Troy, N.Y., thanks farmer in Troy, Kan., who sent N95 mask to Gov. Cuomo

photo by: Associated Press

Dennis Ruhnke holds two of his remaining N-95 masks as he stands with his wife, Sharon at their home near Troy, Kan. Friday, April 24, 2020. Dennis, a retired farmer, shipped one of the couple's five masks left over from his farming days to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for use by a doctor or a nurse. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Remember the Kansas farmers who sent a N95 mask to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just to “make sure we could at least help one person”?

Well, that simple gesture started a chain of giving.

In April, Dennis Ruhnke, of Troy, Kan., captured the hearts of viewers across America with his letter to Cuomo and his and his wife’s donation of one of their five N95 masks. Cuomo read Ruhnke’s letter at a press conference on April 24.

“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,” Ruhnke wrote to Cuomo, who called it a “snapshot of humanity.”

photo by: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP, Contributed Photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, addresses the media while holding an N95 mask during his daily press briefing on COVID-19 at the State Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Friday, April 24, 2020. The mask was sent to the governor by retired Kansas farmer Dennis Ruhnke, whose wife, Sharon Ruhnke, pictured at right, only has one lung. Ruhnke asked that the governor give it to a doctor or a nurse.

Ruhnke’s action inspired further generosity, most recently a new connection between Troy, Kan., and a New York city of the same name. A couple weeks ago, Dennis and his wife, Sharon, received a package from Troy, N.Y., with a note from the mayor stating how much New Yorkers appreciated their donation.

“I was personally touched by this, because my daughter Eliza works in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and part of her job is accepting donated items,” Troy mayor Patrick Madden wrote. “She informed me that following the governor’s recognition of your act of kindness, they received hundreds of additional mask donations, many with notes citing your act as inspiration.”

In an interview with the Journal-World, Madden said it was a “pretty freaky coincidence” that his daughter was the one to open the package from Dennis, and that the Ruhnkes are from a Kansas town of the same name as his own.

The care package sent to the Ruhnkes included masks, letters from Madden and a local businesswoman, and a sticker and hat from Troy.

photo by: Photo courtesy of Darn Good Yarn

Contents of the #DoGood care package from Darn Good Yarn to Troy, Kansas, mayor, including letters from company founder and mayor of Troy, New York. The package also includes gifts from the Enjoy Troy Co. of Troy, N.Y. and boxes of disposable masks to distribute to those in need.

Ruhnke called the package from Troy, N.Y., “unique,” and said he thought the mayor’s letter was nice. He’s been getting a lot of letters from all over the country and world, but he said he remembered the white hat and sticker from Troy.

Unfortunately, “white and I don’t get along on the farm,” Ruhnke noted. The hat may soon be a different color.

The mayor of Troy, Kan., Sarah Boeh-Cerra, also received a similar package from Troy, N.Y.

“I was surprised, first of all,” she said. “I feel like there was a kindred gesture there.”

Boeh-Cerra said it’s a “small world” and that people need to be working together to fight this virus, not fighting one another.

“The whole gesture that Troy, N.Y., sent these N95 masks back to us…was just amazing,” she said.

On Tuesday, Boeh-Cerra said she was planning on asking the city council if the local school district might be able to use some of the masks sent over from Troy.

The package from Troy, N.Y., also included a letter from the owner of a nearby business, Darn Good Yarn, whose owner decided to pay the Ruhnkes’ kindness forward through a #DoGood campaign. (Darn Good Yarn is located in Clifton Park, N.Y., about 14 miles outside of Troy.)

Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, donated 24,000 surgical masks and more than 4,000 N95 masks to groups across the nation. In every letter to the recipients, Snow mentioned the Ruhnkes’ generosity.

“Now that our region of New York has entered Phase IV of our reopening, we feel it is our duty to lend support to other communities in need,” she wrote in a July letter to the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board. “We were particularly moved by a humble gesture made by a small farmer in Kansas who, in April during our state’s time of greatest need, mailed a single extra n95 mask to our governor with the request that he give that mask to a doctor or nurse in New York.”

Snow said they sent out the masks in June and July to nursing homes, homeless shelters, veterans’ homes, prisons and more.

In her letter to Ruhnke, Snow said that many New Yorkers were “personally touched” by his gift of the single N95 mask. That wasn’t a feeling just held by New Yorkers, however.

Sharon Ruhnke, Dennis’ wife, said they’ve received over 100 letters — most handwritten — from nearly every state, as well as some from other countries. Dennis plans to write back to all the people who have sent him letters.

“Basically I’m going to be writing a thank you letter for a thank you letter,” he said.

Sharon and Dennis have continued to quarantine throughout the pandemic, and Sharon said it’s been nice receiving the letters. She’s putting them all into a scrapbook for Dennis and their extended family. It’s more for the grandkids, Dennis contended, “so they know their grandpa accomplished something in his life.”

Dennis said he was “very proud” of his degree from Kansas State University, which was conferred during a special ceremony at the Kansas Statehouse on May 5.

photo by: Associated Press

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020 photo provided by the State of Kansas, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, left, and Kansas State University President Richard Myers award a bachelor’s degree to Dennis Ruhnke, right, in Topeka, Kansas. The degree was bestowed upon Ruhnke, a retired Kansas farmer who shipped one of his five N-95 masks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo despite worries amid the coronavirus outbreak for his wife who has one lung. Kelly said that Ruhnke “perfectly encapsulates K-State’s democratic mandate to be of service to people.” (State of Kansas via AP)

That day, which happened to be Dennis’ birthday, he also received a phone call from Cuomo congratulating him on his accomplishment. It lasted around ten minutes.

“You don’t expect that 10 minute phone call from a man that’s that busy,” Dennis said.

Sharon said the phone call was a highlight of Dennis’ whole experience and said Dennis and Cuomo discussed farming and Cuomo’s dog, among other topics. Dennis said the conversation was comfortable, and Sharon said Dennis said it felt like he was just talking to a friend.

Dennis wasn’t comfortable at first with all the attention he received from his generosity. He told the Journal-World in April that he doesn’t like “glitter and glam.” But over four months later, Dennis said he’s thankful.

“I’m very appreciative of what has happened in my life,” he said.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.