A Kansas farmer who donated one of his only N95 masks to New York was given a bachelor's degree by the same university he dropped out of in 1971

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  • Andrew Cuomo
    Andrew Cuomo
    56th Governor of New York
kansas farmer dennis ruhnke

Dennis Ruhnke holds two of his remaining N-95 masks as he stands with his wife, Sharon at their home near Troy, Kan. Friday, April 24, 2020.

Associated Press/Charlie Riedel

  • A Kansas university has granted a bachelor's degree to a farmer who recently donated one of his only N95 masks to New York to help a nurse or doctor.

  • The farmer, Dennis Ruhnke, mailed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praising him for his leadership and urging him to pass along the unused mask to a worker who needed it.

  • Cuomo thanked him on Twitter and in one of his daily news briefings, calling Ruhnke "humanity at its best."

  • Ruhnke was honored Tuesday by Kansas State University, the same school he dropped out of in 1971 after his father died and he had to take care of his mother and the family farm.

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A Kansas farmer who mailed one of his only five N95 masks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been honored for his generosity by the same university he was forced to drop out of in 1971 when his father died.

In March, Dennis Ruhnke mailed Cuomo a letter praising his approach to New York's coronavirus outbreak as "spot-on correct," and commending him for "telling the truth" about the severity of the virus.

Enclosed in the envelope was one N95 mask that Ruhnke said had never been used. He urged Cuomo to give it to a doctor or nurse in New York City, then the epicenter of the US's coronavirus outbreak.

Ruhnke told Cuomo in the letter that he and his wife were in their 70s, and his wife had both lung problems and diabetes.

"Frankly, I am afraid for her," Ruhnke wrote.

Nevertheless, he enclosed the N95 mask, noting that he was keeping just four for his immediate family members.

Ruhnke said it made him feel 'pretty good' to pass the mask along to someone who needed it

Cuomo tweeted out a picture of the letter on April 24, hailing Ruhnke as "humanity at its best," and discussed the act of kindness at his daily news briefing.

"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?"

Ruhnke told the Associated Press that same day that he had decided to send the mask after watching the news and watching New York's death toll tick upwards, meanwhile, doctors and nurses complained of mask shortages.

"They were pushing the N95 thing so much. I thought I had some masks somewhere. I went back to the farm, dug around in some masks and lo and behold they were there," he said. "I would have felt terrible if I threw it away, but it made me feel pretty good to send it on to somebody who might be able to use it."

kansas farmer dennis ruhnke

Kansas farmer Dennis Ruhnke was awarded an honorary degree after he donated one of his only N95 masks to New York.

Facebook/Laura Kelly

Just two weeks later, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced on Facebook that Ruhnke had been conferred a bachelor's degree from Kansas State University — the same school he left when he was forced to drop out and help his family on their farm.

Kelly posted photos of the ceremony, showing a masked Ruhnke holding his new degree.

"In 1971, Dennis was two credits away from earning his degree in agriculture when his father passed away. He chose to leave school to take care of his mother and the family farm," Kelly said. "Dennis' kindness and lifelong careering agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree."

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