The Iowa Award represents the state's highest citizen award. The Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, established in 1948 by Governor Robert D. Blue and the Iowa Legislature, created the award. The foundation wished "to encourage and recognize the outstanding service of Iowans in the fields of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education, agriculture, industry, government, and other public service" and to recognize the "merit of their accomplishments in Iowa and throughout the United States."

The foundation bestows the Iowa Award approximately every five years and finances the event with money from the foundation's trust fund. By giving "awards, medals, or any other proper means of recognition," the foundation and the State of Iowa applaud the "outstanding ability, service and achievement by Iowans," and takes pride in sharing the outstanding benefits of their accomplishments.

Iowa Award Recipients

1951 President Herbert Hoover
(engineer, humanitarian, author, and U.S. President)
1955 Jay N. Darling
(cartoonist, conservationist, Pulitzer Prize winner)
1961 Dr. Frank Spedding
(educator, chemist, worked on the first atomic bomb)
1961 Dr. James Van Allen
  (educator, physicist, rocket space exploration)
1966 Henry A. Wallace
  (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Vice President of the United States)
1970 Mamie Eisenhower
(First Lady, wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
1975 Dr. Karl King
(composer, bandmaster)
1978 Dr. Norman Borlaug
(crop geneticist, worked to end world hunger, Nobel Peace Prize winner)
1980 Monsignor Luigi Liguitti
(director - National Catholic Rural Life Conference)
1984 George Gallup
  (founder of the Gallup Poll)
1988 Meredith Wilson
(composer, musician)
1992 Carrie Lane Chapman Catt
(leader in suffrage movement and for world peace)
1996 Simon Estes
(international opera singer)

It is the foundation's obligation to preserve the original funds received from the sale of commemorative half dollars sold in 1946-1947, as a perpetual charitable trust fund. Seventy-five percent of the interest earned on the trust fund is expended. In addition to presenting the Iowa Award, the foundation finances scholarships. The foundation grants scholarships annually to Iowa high school seniors and college students attending a post-secondary school in Iowa. Interested students should contact the Office of the Treasurer for more information. One thousand commemorative half dollars were retained by the foundation. Five hundred were sold to provide funding for the state's sesquicentennial celebration and 500 were sold to provide funding for the state's bicentennial celebration.

The foundation is comprised of the governor, treasurer, attorney general, president of the Board of Regents, former governors who have remained residents, and citizen trustees.