Former Iowa State Fair director speaks to Rotary

Kay Beach got the Tuesday installment of Rotary started with a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance.

Rhonda Miller announced anniversaries of membership, and August birthdays were serenaded to with the help of Arlene Selby on the keyboard following lunch at Elmwood Country Club. Dale Ites introduced guest Reed Riskedahl as his guest. Among other things, Riskedahl is a master gardener and Iowa State Fair volunteer.

Jim Goodman and Val Ruff have a “travel and vacation Iowa” theme planned for the August programs. Goodman introduced John Putney, former executive director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, to present a timely program on the State Fair. Putney is a Gladbrook native, Iowa State University graduate, farmer and two-term Iowa Senator.

Recently retired from the Foundation, he had spearheaded the campaign to renovate and restore the fairgrounds, culminating in the renovation and construction of 30 fairground facilities. To put things in perspective Putney informed the crowd that the first Iowa State Fair was only eight short years after Iowa became a state in 1846. It settled in at its current location in 1878 and remains a significant part of Iowa’s infrastructure.

Of the original buildings, only Pioneer Hall remains. Putney described the pride that went into building the original structures at this location and the roughly 70 years of apathy that nearly forced closure of several structures in 1990. Renovation and repair efforts by a newly-formed Blue Ribbon Foundation began in 1992 with a goal of educating the public and raising $30 million by the year 2000.

To date, $100 million has been raised for the 400-plus acre site hosting the state-owned facilities. A learning center, museum, and amphitheater are examples of the prioritized renovation and construction projects that have been undertaken. Putney described the 100,000 square foot Jacobson Center that makes the fair much more competitive, along with the Mid-American Stage and Ruan Plaza projects that are slated to start at the conclusion of this year’s event.

During a question and answer period, Putney noted the 10-year waiting list for the campground which is estimated to house nearly 18,000 campers during each day of the fair. Rotary President Bonnie Lowery closed the meeting by educating the group about the Rotary Foundation, which got its start in 1917.