US president George Bush’s daughter Jenna shunned the opulence of the White House for her wedding today, opting instead for the family ranch in Texas.
She is due to exchange vows with fiance Henry Hager at the ranch in Crawford where the corn is thigh-high, roads are named Cattle Drive and the Texas flag is painted on the rooftops of barns.
Away from the glare of television cameras that have beamed other first family weddings into American living rooms, Jenna’s outdoor wedding at the ranch reflects her family’s penchant for privacy and her preference for the casual over grandiose.
Even without the prying eyes of strangers, Jenna’s marriage to her long-time boyfriend will make presidential history. It will be remembered as an upbeat moment of Bush’s two-term presidency beset by terrorism, war and the nation’s current limp economy.
“This is a joyous occasion for our family, as we celebrate the happy life ahead of her and her husband, Henry,” President Bush said in his radio address address.
“It’s also a special time for Laura who this Mother’s Day weekend will watch a young woman we raised together walk down the aisle.”
Jenna, 26, is the 22nd child of a president to get married while their father was in the Oval Office. Their ceremonies have ranged from Tricia Nixon’s extravagant wedding broadcast live from the Rose Garden in 1971 to the 1992 Camp David wedding of Jenna’s aunt, Dorothy Koch.
“All of them are different. This one really reflects the personality of both Jenna and the George W Bush family,” said Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H W Bush and author of a book on presidents’ kin.
“If they’d have gone on TV, the wedding would have been shown all over the world and Jenna Bush would have been an international celebrity – and she would have been a target. They’re preparing the transition to private life and they’re not particularly interested in seeing Jenna Bush become a huge celebrity.”
It’s unlikely that paparazzi will be hanging out of helicopters to capture Hollywood-style aerial shots of the wedding. Airspace in a 30-mile radius of the property is restricted when the Bushes are there. Despite the lack of media coverage, however, Jenna’s wedding will be closely scrutinised – down to the matte beading and embroidery on her white Oscar de la Renta gown.
“The wedding details will be reported on for generations, influencing both present-day and future brides-to-be,” says Millie Martin Bratten, editor-in-chief of 'Brides' magazine and student of first family weddings.
Jenna’s twin sister, Barbara, is maid of honour and 14 other women are part of the “house party”.
Her grandmother Barbara Bush is wearing a long, moonstone blue dress with a low-cut back. The women in the “house party” are in seven different styles of knee-length dresses in seven different colours that match the palette of Texas wildflowers – blues, greens, lavenders and pinky reds.
The best man is the groom’s brother, John “Jack” Hager. The groom also has 14 ushers in the “house party,” which will walk down the aisle to their seats, but not participate in the ceremony.
More than 200 family and friends are converging for the nuptials on the 1,600-acre ranch that was hit by a brief storm that packed winds up to 50 mph and dropped coin-sized hail on the area. The White House said the storm did not cause any damage at the ranch where a tent has been erected for post-ceremony dinner and dancing.
Festivities began yesterday with a bridal lunch, rehearsal dinner and post-rehearsal dinner celebration in Salado, a tiny tourist village, which used to be a stagecoach stop. Jenna, her sister and the first lady were in Salado, more than an hour’s drive south of Crawford, all day and the president arrived in the evening by motorcade.
The rehearsal dinner for about 100 people was hosted by the parents of the groom, who also turned 30 yesterday. Hager’s father, John Hager, is the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and is former lieutenant governor of Virginia and former US assistant secretary of education.
The rehearsal dinner crowd, including the president, then walked down a street in Salado with the Belton High School Marching Band from Belton, Texas, to a “Texas-sized celebration” at another establishment. All the wedding guests were invited to this event. They were entertained by the five-member Duke Merrick Band from Virginia, which performed classic Texas songs and original pieces by Merrick, a relative of the Hager family.
The groom’s family is also hosting a barbecue lunch in Salado ahead of the wedding.
Hager met Jenna during her father’s 2004 re-election campaign. He graduated from Wake Forest University and worked as an aide to Bush’s former top political adviser Karl Rove. He is set to receive a master’s degree in business administration later this month from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
Between February 2005 and January 2006, he was an economic policy aide in the office of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and regularly briefed the secretary on economic data. “He was widely regarded as a superstar,” said Ann Marie Hauser, press secretary at Commerce.
After the wedding, the couple are rumoured to be honeymooning in Europe, although the White House would not comment. After that, they plan to live in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom town house on the south side of Baltimore. She plans to return to teaching and he will work for Constellation Energy, a power supplier based in Maryland.
The couple will marry at a cross, made of beige coloured Texas limestone, that was erected near the ranch’s man-made lake. The cross and altar, made of the same stone used to construct the Bush’s ranch house, will serve as the altar and a landmark at the ranch for years to come. The Rev Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston is officiating.