A Heart for Giving Back

Find your passion and pay it forward.

On 86 acres in a place called Hocking Hills, just south and east of Columbus, two distinguished emeriti professors of biology at Kent State are chopping wood, growing vegetables and enjoying a retirement so active that most people would get tired just thinking about it.

Professors G. Dennis Cooke and Barbara Andreas have unique ties to the university – both are graduates who then went on to become leading professors in their fields at Kent State – Cooke in limnology (fresh water biology) and Andreas in plant biology. Their deep love of their own undergraduate days at the university, and for the students they in turn guided into their own careers, led them to give back to Kent State in many ways.


As a young man, Denny Cooke planned to study chemistry at Kent State. He had never taken a biology course, not even in high school, but freshman biology was a requirement. “I finally marched over there and took it — and literally the whole world changed for me. Everything changed. My grades went up (I was an average student), biology was all I thought about, that’s all I did, that’s all I wanted to do,” says Cooke. “I was so impressed with the professors who were so turned on about it. Ralph Dexter being the principle one, he was really my mentor.”

Barbara came to Kent to study journalism, but after getting C’s in journalism and A’s in biology, she saw the handwriting on the wall. “I was fortunate to become part of the biology department when it was full of young, excited professors like Lowell Orr, Art Herrick and Tom Cooperrider,” she says. “They were so involved in what they did, and it was contagious.” Barbara was able to go to college only because she received a scholarship from the Rotary, as well a Student Defense Loan that provided what she needed for tuition and books for all four years.


Denny and Barbara were popular and effective professors in their long careers at Kent State – both earned the Distinguished Teaching Award – and had the pleasure of shepherding several generations of students in biological science, many of whom went on to become leaders in their respective fields.

Barbara, who has been retired for less than two years, still receives the cards that graduates fill out to provide feedback about their favorite professors. “To hear from undergrads who appreciated me as a teacher, that’s just wonderfully fulfilling. Denny and I took our students under our wings, just like our professors did for us, and that means so much [to them].”


Andreas, a plant biology specialist, was the former curator of the Herbarium located in Cunningham Hall. “When I was an undergraduate, I worked there for four years, for about a dollar an hour, which helped me become much more interested in plants and plant science. I really want other students to have that opportunity — that’s why Kent State is so important to me. I often think of it as my third child, so I have a strong desire to support it.” Cooke concurs, “Giving to Kent State is pure payback for the doors that I could open, walk through, and be encouraged to do what I wanted to do.”

Barbara now does research work for the Herbarium at the Ohio State University, but still collects many specimens on her travels around the world, and deposits them at Kent State’s Herbarium for current and future botanists to study. Denny recently completed a project that quantitatively demonstrated, for the first time, how pollution from factory farms was directly affecting a reservoir and the fish that live there. He published two papers on the subject in 2011, in addition to the five books and more than 70 articles he produced as a leading expert in limnology.

As for the rest of their “retirement,” in between their travels, the two love to follow Kent State football and basketball, are avid birdwatchers, and manage their 86-acre property as their own private nature preserve. And then there is Maggie — their standard poodle, “furry child” and landscape supervisor — who keeps things hopping on a daily basis.

The direct financial support and future gift plans that Professors Cooke and Andreas have in place ensure that their legacy of excellence will live on at Kent State. The Dr. G. Dennis Cooke and Dr. Barbara J. Andreas Scholarship in Biological Sciences is endowed through very generous gift annuities, as well as annual outright gifts. Denny sums up their reason for giving very well, “Kent State had a fantastic influence on me. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t discovered biology and a mentor who taught me to be a self-starter. I found my passion at Kent State, and I still have it.”

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012 10:10 AM
UPDATED: Thursday, December 08, 2022 11:07 AM
Institutional Advancement