Last month a tear-jerking letter from a Kansas farmer made its way to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “If you could, would you please give this mask to a nurse or doctor in your state?” Dennis Ruhnke said in the letter, sharing one of the five masks he had from farming. Although he doubted the governor would have the chance to read his letter, Ruhnke thanked Cuomo for his honesty and work on the front lines of the virus. He also expressed the fear he had for his sick wife. Cuomo not only read the letter but shared it on Twitter, calling it an act of humanity and inspiration. Ruhnke’s act of kindness didn’t go unnoticed–on Tuesday he was awarded an honorary degree.
Five decades ago, Ruhnke was two credits away from earning his bachelor’s degree in agriculture when tragedy struck. Ruhnke’s father passed away, so he made the difficult decision to drop out of school to take care of his mother and family farm. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly shared Ruhnke’s story on Facebook and presented him with an honorary degree in agriculture on Tuesday from Kansas State University.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of joining Kansas State University President Richard Myers to confer a bachelor's…
A video was also shared on Kelly’s Facebook page that shows both the governor and Kansas State University President Richard Myers presenting Ruhnke with his degree. “Along with his fantastic demonstration of kindness and generosity, Mr. Ruhnke’s academic work at K-State in his chosen field of agriculture qualifies him to receive his degree,” Myers said. “Kansas State University is proud to officially recognize Mr. Ruhnke as an alumnus and valued member of the Wildcat family.”
According to ABC News, Ruhnke had vowed to finish school before his grandchildren became old enough to attend college, after watching his sister, wife, and two sons graduate. Had he not dropped out, Ruhnke would have been a first-generation college graduate. According to Kelly, had Ruhnke returned to school, he would have to start from the beginning since so much time had passed that the courses Ruhnke had taken were no longer available.
“I waited half a century to receive my college degree and had written off any chance of getting it. It would not have happened had I not mailed that one N95 mask to Gov. Cuomo for a first responder in March,” Ruhnke told ABC News. “I guess you’d call it karma.” Ruhnke sent the unused masks to Cuomo during a countrywide medical supply shortage in which New York faced the most difficulty. To this day the state has been hit the hardest amid the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 321,000 reported cases and over 25,000 deaths, CNN reported.
Ruhnke’s act of kindness was selfless; he had no expectations in return. “It didn’t take much time, didn’t take much money of course. I just thought I’d put them in the box, and that was the end of that,” Ruhnke told NBC News. His actions give hope to Americans nationwide that despite what’s come from this virus, humanity and kindness still exist.