The Kansas farmer who sent a spare N95 mask to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo became a college graduate after having dropped out to take care of his mother over five decades ago.
Kansas State University and Gov. Laura Kelly awarded Dennis Ruhnke with an honorary degree in agriculture on Tuesday. Ruhnke was going to be a first-generation college graduate but he was just two credits away from earning his degree in 1971. When his father Walt passed away at 59 years old, he left school to take over the family farm, Kelly said.
After watching his sister, his wife and his two sons walked across the stage in cap and gown at their commencement ceremonies, Ruhnke vowed to finish what he started before his grandsons became old enough to go to college. Unfortunately, the unfinished courses were no longer offered after so much time had passed and Ruhnke would have had to start from scratch, according to Kelly.
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So the now-retired farmer filed his dream away. Ruhnke ran his farm for over four decades and he has always been known for his kind gestures. He would turn his office into a daycare for his employees and give room and board to them whenever they fell on hard times. He couldn't have known that his latest act of kindness, sending a N95 mask leftover from his farming days to New York for a front line worker fighting the coronavirus pandemic, would help him achieve his dream.
"Dennis’ kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree," Gov. Kelly said.
Cuomo called Ruhnke's gesture "humanity at its best" when he read the letter.
On Tuesday, Ruhnke wore a Kansas State University shirt and an N95 mask as he thanked the New York governor for helping him get his degree.
"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 said. "I guess you'd call it karma."
"Many of those who wrote to me to thank me asked me how they could help. Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so to honor all those who have lost their lives to the C-19 virus, and also to honor the first responders who even in some cases lost their own lives in the line of duty," he continued.
Last month, Ruhnke told NBC New York that he thought Cuomo was doing a good job and he didn't think much of the nice gesture.
"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 said.