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.

Piecing it Together

July 29, 2010
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There are a lot of different pieces that make up the Fair. Departments, staff, volunteers, exhibitors and attendees are all people who help piece together the Fair each year. As Fair time approaches (only 14 days now!) there are thousands of pieces that need to be put in place to make sure we’re ready on opening day.

Without a doubt, each day gets busier as we get closer to the Fair. The Corndog Kickoff was held just two and a half weeks ago and after we wrap up a few days following the event, it’s high speed into Fair mode. Everyone in the office has a mile long to-do list, myself included. One of my current projects: getting all of the giving programs in place, including bricks, pavers, benches, trees, and lamp posts!

One of the new giving programs this year is the donor wall, or Block by Block, in the new Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center. All of the individual plaques are ordered and we are excited to see them installed in the form of barn quilts very soon!

I drove past the Jacobson Center today and took a couple of photos of the barn quilt designs being displayed on the exterior of the building. Crews are piecing it together block by block to make this amazing facility even more beautiful with the help of each of Iowa’s counties.  KCCI did a small story on the quilt block installation yesterday-click here to see the video footage.   


We are very excited to be debuting this exceptional new facility at this year’s Fair. We invite to you join us for opening ceremonies and the ribbon cutting on Thursday, August 12th at 9:30 a.m. at the Jacobson Center. While you’re there, be sure to check out your county’s quilt block on the outside of the building!

See you in two weeks for Non Stop Fun at the Iowa State Fair!

We're in Fair mode now

July 16, 2010
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First of all, thanks to more than 1,200 people for attending yet another successful Corndog Kickoff!  This year, we raised $227,000 to help renovate and restore the Fairgrounds. But now that the Kickoff is behind us, we’re in full swing getting ready for the Fair!

Last night, we hosted our annual Volunteer Reception in the newly-renovated Elwell Family Food Center.  It went as smoothly as we could have hoped for, thanks to some delicious catering by Campbell’s Concessions and a well-organized program by our volunteer coordinator, Stefany Foster. We’ve all been keeping busy, but probably none more so than Stefany, our Special Projects Intern. She’s been given the daunting task of organizing and assigning to duty all of the Foundation’s 450 volunteers. I’ve seen firsthand how stressful that job can be, but she’s done a great job so far!

At the end of the reception, I had the pleasure of being one of the tour guides for the four trams that took the volunteers on a quick jaunt around the Fairgrounds.  I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t know enough to talk about, but I surprised myself by only having to rely on my info cheat sheet a few times!  I also knew the answer to every reasonable question, and I think our tram had a good time in the ten minutes we had to do a quick lap around the Fairgrounds.

I’ve got plenty of work to do, entering stuff in the computer from the Kickoff and gearing up for the Fair. Speaking of which, we’re only 26 days away now! Thanks to everyone who helped make the Kickoff possible and to all that support what we do!

Billy Boyle, Special Events Intern

Corndog Kickoff Tomorrow!

July 9, 2010
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The Corndog Kickoff is tomorrow! Everything is coming together really well and we’re getting excited! Thought you’d like a sneak peak of the happenings:






Hope to see you tomorrow night at 6:30! You can still buy your tickets at the door.

Thanks for your part in “Building a Blue Ribbon Tradition!”

Brick Give-a-way Week 5: Livestock Pavillion

July 2, 2010
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Congratulations to Ashley Burns for winning a brick at the Cattle Barn!

An $800,000 renovation funded by the Prairie Meadow Racetrack and Casino provided a new roof for the aging building. Without the renovation, the Livestock Pavilion would not be able to be used year-round as it is today.  During the Fair it is also used for livestock competitions and judging or the Governor’s annual Charity Steer Show.

What is your favorite thing about the Livestock Pavillion?
Leave a comment on here or Facebook by Thursday, July 8 for a chance to win a brick at the Livestock Pavillion.

Brick Give-a-way Week 4: Cattle Barn

June 23, 2010
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Congratulations to Michele Deiber Kumm for winning the brick at Pioneer Hall.

Built in 1920, the Cattle Barn serves the Fairgrounds year round.  First construction created 1,520 stalls, an office, a dining room and sleeping quarters for the Cattle Barn.  The structure was created very open from one side of the barn to the other, allowing the public to easily access each year’s exhibitors.  The initial structure even had city water distributed to all parts of the building through an elaborate drainage system. 

The Cattle Barn now has an additional 480 stalls totaling to 2,000.  Today, the barn witnesses livestock shows, auctions, trade shows and meeting.  The Fair brings in up to 4,000 head with even some exotic and European breeds.

Tell us about the last time you visited the Cattle Barn.
Add a comment here or on Facebook by 10:00 a.m. June 30 to enter to win a brick at the Cattle Barn.

