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Sharing food and fun with the Rat Pack

Left to right, Debbie MacDonald, Stan Wright and Tina Owen share hors d’oeuvres March 24, 2016, at the Our Thai House. The local Meetup group the Rat Pack hosts a “Dinner Around the World” event once at month at a different restaurant. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Left to right, Debbie MacDonald, Stan Wright and Tina Owen share hors d’oeuvres March 24, 2016, at the Our Thai House. The local Meetup group the Rat Pack hosts a “Dinner Around the World” event once at month at a different restaurant. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Judith Spitzer

The pungent scent of lemongrass, ginger and warm curries fills the air at Our Thai House on North Hamilton Street on a recent Wednesday evening – the restaurant packed to overflow by a group of fun-loving souls called the Rat Pack.

The 30-plus members of the group, ensconced in half of the restaurant, scanned menus as people laughed and talked comfortably. The event was a regular monthly event called “Dinner Around the World.”

Meetup, whose online tagline says it all – “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something,” is an online social networking portal that facilitates thousands of offline meetings in different locations around the world, including Spokane.

Spokane’s Rat Pack was organized in 2012 by Debbie MacDonald, Stanley Wright and Charmaine Devany – three Spokane residents who said they created the group to welcome anyone and everyone to party and have fun.

“We came up with the name because we accept everyone, whatever religion, relationship status, or gender – anyone who wants to have fun,” Devany said.

Back in the day, Hollywood’s Rat Pack was a well-known group whose partying was infamous. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop were some prominent members of the Pack, known for impromptu sessions on stage and the group’s inclusive nature.

Sporting a round pin reminiscent of a campaign button that read “the Rat Pack” in a decidedly 1950s font, Devany said she’s been a part of other Meetup groups and dating sites as well.

“Meetups are great for people who don’t want to go somewhere alone,” she said. “We have probably 30 to 40 different events during the year.”

Spokane’s Rat Pack events are wide and varied. The organizers encourage all members to post on the site and to invite others if they want to attend an event, large or small.

“We go hiking, camping, dancing, kayaking,” Devany said. “In the winter, we watch football together. We’ve played Bunco, gone to comedy clubs and outside events like concerts or trivia nights at different venues.”

Devany added, “There’s even a mushroom Meetup.”

MacDonald said a primary reason for creating the Rat Pack was to enable a group to be run by members rather than entirely by organizers.

“We know that some of the organizers of other Meetups are more controlling and others are not, but we want members to be involved in activities,” she said.

Group members are encouraged to add events to the online listing of meetups whether it’s two, 20 or 200 people who ultimately get together.

There are more than 1,100 Rat Pack members listed on the website, and typically about 100 to 150 people regularly participate in events, MacDonald said. The dinner Meetup included retirees, graphic designers, nurses and stay-at-home moms.

Outdoor activities include skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking and walking. The group also hosts annual contests for the best soup and the tastiest salsa.

“We charge for some events, we put the money in one big pot and we can get discounted tickets or a group rate. We also go to one another’s houses for parties and we have a regular holiday parties.”

Tina Owen, a longtime member of the Rat Pack as well as other Meetup groups, organizes the monthly dinners.

“I love this group. This group is the most fun of all the groups I’m in,” Owen said.

The Rat Pack dinners have taken the group out to dine at local Italian, Mexican and pizza restaurants, and even included Ethiopian food.

“Next month, we’re going to Mama Mia’s Italian Restaurant on West Francis Avenue,” she said.

Janell Count, a transplant from Michigan, is a single professional and a three-year member of the group.

“We do a lot together, but by far camping is a favorite,” Count said. “We have so much fun. I’m single and I feel like the group is responsible and I feel safe with them. I don’t feel like it’s a hookup.”

Count said another favorite has been kayaking. “We had a camp north of Spokane and there were different kinds of kayaks and everyone helped each other,” she said.

Organization of events is key, MacDonald added. “We have to book camping spots six to nine months ahead of time now for the group,” she said.

James Faulker and his wife, Kym, one of a few married couples in the group, said it was their first time with the group. James joked he was worried about the group being too “upper crust” but said, “I’m totally settled in now. I can say I’ve smiled and laughed a lot tonight, and it wasn’t that expensive.”

Kym Faulker added that the couple plans to attend the group dinners every month. “My husband and I moved back to Spokane recently and are looking for fun ways to meet new people and be active in the community,” she said in an online post on the Rat Pack site.

Stan Wright, the third original organizer, said the Rat Pack has hosted 769 events since it was created in June 2012.

“I’ve participated in 330 events since then,” he said, looking at his phone. “The app keeps track of the number of times people get together.”

The app also allows members to take and post photos of group activities. “And your picture is going to get taken, so you better learn to laugh at yourself,” he added.

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