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 $200 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.

Thanks to the Nominators

July 12, 2011
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The deadline has passed… the nominations are in… get ready to celebrate the Iowans of the Day at the 2011 Iowa State Fair!!

The selection committee is excited to learn more about the outstanding volunteers across the state of Iowa. The top ten nominations will be picked later this week and the 2011 Iowans of the Day will be announced very soon.

To show our appreciation for the deserving Iowans of the Day, each will receive:

  • An introduction on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage
  • Four Grandstand show tickets for their day
  • Use the Iowan of the Day golf cart
  • VIP parking
  • Accommodations at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott hotel
  • $200 cash

I would also like to take this time to thank all of the Iowa of the Day nominators.  We appreciate the time you have put into your nomination.  You are the reason the Blue Ribbon Foundation can honor these people. The Iowan of the Day program’s success would not be possible without people like you!

I hope to see all of the nominators and other community members at the Fair to celebrate each Iowan of the Day winner.

And remember if you didn’t get your outstanding volunteer nominated for this year’s Iowa State Fair, there is always next year! :)


One month until the 2011 Iowa State Fair

July 11, 2011
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I can hardly believe the Fair is just one month away from today! It feels like summer just started not too long ago. After winding down from the Corndog Kickoff this weekend we will continue working hard at preparing for the Fair. I have always loved the Fair and am excited to see all the work that goes into it after being an intern with the Blue Ribbon Foundation. This internship has been great so far and I’m sure it will only get more exciting as August 11th approaches.

Check out more pictures from the 2011 Corndog Kickoff on our facebook page.

The Final Countdown

July 8, 2011
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I can hardly believe the Kickoff is 1 day away! All our staff and volunteers have been down at the Varied Industries Building the past few days preparing for tomorrow evening. Things are coming together perfectly and we are so excited! I took a few pictures yesterday while we were setting up. Here is a glimpse into the 2011 Kickoff that will hopefully get you excited for tomorrow!

Here Comes the Kickoff

July 5, 2011
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Here it is, the week of the Kickoff! Our office is already bustling today with things to prepare for the big event. If you haven’t ordered tickets yet you can still do so online or at the door.

Here are some more fun facts about the Butter Cow:

  • Butter Sculpting at the Iowa State Fair began as a way for the dairy industry to promote itself. The Midwest Dairy Association provides the butter used to sculpt the Butter Cow.
  • John K. Daniels, the first Iowa State Fair butter sculptor, lived to be 103 years old!
  • There was not a cow sculpted in 1946.  World War II was just ending and butterfat prices were too high.
  • The butter used to create the 2011 cow will be 6 years old. It will almost be time to get a fresh batch of butter after this year.
  • The Butter Cow ornament will be available for sale again at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Be sure to get in line for yours!

Butter sculptress Sarah Pratt


Good Guys and their cars

July 1, 2011
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This morning I had to make my way through the Fair campgrounds to find a parking spot and walk a ways to get to work. That’s because the Good Guys Car Show is going on today at the Fairgrounds. Lined up all around the Fair are some pretty sweet cars. I snapped a couple pictures of some of the cars outiside our office building.


Also going on this weekend are tons of people camping out at the Fair for the Fourth of July weekend. It is fun to see so many at the Fairgrounds and gets me excited for August, which is now only a short month away. There’s still so much to do! After this nice 3-day weekend I will have to put it into turbo-gear to prepare for the Corndog Kickoff, which is next Saturday the 9th. If you still haven’t purchased tickets yet or need some more you can get them online or buy them at the door.


Fun Friday Facts of the Butter Cow:

In 1997 the Butter Cow was featured on a souvenier postcard that sold for 50 cents. Proceeds were used to rennovate the Agriculture building which houses the Butter Cow. In 2000, a plaque was placed in front of the Agriculture buidling to commemmorate 40 years of Duffy Lyon sculpting the Butter Cow. Make sure to check it out this year at the Fair!

The Butter Cow is approximately 5 1/2 feet tall and 8 feet long.

In 2007, the Iowa State Fair and the Butter Cow were listed in the New York Times Bestselling Book  1,000 Places to See Before You Die.


A Beautiful Day on the Fairgrounds

June 29, 2011
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Our office is located in the Earth Building which has many windows and beautiful landscaping and is quite enjoyable on days like today. This morning I was able to get some fresh air outside as I helped assemble some of the decorations for the Corndog Kickoff. As I was working I saw several walkers powering up the steep hill between our office and the Anderson Erikson Stage. I also spent some time enjoying the Fairgrounds this past weekend. My fiance and I took our engagement pictures here Sunday afternoon. My Dad got a cool picture of us standing under the sky glider with the Grandstand and Fairgrounds in the background. If  you happen to be looking for a good place to take pictures I strongly suggest coming out to the Fair!

This week continues another round of Butter Cow facts!

