"Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so to honor all of those who lost their lives to the C-19 virus," Dennis Ruhnke said
Dennis Ruhnke
Credit: Governor Laura Kelly/Facebook

A retired farmer from Kansas who recently sent a letter and an N95 mask to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now earned a college degree — 50 years after he attended school.

Dennis Ruhnke was praised by Cuomo for his selflessness when he sent an N95 mask to the governor with the request for it to be given to a nurse or doctor in New York, which has been heavily impacted by the spread of coronavirus.

"I received this letter from a farmer in northeast Kansas. His wife is ill and he is aging," Cuomo said in a tweet last month that included a picture of Ruhnke's letter. "He sent me 1 of 5 N95 masks he has from farming to pass on to a doctor or nurse in New York."

"This is humanity at its best. I share his letter as inspiration," Cuomo added.

After capturing nationwide attention for his generous act, Ruhnke — who is in his 70s — has now received a notable distinction.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers awarded Ruhnke a degree on Tuesday, 50 years after he attended the university.

"This afternoon I had the pleasure of joining Kansas State University President Richard Myers to confer a bachelor's degree upon Dennis Ruhnke of Troy, Kansas," Gov. Kelly wrote in a Facebook post.

Dennis Ruhnke
Dennis Ruhnke
| Credit: Governor Laura Kelly/Facebook

"Dennis recently sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with an N95 mask to give to a nurse or doctor in New York," Kelly continued.

Ruhnke was two credits away from earning his degree in agriculture in 1971 when his father passed away, the governor explained. He chose to leave school to tend to the family farm and take care of his aging mother.

"Dennis’ kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree," Kelly said.

With the degree, Ruhnke will officially be known an alumnus of Kansas State, Myers said during a ceremony on Tuesday.

“I’ve waited half a century to receive my college degree and had pretty much written off any chance of getting it,” Ruhnke said of the honor, according to the Leavenworth Times. “It would not have happened had I not mailed in that one N95 mask to Governor Cuomo for a first responder."

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“I guess you call it karma. Many of those who wrote to me to thank me asked me how they could help," he continued. "Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so to honor all of those who lost their lives to the C-19 virus. And also to honor the first responders who in some cases also lost their own lives in the line of duty. The ultimate sacrifice.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the United States has seen 1,2 million cases and 72,308 deaths due to coronavirus, according to a New York Times database. New York, meanwhile, accounts for 326,659 cases and 25,028 deaths.

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