Dennis Cooke was born in Maiden, North Carolina, on February 23, 1904, the son of Avery and Alice (Keener) Cooke. He married Gertrude Murray in December 1925 and they had two sons, Dennis H. and Avery M. Cooke.
Cooke served the elementary school in his community as principal in 1922-23. He was principal of the high school in Aberdeen, 1925-26, and held a principalship at Masonic High School, Oxford Orphanage, 1926-28.
Dr. Cooke received the A.B. degree from Duke University in 1925, and the M.A. degree from the institution in 1928. He was a teaching fellow at Duke University in 1928-29, and a teaching fellow at Peabody College in 1929-30.
When he became president of East Carolina Teachers College, Dr. Cooke was chairman of the Department of Educational Administration at Peabody College. He joined the faculty at Peabody College as an associate professor of education after receiving his doctorate from the institution in 1930. Later he became associated with the school of administration.
Cooke assumed his duties at ECTC on August 1, 1946 and announced his resignation in May of 1947. He went on to serve as the third president of High Point University from 1947-1959.