella Taylor have been longtime Fairgoers and love supporting the Fair through the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s creative fundraising and giving programs.

Many things have changed over the years but one thing remains the same. The Blue Ribbon Foundation helps thousands of Iowa State Fair fans like you show their support through giving programs, membership programs and fundraising events. Our organization will continue to raise funds to preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the next 10 and 20 years!



2019 Woodcarver's Auction

June 27, 2019
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Each year the Iowa State Fairgrounds are dotted with hand-painted sculptures that resemble a Fair time favorite. The last few have included a horse, an ice cream cone, the state of Iowa and a pig. This year’s #FairFavorite statue is a baby elephant, celebrating the 90th birthday of Baby Mine. Baby Mine was a 4-foot tall baby elephant that came to the Fair in 1929, thanks to 15,000 Iowa children that helped sponsor and name him by sending in nearly $1,000 nickels and dimes. For the last few years the Blue Ribbon Foundation has had its own statue in front of the Administration Building. This year we partnered with Sticks Inc. on a design for the Foundation’s elephant statue. This elephant will be auctioned off at the 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction.

The Woodcarver’s Auction is an event put on by the Blue Ribbon Foundation on the last Sunday of the Fair. Many different items are auctioned off including chainsaw wood carvings created by T.J. Jenkins and Gary Keenan, sculptors and registered chainsaw carvers. They will be sharing their art with Fairgoers each day. Spectators can watch four times a day as the nationally known pair turn simple logs into everything from animals to people.

Gary will carve nearly anything that reasonably fits the tree or log. He stays busy with commissioned work, carving both topped trees and freestanding logs. He has done well in competitions, both in the U.S. and abroad. Gary was invited to participate in “Sculptree”/Westonbirt Festival of the Tree that took place in August 2007, in England. This was quite an honor, since Gary was the only American to be invited out of a total of only twelve wood sculptors invited. Gary also carves at fairs, festivals, city events and open houses.

TJ’s work as a chainsaw artist all started with a rotten log used for chainsaw carving practice. With lots of practice, he ended up carving a bear head out of a tree trunk. Since then, he has carved over 70 bear heads in all shapes, sizes and painted with the wildest color schemes you can imagine.


The Woodcarver’s Auction will also feature Champion meats that will be up for bid during the sale.

The 2019 Woodcarver’s Auction will be held on Sunday, August 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center. All funds generated from the auction will be used by the Blue Ribbon Foundation to preserve and renovate the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Last year’s auction raised $56,500 for the Foundation.


- Gabrielle Gerke, PR Intern

Join us for Bingo at the Iowa State Fair!

June 26, 2019
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When it comes to the Fair, there are so many great things to do. We all have a difficult time deciding what new foods we want to try, what concerts we want to see, or what games we should play. However, there is one event that you can’t miss…Bingo on Grand Avenue!

No matter what age you are, Bingo is always a great way to have fun and show your competitive spirit. At the 2018 Fair the Blue Ribbon Foundation debuted our first Bingo event. With a wonderful turnout last year, we can easily say that Bingo has become a #FairFavorite. We are excited to announce that we will be hosting Bingo again this year on Grand Avenue sponsored by the Better Business Bureau; make sure to bring your friends and family for a great time! 

All Fairgoers are encouraged to participate in Bingo that will be taking place on Wednesday, August 14 from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. To play, participants donate $1 per card for each round of the game. Winners will receive 50 percent of the total earnings from each game. This is a great chance to have a seat, play a game of Bingo, win prize money, and support the renovation and preservation of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation recognizes the importance of the Iowa State Fair, as this is an event that any Iowan can take great pride in. When Fairgoers are walking throughout the Fairgrounds, we want to ensure they have a chance to see the beautiful and historic buildings that have been on the Fairgrounds since its inception, and the new buildings that contribute to our success. As you attend the Fair this year, we encourage you to look at all the buildings and see the renovations and updates that are being made to our facilities. These updates would not be possible without the many generous donations and support we receive from longtime Fair-lovers.

The Iowa State Fair is an internationally acclaimed event and the single largest event in the state of Iowa. Every donation matters, and every dollar raised provides us with an opportunity to support this historical event.  Please join us for Bingo on the Grand Concourse to join in our mission of renovating and preserving our beloved Fairgrounds. We can’t wait to see you there!

  - Maggie Mathiasen