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Sunday, June 13, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Emmett Watson

Ismay, Montana, Soon Will Be Known Simply As Joe - Joe, Montana

This department called up the town of Ismay, which is in eastern Montana, and got a very busy man on the line. He is the city clerk of Ismay.

A genial and patient fellow, all in all. He has been pestered by newsies like me ever since it was announced that the town of Ismay will change its name.

The new name of the Montana metropolis is Joe.

"Ever since we decided to change the name of Ismay to Joe, my phone has rung off the hook," said Wayne Rieger, the town clerk.

"I have had calls from Alaska, Washington, D.C., Florida, Honolulu and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"HBO is talking about us on television, we were on CNN, in Newsweek, on NBC Nightly News and now I am talking to Seattle. What did you say your name was?"

The town of Ismay is drowning in publicity. Rieger, as town clerk, is handling the situation quite well.

In addition to being Ismay's town clerk, Rieger manages an office for the federal government. He is also the town's fire chief. And he operates a cattle ranch of his own.

He is one proud Montanan. , is Mr. Rieger. He said that Ismay is named after two sisters, Isabelle and Maybelle, daughters of a railroad official when the first train went through in 1909.

"When this name-change thing started a few weeks ago, . . . we had 22 residents in Ismay. Now we are up to 28. Nobody was born, but six new adults moved into town, including our mayor, Gene Nemitz."

Rieger said that he has never met Joe Montana, the superstar quarterback, once of the San Francisco 49ers, now of the Kansas City Chiefs. But he said the town voted, 21-0, to change the name of Ismay to that of the famous NFL player. So soon it will be Joe, Montana.

"It would have been 22-0, but one of our voters was out of town," Rieger said.

He said the suggestion came from three Kansas City disc jockeys on radio station KYSS. They wanted to honor the smallest incorporated town in Montana.

He said that for a long time Bear Creek, Mont., was the state's smallest incorporated town. "But we became the smallest in 1980," he said, proudly, "and Ismay has defended its title ever since."

He said Mayor Nemitz presides with a two-man City Council, Bobby Weidmer and the mayor's brother, Lee Nemitz.

Rieger went on to explain where Ismay is. He said it is approximately 900 miles - "a wild guess" - from Kansas City, Kan. It is 60 miles west of Miles City, Mont., "and Billings is about 230 miles west of us."

He confirmed a wire-service story that Ismay, or Joe, has a grain elevator, a post office, a fire hall and a community church. The town has no bar and no store. "We have nine houses," he added.

Rieger and I had a long, pleasant conversation. Both of us knew that here in our own state we have a George, Washington. There are, we figured, many places named after our country's leaders, names like Lincoln, Jefferson, Jackson and so on.

But we didn't know of any town that named itself after a famous athlete.

The name can be tricky, especially when you say Joe, Montana. There has to be that slight pause, a weak-sounding comma, between Joe and Montana. They'll get used to it.

The official change-over comes July 3, and will be most of the town's Independence Day celebration. "We will be Joe, Montana, from that date on and during the whole football season," Rieger said. "When the season ends, we might go back to being Ismay."

In honor of this famous occasion, station KYSS is flying the entire town of Joe, Montana, to Kansas City when the Chiefs play Cincinnati. Rieger said, "They are providing us airfare and will put us up at a big hotel. It should be a fine football weekend."

Rieger also requested that I put in a plug for Joe as a kind of Chamber of Commerce message. He said I should say that they are selling "official" T-shirts and caps for $15. "The money will go to support our volunteer fire department."

He also said that Ismay, soon to be Joe, is issuing a commemorative stamp cancellation. "The stamp cancellation will be in the shape of a football helmet," Rieger said. "To get one, just enclose $1.50 and a stamped self-addressed envelope. This also helps our volunteer fire department. Send your requests to Joe, Mont., 59336. We will be most grateful."

Emmett Watson's column appears Sunday and Thursday in the Local section of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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