ISU alumnus shares Iowa State Fair experience


Emily Matson/IowaStateDaily

An audience member asks James Romer a question about the Iowa State Fair camper reservations during a presentation on Jan. 15 at the Alumni Center.

Wendy Cardwell

An ISU alumnus now helps plan one of Iowa’s biggest events of the year: the Iowa State Fair.

James Romer, ISU alumnus and vice president of the Iowa State Fair board, shared the past, present and future of the 161-year-old tradition with the ISU Retirees Association at the Alumni Center Thursday afternoon.

“My favorite part about the fair is the memories in the past,” Romer said. 

Romer, who has been on the board for two years, said his time spent on the board showed him that half of the people who attend want to see new aspects and the other half want it to stay the exact same each year.

“There is definitely a balance with keeping the tradition alive, but also finding those new avenues that attract more and more folks back to the fair,” Romer said.

The first fair was in Fairfield, Iowa in 1854, then moved in 1879 to Des Moines. The fair takes place in mid-August each year. There are several competitive and entertaining activities that take place during this time.

Past fairs have featured a circus, concerts, wrestling and more. In 2006, Raven Symoné performed at the fair and drew a large crowd. Another main event that takes place is the outhouse races, which was named ESPN’s most unique contest.

The 2014 fair featured new fair-favorite foods, such as funnel cake sticks, smoked brisket, bacon mac ‘n cheese, caprese salad on-a-stick, brownie blitz and the Three-Buck Bowl.

There are several ways the Iowa State Fair Board plans its marketing strategies. Multiple marketing tactics are needed in order to get the word out for the fair.

“We are continuing to grow and expand our fair, so more and more people will enjoy it,” Romer said.”When the fair nears, we hand out advanced tickets to Hy-Vee and different organizations around town, so people become aware of buying tickets.”

There are also positions available to work for the fair. A few of these include the manager’s office, board of directors, grandstand shows and numerous volunteer positions.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation began in 1994. The Blue Ribbon Foundation has helped the Iowa State Fair raise funds that have helped it grow in success over the years. The foundation has gained more than $105,000,000 in revenue over the past two decades.

Some of the previous projects that have been a result of the blue ribbon foundation is the Grandstand, Pioneer Hall, Hy-Vee Fun Forest, Cattle Barn, 4-H building, Museum Complex, etc.

“I absolutely adore going to the fair,” said Marilyn Haynes, an audience member for the event. “Now that I have two grandchildren, my husband and I have to go the day before so we can do everything we want, then focus on the grandchildren when we bring them the next day.”

About 50 members of the ISU Retirees Association attended the event.

The association was formed in 1975 to provide a link between the university and all retired faculty, staff and their spouses. There are no membership dues, but members are required to show interest in participating in activities and programs.