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Kansas farmer awarded college degree after sending N95 mask to Cuomo

Kansas farmer awarded college degree after sending N95 mask to Cuomo
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A Kansas farmer who sent an N95 mask to New York state amid the coronavirus pandemic was honored with a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University on Tuesday. 

Dennis Ruhnke, a retired Kansas farmer, sent a single N95 mask and a note to New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCNN insults #MeToo movement, provides happy ending for Jeffrey Toobin New York lawmakers pass bill allowing gender-neutral 'X' on state ID Republican NY state senator: Single-payer health care bill won't get a vote this week MORE (D) last month after the governor put out calls for donations for the much needed protective gear.

Ruhnke was honored with a bachelor’s degree Tuesday by Kansas State University President Richard Myers and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) gave a commencement address.

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“I became familiar with Dennis the same way most of the country met him, on national television when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared the priceless message of generosity that accompanied the single N95 mask that Dennis contributed to [a] New York doctor or nurse,” Kelly said in her address.

“He provided a dose of inspiration, strength for America just as we let ourselves begin to buckle under the crushing ... weight of this crisis,” she said. 

Ruhnke was a student at Kansas State University and was set to graduate in 1971. But Ruhnke, just two credits shy of completing his degree, didn't return for his final semester after his father died. Ruhnke instead took over his family farm. 

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Kelly said it was Ruhnke’s lifelong goal to achieve his degree he was close to receiving. 

The degree given to Ruhnke is not an honorary degree. Kelly said Ruhnke’s lifelong career in agriculture “far exceeds” the final two credits he needed in 1971. 

“Dennis, today is so well deserved,” Kelly said. 

Ruhnke said he had written off any chance of getting the degree he waited half a century to receive. 

“It would not have happened had I not mailed in that one N95 mask to Gov. Cuomo,” he said while accepting his degree.

He urged others moved by his donation to “pay it forward” and continue helping those in need during the crisis. 

“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 [coronavirus] and also to honor the first responders who in some cases even lost their own lives in the line of duty. The ultimate sacrifice,” he said.