State Fair Memories

Article by Iowa Sportsman staff and contributing writers

“Our State Fair is a Great State Fair!” Oh, the lyrics to the timeless musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein speak more than words. Truly the greatest celebration of our great state is encapsulated by the Iowa State Fair which will be held August 12-22nd in Des Moines. The Iowa State Fair has been held annually since 1854 and at its current location since 1886. The fair unites Iowans like no other event and has become a symbol of all that is good in the State of Iowa. However, it is the memories of the Iowa State Fair that are etched on the minds of our state’s citizens. Just mentioning Bill Riley and the Talent Sprouts or the Butter Cow, evoke fond reminiscences of fairs past. In order to celebrate the heritage of the Iowa State Fair, I reached out to the writers and staff members of Iowa Sportsman to share their fond recollections of the Iowa State Fair. Reading their words certainly bring alive the sights, smells, and sounds of the Iowa Fairgrounds. I hope you enjoy these thoughts.

The Iowa State Fair has always been an important event in my life.  Born on August 8, 1954, I attended my first Iowa State Fair a few days later.  I have only missed a few since.  Our family raised purebred Yorkshire Swine and we showed our hogs annually at the Iowa State Fair.  It was a different time where the livestock barns were full day one with 4-H, FFA, and Open Class showman from across the United States.  4-H and FFA showman stayed in the dormitories on the “Hill” or when you got a bit older slept in the alleys behind the pens.  We had a blast staying in the Swine Barn and I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime.  The Iowa State Fair provides particularly fond memories of my younger brother Pat who passed away at 16 years of age from a heart condition.  Pat was a “farmer” from day one and he had great success in the Iowa State Fair Showring, but even more so he had great success in being an outstanding human being.  When I attend the State Fair this year just like so many in the past I will remember fondly how much he loved the State Fair and how much I loved him. Gale McKinney, Publisher

My memory has to be about my parents.  My dad’s brother (my uncle) and my uncle’s girlfriend wanted to go to the 1951 state fair but didn’t have transportation. My dad had a car so they decided to set up a blind date between my dad and mom who was my uncle’s girlfriend’s best friend.  So my parents met on a blind date to the 1951 state fair, were married in September of 1952,  were happily married for 55 years and mom passed away in October of 2007.  Dad is still living and turned 89 in March of 2021. Joyce Kenney, Outdoor Marketing Specialist

In high school, I showed hogs with the FFA. I was able to show them at the 2015 Iowa State Fair and I thought it was a great opportunity. I didn’t have the necessary “loading equipment”, so lifting the 250-pound pigs onto the truck that took them to the fairgrounds was an absolute nightmare. I was inexperienced and my pigs ended up running off on me right before we were to enter the ring. In addition, my white Yorkshire hogs were completely sunburnt, so needless to say, I would not be winning any awards in the purebred class. There are also perks that come with showing at the fair. I was able to spend entire days there, which is a dream for a high-schooler, and each day during the early hours I could be found scarfing down the best apple pie I have ever had at a food nearby stand. Kirsten Lundy, Writer

It’s hard to talk about the Iowa State Fair and not mention the food!  I’ve had my favorites that I try to get to every year.  To name a few, a jumbo turkey leg, thick Iowa pork chop dinner, big ol’ glass of root beer, a cup of cookies, and more.  My family and I now map out our visit based on what time of day it is so we are making sure to SEE everything there is to see as well as TASTE our annual favorites, and along the way, we try a few new things as well! Ryan Graden, Writer

“My favorite memory is the girl’s day that is spent with my sister and mother. Each year for the last 3 years we decided that we were going to have a girl’s day. We would pick an artist and go to that concert. But we were not just going to the concert. We make it a day of walking the Iowa State Fair looking at the different things available and trying new food. These by far has been the best girl days. So now we have made it a tradition to do this every year. Kendra Sassman, Outdoor Marketing Specialist

My favorite state fair memory was definitely the DNR building and all the fish tanks they had. Next to that was all of the giant vegetables and getting to see the different kinds of horses and cattle. Nick Johnson, Writer

Probably the biggest memory I have is the annual tradition of taking my wife and kids to the Little Hands on the farm area at the State Fair. I love watching my kids learn about agriculture and how important it is for our state. It is awesome watching my kids learn how to grow vegetables, milk a cow, drive a tractor (all in kid’s style). I love how they teach kids work ethic and then at the end because of their hard work they each get a dollar from Little Hands Farm to spend on a yummy treat or drink. It’s one of my favorite things to do at the State Fair with my family and provides great memories. Brandon Peterson, Art Director/Graphic Designer

Some of my earliest memories are set on the State Fair Grounds, but my favorite state fair memory has to be hearing my grandfather’s stories of his family’s once a summer trek to the capital city. Growing up on a farm near Pella in the 1930s-50s meant that a trip to Des Moines was a whole day affair, and with no work on Sundays the additional day off required an extra early wake up time for him and his older brother to finish the milking and complete the other daily chores necessary for keeping the small farm functioning. Once his dad affirmed that the necessary workload had been accomplished with enough sunlight left in the day to justify the hour-long car ride, the family would load up and spend the day taking in the sights and sounds, examining the latest farm machinery, and admiring the show quality livestock. Each time I think of the fair I imagine myself squeezed into the back of the un-airconditioned family sedan cruising a two lane highway on a vastly different Iowa landscape anticipating the payoff for my early morning efforts. -Kent Boucher, Writer

I grew up going to the state fair every year whether that be for 4H or to see a concert with my family, but my favorite memory from the state fair was in 2016 because it was my first date with my fiancé, Tyler. Since then, we have made it a point to go every year. We love getting to meet up with our friends to eat some fried food, especially the fried Oreos! Ironically enough, the Iowa State Fair was also my grandparents first date back in the day as well! Although the 2020 fair was cancelled, we are looking forward to go to the fair this year in between my time at the Iowa Sportsman’s booth. Taylor Chansler, Digital Media Director

As for me, my great memory of the Iowa State Fair was in August of 1990. A long-time Bob Dylan fan I sat in the stifling heat as the now Nobel laureate opened with a blistering rendition of Maggie’s Farm. The concert took me from Desolation Row to Highway 61 Revisited, all from my seat in the Grandstand of the Iowa State Fair. John Chalstrom, Editor

We hope these memories evoke your own of the greatest state fair in our county. The Iowa State Fair is a fabric that weaves Iowans together and is an integral part of our heritage. Iowa Sportsman will be at the Iowa State Fair so please stop by our booth and share more memories with us this August!