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Ralph Deets Historical Museum

The newly renovated Ralph H. Deets Historical Museum

When you speak with people about the Iowa State Fair, a common theme emerges-family.

In their stories, it is extremely rare that someone doesn't mention coming to the Fair with a family member. Conversations often start off with, "My grandparents camped, and I remember coming with them." For some, the family and Fair connection is even more intertwined, as it is for Chuck and Sally Smith.

Sally's grandfather Henry Deets was the State Fair's maintenance superintendent for 40 years, and her uncle Floyd followed in his footsteps. Her father, Ralph, was born and raised on the Fairgrounds, worked for maintenance and also for a business that exhibited at the Fair. Because of their multigenerational ties, the Smiths made a generous commitment of $300,000 toward the renovation of the State Fair Museum in 2005.

The original building, known as the Polk County Building, was brought to the Fairgrounds in the late 1800s to house clients of the Polk County Home while they visited the Fair. By the 1970s, the building had become the Fair's attic, storing an assortment of odds and ends. Sally's aunt, Helen Deets, decided to open the museum in 1982 as a place to showcase the many prized artifacts that chronicle the history of the great Iowa State Fair.

Smith and Deets family

The Smith and Deets Families at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

"Chuck and I feel the museum will benefit everyone who visits by showing them the importance and history of the Iowa State Fair, plus the lives and culture of the state of Iowa. We felt it was important to keep the integrity of the building and the history and memorabilia it can hold and represent," Sally says.

"The Polk County Building is a piece of history itself," says John Putney, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation. "We are extremely grateful for the Smiths' initial donation and the gifts of stock they continue to contribute toward the museum. They have left a wonderful legacy by helping us preserve the past as we prepare the Fairgrounds for the enjoyment of future generations."

Dedicated during the 2007 Iowa State Fair, the Ralph H. Deets Historical Museum showcases the Fair's collection of historic documents, photos and memorabilia. Thanks to the Smiths generous contribution honoring their family ties to the Fair, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was able to initiate funding for a total renovation of the century-old Polk County Building.

If you haven't already, don't forget to journey up the hill to learn more about our treasured Iowa State Fair in the renovated State Fair Museum.

To learn how you can make an impact on the Fair's future, click here.

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