TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Kansas farmer took the national spotlight about two weeks ago for his kind act, but now he’s being honored at home.
Dennis Ruhnke made headlines when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo read aloud the handwritten letter Ruhnke sent along with his last extra mask from his farming days. Ruhnke hoped it would benefit a frontline worker in New York, where more than 25,000 have died from COVID-19.
Ruhnke farmed for much of his life. He went to Kansas State University when he was younger, but never graduated. He was two credits away from getting his degree when his father died, so he decided the best decision was to return to his home and take care of the farm.
K-State President Richard Myers and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly came together Tuesday to present him with his diploma.
It wasn’t your typical graduation ceremony, with most people in attendance wearing masks and keeping their distance, but for Ruhnke, it was something he waited to hear for nearly 50 years.
“He epitomizes the kind of character that most of us Kansans would be proud to have and think we do have, but he acts on it,” Myers said.
Kelly said Ruhnke lives out what it means to be a Kansas through what K-State fans call, “the Wildcat way.”
“It’s having each other’s backs, it’s choosing to take risks, recovering from defeat, and winning with humility,” she said. “It’s about embracing challenges together, it’s about family.”
Kelly said he deserves this honor from K-State.
“He has proven to us all that he has mastered the most important lessons a university has to offer,” Kelly said. “Today is about reflecting that spirit back onto him.”
Ruhnke said he didn’t write the letter to be in the spotlight, but he does have advice for people looking to make a difference.
“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,” Ruhnke said. “To honor the first responders who in some cases even lost their own lives in the line of duty, the ultimate sacrifice.”
President Myers told Ruhnke that he’s welcome at the next graduation ceremony when the outbreak subsides.
“My life has forever changed. Special thanks to those of you who have made this happen for me,” Ruhnke said.