17 Ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

Nothing Compares to Iowa State Fair Thrills

August 9-19, 2018 Des Moines, Iowa

I enjoy fairs of all sorts and sizes: craft, pottery, art and state and county fairs. Wherever there is a group of like-minded people happily gathered showcasing their talents, I’m delighted to join.

I’ve attended the internationally acclaimed Iowa State Fair twice. In 2016, I was mostly a spectator. I applauded a friend as her family was honored with a Century Farm Award presented in the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion.

I then joined her at a friend’s nationally known “Thank a Farmer” magic show in the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. I spent most of the afternoon watching talented Iowa youth at the Bill Riley Talent Search, including the daughter of a fellow Iowa State graduate I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We re-connected between performances and applause.

Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. It attracts more than a million people from all over the world each year. Iowa’s Fair is also known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all of the traditional activities associated with state fairs in a park-like, 450-acre setting (the Fair’s home since 1886). The grounds and the adjoining 160 acres of campgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, I was included in the 120,833 people at the Fair. This time I walked nearly every inch of the fairgrounds, enjoying the sights, sounds and aromas of this great annual event. Both visits were distinct, but each enjoyable. I realized one can experience the Fair quite differently on each visit with a bit of pre-planning. I met some who attend multiple days each year and claim they see and experience it differently with each visit. That’s possible.

17 ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Define your purpose. Do you want a general overview experience? Are you going to ride the rides on the Midway? Do you want to see the livestock judging competitions? Are the entertainers your priority? Paid or unpaid performers? Will you sample fair foods most of the day? Are you looking forward to viewing the photography and art exhibits? Do you want to see the butter cow exhibit? Do you prefer commercial exhibits? What is it you want to get out of your experience? If you only have one day, visit the excellent Iowa State Fair website and pre-plan your visit. Print the map and schedule. Download the Iowa State Fair Food Finder app. It also includes the daily schedule of events.
  2. Purchase advance tickets. This will save you both time and money. Check the Iowa State Fair website for special admission pricing (Deals & Discounts) such as Fairgoers aged 60+. Until a couple of days before the Fair starts, one can even print tickets at home with no additional fee. Otherwise advance tickets are available in various grocery stores in Iowa.
  3. Pack accordingly. Bags are subject to inspection. Bring sunscreen, a camera and cash. While some vendors accept credit and debit cards, there is a preference for cash. A change of clothing may be necessary for small children. There are spray fountains to both cool and entertain kids. After the playground, hand wipes may be necessary. Restrooms and water fountains are readily available and well-marked. You may re-fill water bottles at fountains.
  4. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. This Fair has livestock. If you’re going to walk in the barns, closed toe shoes are best. Parking can be a distance from the entrance. Be prepared to walk, though there are courtesy golf cart shuttle rides available. The parking lots are not paved. Stroller rides can be bumpy.
  5. Preach patience. If you’re attending on the weekend, be prepared for large crowds. Though this is an extremely well-run operation, there is a lot of traffic and it can take a bit to get parked. [Remember where you parked.] The grounds, shows and events can get quite crowded. Keep in mind everyone wants to have an enjoyable Fair experience. Be patient. If there’s a show or event you must see, arrive early to get a seat.