Duffy Lyon became the apprentice to sculptor Frank Earl Dutts in 1959. Just one year later she replaced Dutts to become the fourth Fair sculptor and the first female Fair sculptor. Duffy preferred to sculpt more modern cows that were long and thin opposed to short and round. She loved sculpting cows but did not enjoy sculpting calves as much. She sketched out a picture of every cow prior to building its frame and would begin sculpting at 6 a.m. each morning. Duffy happened to be 8 months pregnant when she sculpted her first cow for the Fair in 1960. The sculpture was of a Jersey cow, as she was most familiar with this breed from spending time on the Lyon’s farm. Since then, each year has featured one of six major dairy breeds: Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn.

If the temperature in the cooler is not cool enough, the sculptures have a tendency to lose their shape. Three of Duffy’s Butter Cows have lost parts of their bottom sides. Luckily Duffy and her team are talented enough to rebuild the udders and adjust the cooler temperature. Usually Duffy has about two or three assistants each year helping her construct the cow and companion sculpture. At the age of 13 current sculptor Sarah Pratt began an apprentice with Duffy constructing the Butter Cow. Sarah took over the as the Fair sculptor in 2006.

What I have learned so far...

June 28, 2011
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I started my internship with the Blue Ribbon Foundation in March. I have been working on press releases, newsletter articles, and many other projects to get ready for the 2011 Iowa State Fair. I have improved my writing and design skills by working for the Foundation.

One thing that I have learned always sticks out in my mind . . .  People are truly passionate about the Iowa State Fair. I have seen this passion first hand with theIowan of the Day program and the Corndog Kickoff.

People are willing to take time out of their busy lives to fill out a nomination form for the Iowan of the Day program. They are passionate about honoring outstanding volunteers across the state. I have received amazing nominations for people who have made their community a better place to live. Most of the nominees volunteer hundreds of hours without any recognition at all. The Blue Ribbon Foundation gives ten of those volunteers the opportunity to have VIP treatment during the great Iowa State Fair.

I have been working for the past few months on auction donations for the Corndog Kickoff. As of today, there have been 298 auction donors for the 2011 Corndog Kickoff.  The money raised from the silent and live auction will go to renovations and improvements to the Iowa State Fairgrounds. New for this year’s Fair is the remodel of Expo Hill. The landscape of Expo Hill now features renewable energy technologies including solar power lighting, solar cooled benches and solar powered Wi-Fi benches. There have also been electrical updates in the Sheep Barn and a new fiber optic network. These donors are passionate about maintaining the Fairgrounds.

Just recently I had a phone call from an auction donor. We discussed her donation and the Corndog Kickoff in general. She went on to describe how much she loved the Iowa State Fair. Over the years, she had been to other State Fairs but I could hear the passion in her voice when she spoke about the Iowa State Fair. To her, our Fair was the best.  I think many would agree that nothing compares.

I also had the opportunity to spend last Friday at the Downtown Des Moines Arts Festival. As I worked on the “butter cow masks” with the children, I would ask if they had ever been to the Iowa State Fair. Young kids were even passionate about telling me their favorite part of the Fair, especially their favorite food. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter the age or involvement, Iowans are passionate about their Fair.


Butter Cow Facts

June 27, 2011
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This week’s Butter Cow facts will be in honor of Norma Duffield Stong Lyon, known by many as “Duffy.” The beloved “butter cow lady” passed this weekend. Our thoughts are with the family.

Duffy graduated from Iowa State College with a degree in animal science where she also met her husband, Joe Lyon. They settled in Toledo, Iowa, where they raised their nine children.

Duffy Lyon was the fourth out of five Butter Cow sculptors for the Iowa State Fair. Out of the 100 years of the Butter Cow, Duffy made 46 of them. She began sculpting for the Fair in 1960 and retired in 2006, passing the torch on to Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines.


Duffy Lyon's first Iowa State Fair Butter Cow 1960


Nothing Compares to the Grandstand Line-up!

June 24, 2011
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For the past half an hour or so I have been looking up the top songs of the artists that will be gracing us with their presence at the Grandstand for the Fair this year. I am working on a music playlist for the Corndog Kickoff that is coming up in a few weeks and after looking at all of the concert material it is getting me excited!

I personally have never been to a show at the Grandstand, crazy I know! I have been to many shows on the free stages, though, which are great. I think it would be so fun to enjoy a show at the Grandstand. First of all, it is historic and so many great artists have performed there over the years. Second, it’s outdoors!

With Jason Aldean, Sugerland, Train and Janet Jackson all coming this year I wouldn’t want to miss the Fair! If you aren’t planning on going to a show at the Grandstand make sure to at least check out all of the great free shows throughout the 11 days. The Band Perry, The Nadas, Tenth Avenue North, The Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Brice and many more!

We look forward to seeing you! 47 days!


Caution: Falling Butter

June 23, 2011
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Although there is a wire frame that acts as the foundation of the Butter Cow, the wire does not support the ears. Therefore, they are often at risk of falling off if not sculpted well.


Good thing we have such a talented sculptress!

Last night we enjoyed a potluck reception for Kickoff volunteers. We appreciate all of the people who help make this big event happen! Kickoff tickets are beginning to be mailed, so expect yours soon! Make sure to place orders for any additional tickets at a lower price before June 30th.

Stay tuned next week to learn about the woman behind the butter.