Remember Dennis Ruhnke? The Kansas farmer who sent one of his only N95 masks to Governor Cuomo so he could pass it along to a healthcare worker in New York?
The 73-year-old is now being honored for the heartfelt gesture by the university he was forced to drop out of in 1971 after his father died.
Back in March, a letter Ruhnke sent to Gov. Cuomo, along with the N95 mask, was publicized when the governor read the letter aloud at a press briefing.
Despite the fact that Ruhnke’s own wife is immunocompromised, the couple felt it was their duty to share what little they had with New Yorkers as the state was quickly becoming an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
In his letter, Ruhnke asked that the governor make sure the mask made its way to a New York doctor or nurse helping COVID-19 patients.
Cuomo was deeply moved by the gesture and became emotional as he read the letter aloud.
“You want to talk about a snapshot of humanity,” Cuomo told reporters. “You have five masks, what do you do? Do you keep all five? Do you hide the five masks, do you keep them for yourself or others? No, you send one mask. You send one mask to New York for a doctor or nurse. How beautiful is that? How selfless is that? How giving is that?” Cuomo said.
Cuomo tweeted on April 24, “This is humanity at its best. I share his letter as inspiration.”
I received this letter from a farmer in northeast Kansas. His wife is ill and he is aging.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 24, 2020
He sent me 1 of 5 N95 masks he has from farming to pass on to a doctor or nurse in New York.
This is humanity at its best. I share his letter as inspiration. pic.twitter.com/Fa4h5LH9rL
Nearly 50 years ago Ruhnke left Kansas State University— two credits short of a degree— to take his late father’s place running the family farm.
Following Ruhnke’s selfless act, the school has granted the retired farmer his diploma.
The ceremony took place at the Kansas statehouse on Tuesday. Alongside masked Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers, Ruhnke was awarded his long-awaited degree.
Over the years, watching his wife, sister, and two sons graduate from K-State, Ruhnke so longed for the opportunity to complete his degree.
A decade ago he considered going back to school but found that his credits were no longer recognized, and he would have to start at the beginning.
“Given the insurmountable obstacles such an endeavor posed for a retired farmer in Troy, Kansas, Dennis quietly filed the dream away,” Kelly said in her speech at the ceremony.
But then Myers caught word of the N95 mask Ruhnke gifted to New York, a place the farmer had never even visited but felt called to support.
Myers and university officials reached the conclusion that Ruhnke’s lifelong experience in agribusiness more than compensated for his two missing credits and decided to grant him his degree.
“Dennis is a Kansas agriculturist in every sense of the word, and today, we’re simply giving him the paperwork to make it official,” Kelly said.
After receiving his diploma, Ruhnke admitted that after almost half a century, he’d given up on the idea of ever finishing his degree. He continued to say, that since sending the mask, the outpouring of support he’s received has changed his life.
“It would not have happened had I not mailed in that one N95 mask to Gov. Cuomo for a first responder in March,” Ruhnke said. “I guess they call it karma. Many of those who have written to me and thanked me asked how they can help.”
“Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so,” he continued, “to honor all of those who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus, and also honor the first responders who, in some cases, have even lost their own lives in the line of duty— the ultimate sacrifice.”
Congrad-ulations Dennis Runhke!