AT THE FAIR

  1. Arrive early. Parking is $10 per vehicle. The grounds open at 7am. If you’d like to see the Fairgrounds without the crowds, arrive early. Sunrise at the Fair is spectacular. Most buildings do not open until 9:00 am.
  2. Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. This is an ideal location for young children to learn about farm animals. The building is near the North gate and has baby chickens, pigs, etc. along with educational stations where prizes are awarded for answering questions. This is a great place to see animals, if children do not have the energy to make it to the actual barns on the Fairgrounds.
  3. Variety. Butter sculpting. Yoga on the hill. Dutch oven cooking seminar. Grape stomping. Backgammon tournament. Egg rolling contest. Sheep shearing contest. The list of things to see and participate in is endless. It can be overwhelming. Pre-planning helps,  as does setting realistic expectations of what be accomplished on one visit.
  4. Accessible. ADA/Accessible parking is available, primarily in the North lot. Scooters and wheelchair rentals are also available. Keep in mind most of the parking areas are unpaved. Trams with marked stops are available once inside the grounds as are golf carts for mini-shuttle service from the parking lots to the gates. Check the Iowa State Fair website for additional services.
  5. Care Stations and ATMs. Need an aspirin or band-aid? Look for a Care Station vending machine at the Fair. Need extra cash? There are at least 30 ATM machines on location.
  6. Eat & Drink at the Fair. Outside food and beverages are not allowed. Download the Iowa State Food Finder app for a list of foods by vendor and location, including healthy foods. Beverages cups, once purchased, are re-fillable at most vendor locations for a minimal fee.
  7. From Above. Sky gliders give an overview of the fairgrounds from above. The ride is slow and easy, allowing you plenty of time to see and to take photos. There are two: east and west. Round trip is ideal.
  8. Keep it Clean. Hand sanitizer is plentiful throughout all of the animal barn areas and in all restrooms. Use it. Stop the spread of any potential disease.
  9. Talk to Them. The youth who’ve raised and are showing the animals in the barns are eager to talk about the experience. Approach them. Take an interest in their project and ask questions. Some of the most memorable conversations I had at the 2017 Fair were with a state FFA officer and an Iowa Pork Producers summer intern. These students are impressive representatives of their organizations.
  10. Check the weather. Do you need sunscreen or an umbrella? Evening Grandstand shows run late. Sometimes a light jacket or sweatshirt is necessary. Remember, to take breaks and drink plenty of water.
  11. Share. There are endless photographic moments at the Iowa State Fair. Check for hashtags and share on social media. Popular 2017 hashtags were #ISF2017 and #IowaStateFairThrills.
  12. Plan to Participate. Throughout the Iowa State Fair, you may find ways you can participate in future Fairs. Whatever your interest or hobby, find a way to work on a project and display or show at the Fair. Maybe you can’t raise a cow or pig in your neighborhood, but perhaps you can bake a Bundt cake, submit a photograph or raise a prize-winning rose or pumpkin. Be a part of one of the greatest Fairs around. Participate.

5 Favorites at 2017 Iowa State Fair: August 12th

  1. Fiddle and guitar music in Pioneer Hall
  2. West round-trip Sky glider ride
  3. Walking through the  barns early in the morning and watching youth care for their animals
  4. Horticulture gardens filled with bright, aromatic blooms
  5. Courtesy of fair goers, workers and volunteers

 

The 2018 Iowa State Fair is August 9-19, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa. Mark your calendar. Find your 5 Favorite things to do at the 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Linda Leier Thomason is a retired CEO who now writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. She’s represented the North Dakota Pork Producers as the 1979 Pork Queen and has attended countless county and state fairs promoting the pork industry. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. She is a dual graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

If you have something you’d like Linda to write, contact her below.

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

Faith, Family & Farming: McCook, Nebraska

Pillars of Southwest Nebraska Community

townI spent 22 hours covering every square inch, and then some, of McCook-a city of nearly 8000 and the county seat of Red Willow County, Nebraska. My goal on any undercover visit is to discover the heartbeat of the community-what makes it thrive, what does it value and how is it different from anywhere else.

I left McCook with a clear understanding that Faith, Family and Farming are the pillars in this Go-To city in Southwest Nebraska.

Origin

Established in 1882 as a railroad center halfway between Denver and Omaha, McCook remains a regional trade hub for Northwest Kansas and Southwest Nebraska. Residents in this rural area flock to McCook for shopping, dining, education, entertainment, medical services and more.

Red Willow County was named for the Red Willow Creek, which is a tributary of the Republican River. The name is reported to be mistranslated from the Dakota Indian name Chanshasha Wakpala, which literally means Red Dogwood Creek. The Dakota referred to the creek as such because of an abundance of red dogwood shrub that grew along the creek banks. Its stem and branches are deep red in color and favored in basket making.

History & Trendy

The city has seamlessly blended history and modernization. In fact, the two often co-exist, as seen at The Loop Brewing Company, a former railroad beericehouse that in 2011 became a brewery and restaurant with an active railway within a few feet of its front door. The Loop was at near capacity when I arrived to enjoy a beer flight and brick oven pizza shortly after 8 pm on an unseasonably 38 degree rainy night.

Norris Avenue (The Bricks) is perhaps the best example of this perfect blend of history and hip. The historical walking tour includes, in addition to other sites, the Fox Theatre and Museum of High Plains & Carnegie Library  as well as the Norris House-a museum for its namesake, the late Senator George W norrisNorris. Go a bit south to find the trendy women’s clothing store Mint 217 and the fabulous Knowlen and Yates cooking and kitchenware store. While touring, you’ll also find the H.P. Sutton Home-the only house in Nebraska designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which today is a private residence. Venture off “The Bricks” on East B Street and discover The Painted Ladies. This home décor and painted furniture store owned by three friends is right on trend and proves that no matter how far you live from a metropolitan area, you can keep up with the trends and be just as “cool” as anyone else. West B Street finds you at Farrells Pharmacy and Hallmark Store where the best prescription here is customer service.

