New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a farmer in Kansas with a sick wife sent him a spare N95 mask, a gesture the governor called "humanity at its best."
Cuomo ended his Friday coronavirus press briefing - before taking questions for reporters - by reading the letter from Dennis Ruhnke, a retired farmer who found an unused N95 mask and felt compelled to send to a New York first responder.
"I'm a retired farmer hunkered down in northeast Kansas with my wife, who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung," Cuomo read the words of Dennis aloud.
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"We are in our 70s, and frankly I'm afraid for her," the letter continued.
"Enclosed find a solitary N95 mask leftover 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 state?" he asked of Cuomo.
Cuomo later tweeted a picture of the letter from Dennis, calling his action "humanity at its best."
When reached by phone later on Friday, Ruhnke told NBC New York he got the thought to send something to the northeast about a month ago. So after finding the masks and giving some to his family to use, he went online to find an address for Cuomo, and sent the extra to him directly.
"It didn’t take much time, didn’t take much money of course. I just thought I’d put them in the box, and that was the end of that," Ruhnke said. "I don’t really remember many other things I said. Thought he was doing a good job, I commended him on that."
Ruhnke, who farmed corn and soy beans in Troy, Kansas, for more than four decades, said he had the masks to battle occasional dust and mold problems. And even though he has no connection to New York and has never been to the northeast, Ruhnke says that "everyone's just gotta do their part, even as small as mine was," and said he feels good about what he did.
"Makes me feel proud, but at the same token it’s certainly not needed," he said. "I just knew that it needed to be done. I thought, well here’s a commodity that I have that they need, it’s just a simple act."
Thankfully Ruhnke said only a small handful of people in their county outside of Kansas City have tested positive, but the virus has still prevented him and his wife Sharon from going into town as much as they'd like, with their son getting most of their groceries for them. But the good news is Sharon is doing just fine, despite her husband's concerns for her health he expressed in the letter. Along with having one lung, Sharon also has diabetes and suffered a bad leg injury a few years ago.
"She has a lot of difficulties but she's doing a little better now," Ruhnke said, adding that he didn't tell his wife he had even sent the mask to New York until a couple days later. "You always have those concerns, especially with the COVID virus going around the country. I just had this bad feeling, that she does not need to get this (virus)."
Sharon said she had no idea Cuomo read her husband's letter during Friday's press briefing, until NBC New York contacted her and told her. She then told her husband the news that came as a great surprise to both of them, and she hopes sending the mask will inspire others to act similarly.
"I hope it's a message that more people out there will do the same," Sharon said. "I said I hope one mask, you know, helps somebody. And he said well, if it saves one life, that's all we have to worry about."
While Ruhnke told News 4 that he doesn't "do any of the texting or the emails, it’s just not me — I’m too old and too busy," his kind and simple gesture of generosity is deeply appreciated by the governor of a state 1,200 miles away.
"You want to talk about a snapshot of humanity. You have five masks, what do you do," Cuomo said. "You keep all five? Do you hide the five masks and keep them for yourselves and others? No, you send one mask to New York to help a nurse or doctor."
"How selfless is that. How giving is that?" he said of Dennis.