Iowa State Fair Foundation Leader To Retire

John Putney, long-time chief executive of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, announces retirement.

Published on: Jul 26, 2013

The executive director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation since its beginning, John Putney has announced he will retire effective March 2014. The foundation has generated more than $95 million for improvements to the fairgrounds facilities during the past 20 years. Putney will remain on staff to transition his duties to Peter Cownie who on Aug. 1 will join the foundation.

"I've been honored and grateful for the opportunity to help renovate and preserve this great institution for generations to come," says Putney. "I'm very happy that Peter Cownie has been selected as the new executive director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation."

Putney, a native of Gladbrook and Iowa State University alum, has been an avid participant in the Iowa State Fair for many years as an exhibitor, president of the Sale of Champions, and beef superintendent. However, his greatest legacy will be spearheading the campaign to renovate and restore the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. His efforts have culminated in the renovation and construction of 30 fairgrounds facilities and buildings, ranging from wiring and roofing to the complete reconstruction of the Varied Industries Building and the construction of the Jacobson Exhibition Center.

BLUE RIBBON LEADERSHIP: The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was established in 1993 by the fair board to conduct a major capital campaign, raising money for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since its inception in 1993 the foundation has raised over $95 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services and corporate, federal and state grants. Visit the Blue Ribbon Foundation website to buy state fair merchandise and to learn more.
BLUE RIBBON LEADERSHIP: The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was established in 1993 by the fair board to conduct a major capital campaign, raising money for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since its inception in 1993 the foundation has raised over $95 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services and corporate, federal and state grants. Visit the Blue Ribbon Foundation website to buy state fair merchandise and to learn more.

Foundation serves as a way to raise money to pay for restoring the fairgrounds

The Foundation began with the goal of raising money for the fairgrounds deteriorating facilities. Along the way, Putney's successful fundraising efforts have changed the face of the state fairgrounds in Des Moines. Projects like the Varied Industries Building which was built in 1911 and completely reconstructed from 2000 to 2002, set the new standard for fairgrounds facilities. The fully-enclosed multi-use facility became the catalyst for numerous projects including the state-of-the-art Jacobson Exhibition Center and redevelopment of the southwest portion of the fairgrounds.

Iowa State Fair CEO and manager Gary Slater says, "John Putney's work not only renovated and constructed buildings, it also spurred new interest in the fairgrounds as a rental facility and re-established the Iowa State Fair as one of the world's must-see events."

Putney's replacement will be Des Moines native Peter Cownie, who will join the foundation on August 1

Cownie joins the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation from Junior Achievement of Central Iowa where he served as president. He led the Des Moines nonprofit organization and its fundraising efforts for five and a half years. In 2008, Cownie was elected to his first term in the Iowa House of Representatives and has since won re-election to his third term representing portions of Polk and Warren counties.

A Des Moines native, Cownie looks forward to his new role. "I want to thank John Putney for the unprecedented work he has done for the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds and the people of Iowa. His legacy leaves an indelible mark on the fairgrounds for future generations of fairgoers to enjoy, and I look forward to continuing his work." Cownie has a Master's degree in public administration from Drake University and volunteers and serves his community in numerous ways and chairs several boards. He and wife Mary have one son.