Dennis Ruhnke received an honorary degree from Kansas State University after donating a mask to New York
By Diego Flammini
A retired Kansas farmer was honored in his home state after making national headlines with an act of generosity during the pandemic.
Dennis Ruhnke, who in March mailed a handwritten note and his last N95 mask to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to give the mask to a doctor or nurse, received an honorary bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Kansas State University, where he studied in the 1970s.
“I am pleased to confer upon Dennis Ruhnke, in the graduating class of fall 1971, the degree that you have earned at Kansas State University,” Richard Myers, president of the university, said at the special ceremony Tuesday.
That year, Ruhnke only needed two credits to complete his degree in agriculture. He also lost his father Walt that year and made the decision to leave school to return to the family farm in Troy, Kan.
“I waited half a century to receive my college degree and had pretty much written off any chance of getting it,” Ruhnke said during the presentation. “It would not have happened had I not mailed in that one N95 mask to Governor Cuomo for a first responder in March. I guess they call it karma.”
Ruhnke ran the family farm for more than 40 years and was known for his kindness including turning his office into a daycare and providing room and board for employees during difficult times.
“Dennis’ kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday.
The retired producer has received multiple messages from fellow Americans about how they can help out during the pandemic.
“Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so to honor all of those who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “And also to honor the first responders who in some cases also lost their own lives in the line of duty. The ultimate sacrifice.”