Kansas Farmer Logo

Protesters get attention, but a generous act of kindness speaks volumes about Kansans.

P.J. Griekspoor, Editor

May 7, 2020

4 Min Read
Doctor woman use infrared forehead thermometer gun to check body temperature for virus covid-19 symptoms with the isolation g
MOST SUPPORTIVE: Touched by the plight of medical caregivers in New York, a retired Kansas farmer sent one of his five N95 masks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to give it to a medical worker in need. His action, says Kansas Hospital Association CEO, Tom Bell, should override disgust at the protesters who confronted and insulted nurses in Topeka. RyanKing999/Getty Images

I want to share this touching observation from Tom Bell, president and CEO of Kansas Hospital Association, a voluntary, non-profit organization existing to be the leading advocate and resource for members. KHA membership includes 216 member facilities, of which 123 are full-service, community hospitals.

“I was struck recently by two stories, within days of each other that show how the COVID pandemic has exposed the best and the worst in us. There is really no need to provide much more background information. We all know that COVID has closed businesses, kept us at home and even made us fear for our health and safety. We are all ready to try and move toward something that feels more like ‘normal,’ as we reopen Kansas.

“Dissatisfaction with the current situation led a group of people to the Topeka Capitol Building to protest Gov. Kelly and her stay at home order. It also led a few health care workers to the same location to protest the protesters. As the health care workers stood silently with their masks on, one woman approached them with some choice words. She called them liars and implied they weren't real nurses (they were). She asked them why they weren't in the hospital working and called them ‘disgusting’ several times. All through this harassment, the health care workers stood silently, refusing to engage.

“About the same time, we were hearing the story of a northeast Kansas farmer who gave one of his only N95 masks for a health care worker on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. At one of his regular briefings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo read a letter from Dennis Ruhnke, a retired farmer from Troy, Kansas.

“Mr. Ruhnke told of having five masks left over from his farming days. He kept four of them for his immediate family, including his wife, who is in her 70s and only has one lung. The fifth mask he wanted to give to a nurse or doctor fighting the pandemic in New York. Gov. Cuomo, who was obviously touched by Mr. Ruhnke's letter, praised his ‘generosity of spirit.’

“It's easy to get caught up in disdain for the irrational protester in Topeka, and I admit her antics angered me. But thinking about the quiet, selfless act of Mr. Ruhnke is far more productive. It shows the great regard that the average person has for those health care workers who are serving their communities every hour of every day. It's a reminder that strength is often the opposite of belligerent and loud. I think it's reflective of the generous nature of most citizens of our state and frankly, it makes me proud to be a Kansan. It is, as Gov. Cuomo said, a ‘snapshot of humanity.’

Signed: Tom Bell”

You said it well, Mr. Bell. Thank you.

Kansas pride

Mr. Bell is not alone in his pride in Dennis Ruhnke, a Kansas farmer who sent his last N95 mask to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to pass it on to a health care worker in need.

This pandemic has brought out the worst in some Kansans and some Americans. It has also brought out the best in the vast majority of us.

Early in the pandemic, it appeared that rural America might be spared due to our remoteness. It was not to be.

Kansas, as of May 5, has seen more than 5,000 cases, almost half of them in the four counties with beef packing plants. Ford County, which has two plants, has 869 cases, while Finney has 606, Seward 518 and Lyon 265.

Since hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag well behind new case numbers, we will no doubt see the numbers of fatalities rise over the coming weeks. So far, 137 people have lost their lives, surpassing in one month the total deaths from this year’s entire flu season.

It is a time that calls for a lot more behavior like that of Ruhnke and a lot less like that of the unnamed folks who protested at the Capitol.

Apparently Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers think so, too. On May 5, they joined Mr. Ruhnke at K-State to present him with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.

The governor noted that in 1971, he was two credits shy of his degree when his father died and he left school to return to the farm and take care of his mother and the farming operation.

“Dennis’ s kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree,” she said.

Read more about:

Covid 19

About the Author(s)

P.J. Griekspoor

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Phyllis Jacobs "P.J." Griekspoor, editor of Kansas Farmer, joined Farm Progress in 2008 after 18 years with the Wichita Eagle as a metro editor, page designer, copy desk chief and reporter, covering agriculture and agribusiness, oil and gas, biofuels and the bioeconomy, transportation, small business, military affairs, weather, and general aviation.

She came to Wichita in 1990 from Fayetteville, N.C., where she was copy desk chief of the Fayetteville Observer for three years. She also worked at the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn. (1980-87), the Mankato Free Press in Mankato, Minn. (1972-80) and the Kirksville Daily Express in Kirksville, Mo. (1966-70).

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like