Several weeks ago, Dennis Ruhnke, a 72-year-old retired farmer from northeast Kansas, became a viral sensation with his simple act of generosity.
From his days of cleaning out grain bins on the farm, Dennis had holed away five unused N-95 masks. However, his immediate family only needed four masks, and healthcare workers in his county had enough masks.
After hearing about the healthcare workers’ need for N-95 masks, Dennis mailed his single extra mask to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who runs a state whose mass COVID-19 outbreaks were making daily headline news.
“I didn’t know who else to send it to. His address was on the internet. So I chose him,” Dennis said.
Along with the mask, Dennis included a handwritten letter on notepad paper that began, “Dear Mr. Cuomo, I seriously doubt that you will ever read this letter.”
“Enclosed 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?”
To Dennis’ surprise, Gov. Cuomo read the letter aloud on his daily televised news conference and tweeted about it, saying, “This is humanity at its best.”
The internet took hold. The original tweet has been shared more than 42,000 times, and countless news stories have been written.
But it doesn’t stop there.
On May 5, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers presented Dennis with his bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
In 1971, Dennis was attending Kansas State University when his father died. Two credit hours short of earning his degree, he left college and returned home to take care of his mother and help on the farm.
Gov. Kelly said, “Dennis’ donation, at the height of our country’s protective gear shortage, showed us the best in humanity when we needed it the most. I would like to thank Dennis for the example he’s set on how to serve and how to be thoughtful and generous in an extraordinary way.”
Gen. Myers also said, “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. Kansas State University is proud to officially recognize Mr. Ruhnke as an alumnus and valued member of the Wildcat family.”
At a time when people across the country are panic-buying all sorts and amounts of items they do not need, it is heartwarming to see someone giving away something he may need, no matter how small the donation.
But, Dennis says he doesn’t want the attention. “It’s my 15 minutes of fame, and I hope it’s over later today,” he said when he received calls about his letter.
I believe it’s well deserved. People across the world are looking for good news. This fit the bill perfectly, and I hope it sparked folks to do their own acts of kindness to help out in these depressing and trying times.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.