Gold Star Service

In fact, every business I entered deserves a gold star for customer service. flipSure, in a community this size where folks likely know one another, I’m certain I stood out. Instead of making me feel like an outsider, every encounter was quite the opposite. “Welcome. Is there something I can help you find?” Good old-fashioned customer service still exists, at least in McCook. Equally impressive was, “Thank you for stopping in and for visiting McCook.”

Well done business owners! Your employees are impressively well-trained.

Family

pianoNo matter where I dined during my visit, I was always a party of two surrounded by large family groups. Lunching at Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Cafe was an extraordinary experience. Yes, the Jiffy Burger, especially the freshly baked bun, was exceptional as were the pastries, and I mean plural, but the sense of community in the establishment is something of day’s long gone. The ownership here has taken great care in creating a gathering place that oozes community.

After ordering, coffee-sipping customers caught up with one another in front of the pastry display cases while waiting for their lunch. As one moves to the dining area, a framed poster on “How to Build Community” greets all diners. tallThe message of the poster was perfectly put into action in the Café. Greetings were exchanged between and across tables and remarkably diners of all ages sat at the Café’s piano filling the room with background sounds deserving of a much larger audience, though greatly appreciated by their current one, which applauded after each performance.

Throughout my 22 hours as a first-time visitor, everything I saw and experienced in McCook was new, but my time in this Café left the strongest impression on me. It’s something I wish for every community. One person and one business can make a difference in building community.

Faith

Churches (20) of nearly every faith are represented in McCook. I visited St. glassPatrick’s Catholic Church. The doors were open-a rare find today in a town of any size. As with most communities, the churches in McCook appear to foster social capital and provide needed services as well as a moral compass for the city.

 

Farming

mooMy visit included a drive by schools, city hall, a senior center and nursing home, the community college, hospital, airport, golf course, and parks. I visited the library and the Burlington Northern and Amtrak station as well as two surrounding state recreation areas: Red Willow Reservoir and Medicine Creek. No matter where I went, I observed and understood the role agriculture plays in this area’s economy.

grainApproaching McCook on Highways 6 & 34 East, one’s senses are awakened by the aromas of feed lots and rich wet soil ; sights of windmills, irrigation systems and massively-sized, sophisticated-looking grain bins, and the sounds of bellowing cows and rumbling trains. Farming is vital and omnipresent in this region.

4hThe Red Willow County Fairgrounds, which house the Kiplinger Arena, spoke to the heart of McCook. Here young citizens learn both the values and lessons of farming and citizenship from adults who hold dear the same lessons shared by their predecessors.

Go-To McCook

golfMcCook is the Go-To City of Southwest Nebraska built on a foundation of faith, family and farming. Go to McCook. Awaken your senses, engage in conversation with the locals, shop their trendy stores, walk the Heritage Square, play in their well-kept parks and dine in one of many great eateries.

Experience a textbook example of community.

You will leave McCook a more enlightened person than when you came.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. May 2016. Linda Leier Thomason.

All Rights Reserved.

This undercover study was done in cooperation with McCook/Red Willow County Tourism.

 

Nominate your community for an undercover study by contacting me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FFA Advisor Lives Through Death

Family PictureBrian has led one of the most successful Agricultural Education programs in the nation for 25 years in Napoleon, ND. A proud NDSU  Bison graduate (1982), his FFA Chapter has earned over 100 individual and team championships, two national team championships and numerous other top 10 national awards.

He and his first wife, Lorie, were married in 1984 and raised two beautiful daughters, Christina, 28, and Brianna, 26, both elementary school teachers.

Brian married Mary Beth in December 2011. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, fishing, hunting, going to concerts, working in the yard and garden, and playing cards.

He also loves decorating for Christmas, something that began as a challenge from Lorie one year and continues today.

Here’s Brian’s Story

Cold sweats. Soaked sheets. Prayers through the night, pleading for a quicker sunrise.

A nightmare?

YES. A nightmare called my life. No one should experience death and grief in the prime of his life. Unfortunately this nightmare centers around the death of a spouse. It happens to many of us and we live through it, maybe even grow through it.

Our Love Story

I married my high school sweetheart at the age of 20, halfway through my college education, against the advice of some who said we were too young. They questioned our thinking. I thought I’d found the lady I loved more than myself and I wasn’t going to let her get away! Were there hard times? Absolutely! There was never enough money. I battled alcoholism and, like many, we had everyday life struggles. But, the worst was yet to come.