Brick Give-a-Way Week 3: Pioneer Hall

June 17, 2010
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Congratulations to Lindsey Wanderscheid, winner of the Anne & Bill Riley Stage brick!

As an exhibition hall, Pioneer Hall has served a number of purposes in its lifetime.  From a poultry building to a storage facility, the building has even operated as an employee dormitory at one point. Today, within the wooden structure, is the Museum of Iowa Agriculture.  However, as the Fair approaches, the museum is joined by antiques for display and judged competitions during the Fair. 

However, without the help of the Farm Bureau, the Pioneer Hall would have never been reopened in 1996.  The Bureau funded extensive renovations to the aging hall.  The renovation stabilized this building for the future working on the hall’s foundation and footing.

Throughout the Fair, music fills the air from the fiddlers, potters work with their clay, while blacksmiths and furniture makers diligently create.  People visit with friends over lemonade, watch women throw sand-filled rubber chickens and admire the antiques. 

What brings you to Pioneer Hall during the Fair?
Add a comment here or on Facebook by 10:00 a.m. June 23 to enter to win a brick at Pioneer Hall.

Brick Give-a-way Week 2: Anne & Bill Riley Stage

June 9, 2010
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Congratulations to Carol Britson, the winner of the brick at the Ag Building!

The stage was dedicated to Bill Riley in 1996 as a way to remember the many hours Bill devoted to the Iowa State Fair.  Bill began the State Fair Talent Search and served as its host for 50 years.  It was also Bill Riley that enabled the renovation of what was then the Plaza Stage.

A $100,000 contribution in 1996 funded the two phases of renovation of the stage.  During the first phase of renovation, an additional 500 square feet of stage and 3,400 square feet of roofing were constructed as the existing structure was restored.  A second phase of renovation established a sound and light control booth and created landscaped seating for 3,000 visitors. 

It was only in recent years that the stage name changed from the Bill Riley Stage to Anne and Bill Riley Stage.

What’s your favorite act to see on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage?
Add a comment here or on Facebook by 10:00 a.m. June 16 to enter to win a brick at the Anne & Bill Riley Stage.

Brick Give-a-way Week 1: Ag Building

June 2, 2010
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 Ag Building - Old                    Ag Building - New

The building was constructed in an exposition-style and even after its renovation in 1995, the Ag Building continues to portray the same style.  The 1995 restoration involved a new roof, updating all the building’s  windows and doors, and brick and mortar work.

For years, the Ag Building has housed the many horticultural and floricultural displays of the Iowa State Fair.  It also welcomes visitors of the Butter Cow and each year’s butter sculpture. 

What’s your favorite thing to see in the Ag Building?
Add a comment here or on Facebook by 10:00 a.m. June 9 to enter to win a brick at the Ag Building.

Building a Blue Ribbon Tradition

June 1, 2010
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At this year’s Corndog Kickoff , we’ll be “Building a Blue Ribbon Tradition,” celebrating all of the renovations that have been done around the Iowa State Fairgrounds. In honor of this, over the next few weeks, we will be posting blogs about the history of several buildings on the Fairgrounds. Each week, you will have the opportunity to win a brick to be placed at the building highlighted that week. Watch for more information in the days to come! We hope you learn a bit more about the history of the Iowa State Fairgrounds and why it’s so important that we preserve these  historic buildings!

Building Excitement

May 25, 2010
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Hey Fair-lovers! My name is Billy Boyle, and I’m one of the three interns working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation this summer. In the fall I’ll be attending Central College as a senior with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Business Management.  I’m really excited to be working here this summer, because I love going to the Fair and now I’ll be here all eleven days!

I started last week, but I’ve already learned a lot, especially about the history of the Fairgrounds.  For example, did you know that the Iowa State Fair once had a baby elephant? Her name was Baby Mine, and she first came to the Fair in 1929 where she lived inside the barn at Grandfather’s Farm. Or did you know that there used to be airplane shows in front of the Grandstand?  Those stopped around mid-century after such wild shenanigans as when F.F. “Bowser” Frakes, a race-car driver posing as a pilot, crashed his WWI Jenny biplane into a house that had been constructed in front of the Grandstand just to be destroyed.  Or how about that some houses in Des Moines contain lumber from the old wooden roller coaster that used to span the grass parking lot between University Ave and the Grandstand?

All in all, my first week has been great. I can’t wait for all the chaos of Fairtime to get here–the long days, the people, the shows and attractions.  Slowly but surely, I’m learning the inside outs of putting together various events to raise money for the treasure that is the Iowa State Fair.  Only 78 days and counting until the first day, when I can gorge on all that wonderful food!  It will be a nice change from the leftovers I usually bring for lunch at the office.

Billy Boyle