State fair grand marshal shares long tradition of cattle raising

Trevor Werner

For many people, the Iowa State Fair is a fun excursion that comes every year, but for one man it has become something more. Don Greiman, of Garner, has dedicated much of his life to the fair and keeping it around. For the past 47 years, Don hasn’t missed a single day of the state fair.

This year, Greiman was honored as being grand marshal of the Iowa State Fair Parade.

“The Iowa State Fair is one of those activities you wish to never end,” Greiman said. “I never get sick of the fair.”

A graduate of Iowa State, Greiman spent much of his life caring for his family farm, which he inherited from his father. Today, the farm is managed by Greiman’s son and daughter-in-law, Ted and Mary Greiman. Their purebred Angus herd, which is one of the oldest in the country, was started by Greiman’s grandfather, who traded a Percheron stallion for his first Angus bull in 1896.

“I took over from my dad, and Ted has taken our herd to the next level,” Greiman said. “My grandson, Cole, showed the grand champion female at the National Junior Angus Show in Louisville, Ky. Cole’s brother, Kyle, showed the champion bred and owned the year before, and Cole showed the Champion Bred and Owned the year before that. Grandpa is very proud.”

Greiman, 85, first attended the state fair when he was 3 years old and began developing habits he would carry into adulthood. Today, he still refers to himself as “a corn dog junkie.”

Greiman served as a member of the Iowa State Fair Board for 44 years until his retirement in 2009. During that time he was president of the board twice. He was instrumental in saving the fair during some financial troubles that occurred in the 1970s. During this time, attendance to the fair roughly doubled.

He also served on the board of directors for the American Angus Association when it initiated certified Angus beef, he was president of the ISU Alumni Association and was the first president of the Iowa Purebred Beef Council.

During his time on the board of the fair, he helped form “The Blue Ribbon Foundation.” According to their website, “The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was established by the State Fair Board to conduct a major capital campaign for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since its inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised over $85 million, through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

“Don was very instrumental in the formation of the Blue Ribbon Foundation,” said Alan Brown, vice president of the Iowa State Fair Board. “We fully appreciate what he and boards of the past have done to preserve the fairgrounds. I know they went through some challenging times and brought back to Iowa the treasure that the state fairgrounds are.”

Last year the foundation named Greiman the Official Iowa State Fair Ambassador.

Greiman’s new book, “A Blue Ribbon Life: Memories of the Iowa State Fair,” chronicles his experiences on the Iowa State Fair Board as well as showing purebred cattle. The book was cowritten with ISU theater professor Jane Cox. The cost of the book is $20 and all proceeds go to the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

He came up with the idea for his title “Living a Blue Ribbon Life” because, for people who show cattle, a blue ribbon represents “above average.”

“The Blue Ribbon Foundation has played a very important part in the Iowa State Fair,” Greiman said. “Without them, I don’t think the fair would have been able to accomplish what it has in restoring old buildings and building new facilities. We were in a situation where our buildings were deteriorating and the farm economy was in a slump, and the legislature didn’t have the funding to assist.”