The Nightmare

It started with my wife Lorie’s physician’s assistant finding a lump in Lorie’s breast. We convinced each other it was nothing. Lorie was only 32. But then we received the news that she had breast cancer and that we needed to react immediately. A mastectomy was quickly done and a decade of chemo, radiation and other medical procedures ended on May 24, 2006 when my wife of 21 years, 10 months and 18 days died in my arms with our daughters at her bedside in the old house we had called home for 15 years. The cold sweats and daily washing of bed sheets began that night.

Stages of Grief after Death

We battled her cancer for a decade. There were periods of hopeful remission and then re-occurrence. I went through the stages of grief multiple times: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. My experience convinced me this isn’t an inclusive list and varies from person to person and situation. What I can do is reassure you that with each day it does get better and that you will eventually reach acceptance of the death and loss.

Acceptance Journey

Reaching acceptance of Lorie’s death was slow and painful and not always pretty, but maybe my journey will give you guidance and solace.

1. First and foremost I grew immensely in my faith. We’d always been a church-going family that had a “normal” amount of faithfulness. However, this experience, and the loss of my mother four years earlier, intensified my inner faith. It had to in order for me to get up and move forward. I had to believe that Lorie was now pain-free in paradise alongside those who were faithful and had gone before her. And I had to believe God still had plans for me to make this world a better place and give me purpose. Otherwise, He would have granted my prayers and taken me instead. So I say, “Believe in the power of prayer and have those real and raw conversations with God.”

2. Family and friends will reach out to you. Accept the opportunities they present. This may be a conversation over coffee, a phone call or an invitation to do something. Even if you don’t feel like going out, I’d encourage you to do so. I am so thankful for the friends and family who reached out to me and invited me to shoot pool, attend a backyard barbecue, go to area races, etc. There were many times I wanted to say no but forced myself to say yes because I knew staying home wasn’t going to help me get up, get dressed and get moving. Ask yourself often, “What would my loved one want me to do?”

3. I’m an educator by profession with an 11-month contract because of supervised summer activities. Summer 2006, after Lorie’s death, began the longest, most painful summer of my life. I simply wasn’t busy enough. Although I didn’t want to not be busy, I subconsciously sometimes made this choice. The schedule was flexible, not fixed like the academic school year, and now I know I could’ve used the structure. There were times I needed to be alone, but it’s not healthy to withdraw and wallow in self-pity. One should return to a normal routine as soon as mentally and emotionally possible. It was the reason two weeks after Lorie’s passing that my younger daughter, Brianna, and I decided we’d attend the State FFA Convention. We also knew that’s what Lorie would want us to do. Once the new school year started, the routine got easier. Obviously I had to be at work, which includes many hours of after school activities. Keeping busy and returning to a schedule made the days go by quicker and with less pain as my mind was occupied with the activities of the day.

4. Find natural ways to release stress and improve your mental health. One of the things I truly enjoy is listening to music and singing along. It is scientifically proven music has mental health benefits. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you choose. I select the music that is appropriate for my current state of mind. Sometimes I listen to Christian music.

Sometimes I’m listening to my “angry” music to vent. Sometimes I play tear jerking country and sometimes just some fun easy listening tunes. I also started exercising on daily basis-walking and lifting weights, not for the physical benefits but for the mental health benefits.

Whatever your hobbies are, or if you have none, I would encourage you to continue them or find some. I would also avoid the use of alcohol and/or drugs. I’m a recovered alcoholic, so in my mind that was never an option.

We all know that alcohol and some drugs are classified as depressants but yet many have some strange idea that it makes them feel mentally better when, in fact, it intensifies the depression we already have.

Gifted With a New Love

Two years after my wife’s death I started to experience something I never brian and marythought I would feel again. I fell in love. By attending activities with friends, I began to build a friendship with a beautiful lady whom I married three years later. It started as a friendship only because, honestly, I never thought I’d again feel the kind of love that makes a person want to commit themselves to another for a lifetime.

But, I did. Falling in love and possibly remarrying are certainly not disrespectful to the one you lost. The love and memories you have for your deceased spouse are certainly not diminished in any regard. I relish the memories Lorie and I had. I see my wife in the beauty of our daughters and I will forever cherish the love we had.

Get Up. Get Moving.

If you allow yourself to fully experience the death of a loved, you will grow. How have I chosen to grow through this experience? I grew in my faith. I am more grateful for the people in my life.

I love more deeply. I am more forgiving and less angry in my daily life. And, ironically this experience has made me a more positive person.

So, as hard as it may be-Get Up. Get Dressed. Get Moving! Your loved one would expect no less!

How has Brian’s story and journey touched you? Comment below.

Remember to encourage your loved ones to do monthly breast self-exams and to have annual mammograms.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. December 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.
All Rights Reserved.