Retired Kansas farmer gets honorary degree after sending N95 mask to New York

Maya Rajamani
May 06, 2020 - 10:59 am

    NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- The retired farmer who sent an N95 mask to New York for a medical worker received an honorary degree from Kansas State University — nearly 50 years after he left school to care for his family when his father passed away.

    LISTEN LIVE: 1010 WINS' 24/7 coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

    The septuagenarian Kansas resident, Dennis Ruhnke, mailed Gov. Andrew Cuomo the mask in March, writing that it was “left over from (his) farming days.” Cuomo praised Ruhnke’s act of generosity during his daily briefing on April 24 and shared his letter on social media, calling it “humanity at its best.” 

    On Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said she and Kansas State University President Richard Myers bestowed an honorary bachelor’s degree on Ruhnke.

    “In 1971, Dennis was two credits away from earning his degree in agriculture when his father passed away,” she wrote on Twitter. “He chose to leave school to take care of his mother and the family farm.” 

    “Dennis’ kindness and lifelong career in ag make him more than qualified to receive a degree,” she added. 

    In his letter to Cuomo, Ruhnke wrote that his wife, also in her 70s, has diabetes and “has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung.” Ruhnke kept four masks to protect his family from COVID-19, but asked Cuomo to give the fifth, unused mask to a nurse or doctor in New York. 

    The full text of Ruhnke's letter is below: 

    Dear Mr. Cuomo,

    I seriously doubt that you will ever read this letter as I know you are busy beyond belief with the disaster that has befallen our country. We currently are a nation in crisis. Of that there is no doubt. Your approach has been spot on correct. I commend you for that and especially for telling the truth, something that has been sorely lacking as of late. 

    I am a retired farmer hunkered down in N.E. Kansas with my wife who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung. She also has diabetes. We are in our 70s now and frankly I am afraid for her.

    Enclosed you will find a solitary N-95 mask left over from my farming days. It has never been used. If you could, would you please give this mask to a nurse or doctor in your city? I have kept four masks for my immediate family. Please keep on doing what you do so well, which is to lead.


    Dennis & Sharon

    Like 1010 WINS on Facebook and follow @1010WINS on Twitter to get breaking news, traffic, and weather for New York City.