J. Stephens Tripp was born in Duanesburg, Schenectady county, New York, July 5, 1828. He was a grandson of Ezekial Tripp, a noted Quaker speaker during the Revolutionary War. In his early years J. Stephens worked on his father's farm, and attended district school during the winter months. At the age of eighteen he entered the Schoharie Academy, teaching school a part of the time to secure means to pay his expenses. He continued in the Academy, part of the time as tutor, until 1850, when he entered the law office of Judge Charles Goodyear in Schoharie, New York, and read law until June, 1853, when he was admitted to the bar. In November, 1853, he removed to Baraboo, Wisconsin, entering into a partnership with Giles Stevens, afterwards Judge Stevens of Reedsburg. In 1854 he went to Sauk City and formed a partnership with Cyrus Leland which lasted for about two years. Thereafter, excepting for one year, when he was in partnership with S.S. Wilkinson, he practiced alone. In 1868 he commenced doing a banking business in connection with his law practice, but in 1887 he quit the practice of law and confined his attention to banking.
Mr. Tripp was postmaster of Sauk City, Wisconsin from 1854 to 1861, town clerk of Prairie du Sac for twenty years; president of Sauk City village for eight years; president of the village of Prairie du Sac, and member of the Sauk county board of supervisors much of the time for thirty years, and several times its chairman. He was a member of the Wisconsin Assembly in 1862, having been elected as a "War Democrat."
Mr. Tripp was first married in 1857 to Fannie W. Hallit, who died in 1865. In 1874 he married Nellie W. Waterbury of Prairie du Sac, by whom he had one son who died in infancy. His second wife died in 1893. He leaves two sisters and a brother living in New York.
A public spirited citizen, Mr. Tripp gave active aid to many enterprises and rendered many services of a public character to which no allusion has here been made. In the quiet and judicious giving of money and services for the relief of those in real need, for the good of his county and state, he was liberal.
He was the first citizen of his home city. Loved and respected by friends and neighbors, a man of the highest honesty and intelligently performing his many private and public duties with scrupulous care, he will be missed by all who know him. To his inheritance of thrift and frugality Mr. Tripp added a correct business judgment and a large capacity for business through which he was able to accumulate a fortune of over a half million dollars. For years he had decided generally on some plan of beneficence to his fellowmen, finally devising the grand scheme embodied in his will that practically his entire fortune should be devoted to the upbuilding and usefulness of the University of Wisconsin. Thus the results of all his labors finally go and are devoted to the good of his fellow men. And it is not from what he has bestowed, alone, that mankind may hope to profit by his example. To all possessors of great wealth he has pointed out the way and said: "Go thou and do likewise."
His memory will be cherished as long as our institutions shall endure and his labors and sacrifices will serve as a constant influence for "better thoughts, better words and better deeds to the generations who shall share in his bounty and move forward upon the beneficent foundations he has so generously provided."