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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

1st family taking role as wedding planners

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON - Talk about hush-hush wedding planning.

First Daughter Jenna Bush was the last in the family to know she was getting married.

Months ago, her fiance, Henry Hager, told Jenna's twin sister that he wanted to propose. Then at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Mr. Hager asked President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for their daughter's hand in marriage.

For weeks, the President and Mrs. Bush kept their lips zipped.

On Aug. 15, 2007, Mr. Hager rousted Jenna at 4 a.m. to go hiking on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine.

"It was freezing," Jenna recalled. "But we got up and we hiked in the dark for an hour and a half, and then when we got toward the top - with the sunrise - he asked me."

Officially, the wedding is a private, family affair.

The White House has issued no press releases, but the President and First Lady have gradually dribbled out details about the nuptials Saturday at their 1,600-acre ranch in Texas.

Here's the lowdown: Jenna, 26, will wear an Oscar de la Renta gown with a small train.

More than 200 friends and relatives will attend the outdoor ceremony.

The bride has 14 attendants, who are known not as bridesmaids, but as members of the "house party."

Barbara Bush, Jenna's twin, is the maid of honor. She helped Mr. Hager make decisions about the ring. The diamond, a Hager family heirloom, was reset in a ring that also features sapphires.

The President disclosed yesterday that Jenna will say "I do" near a lake at the ranch - in front of a giant cross made of Texas limestone that will serve as an altar. The cross will be a landmark at the ranch for years to come. The President said that was his contribution to the wedding that the Bushes are trying to keep a low-key affair.

Saturday's event will be the first presidential family wedding since Tricia Nixon married Edward Cox at the White House in 1971.

In an interview last week on Fox & Friends, Mr. Bush said he tried to persuade Jenna to have a small ceremony and have a party later - but no dice.

"She wants the deal," the President said. "They are going to have the deal, and it's going to be fabulous."

The President told Fox that a White House wedding was never in the cards.

"It's not Jenna's style," he said. "She didn't want the whole world looking at it. So the ranch will be perfect."

Jenna offered a few more details in an interview with Vogue magazine.

She said the ceremony will take place at 7:30 p.m. in an effort to beat the Texas heat, to be followed by dinner and dancing under a tent.

"It's my home. I was raised in Texas, and it just felt right," Jenna told Vogue. "It means a lot to Henry and me to be outdoors. We wanted something organic and low-key."

Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and author of a book on presidents' kin, calls Jenna's ceremony "the anti-Alice Roosevelt wedding."

Former President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter was married in 1906.

"That wedding took place during a time of prosperity and peace; this one at a time of economic struggle and war," Mr. Wead said.

"The Roosevelt family was outgoing, flamboyant; this is a private family. That was one of the most popular presidencies in American history," he said.

Jenna, the 22nd child of a president to marry while their father was in office, has come a ways from her dad's first year in office when she had a run-in with the law for underage drinking. It was her second offense.

During her father's re-election campaign in 2004, she was photographed sticking her tongue out at the media at a campaign stop in Missouri.

The photo reinforced the playful side of her personality.

In 2004, she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. She taught third grade at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Washington.

These days, Jenna has been doing book tours.

After a UNICEF internship in Latin America, she wrote Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope, about a single mother with AIDS.

In recent weeks, she's been traveling with the First Lady promoting their book Read All About It! a story about a boy who discovers the joys of reading.

The groom, son of the head of the Republican Party in Virginia, met Jenna during her father's 2004 re-election campaign.

Mr. Hager, who graduated from Wake Forest University, worked as an aide to Mr. Bush's former top political adviser Karl Rove and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Mr. Hager, who will turn 30 the day before the wedding, will receive a master's degree in business administration this month from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

After the wedding, the couple plans to live in a two-bedroom, two-bath town house on the south side of Baltimore where she plans to return to teaching and he will work for Constellation Energy, a power supplier based in Maryland.

Jenna's mother said yesterday that she's not nervous - and the President isn't, either.

"I'm very, very excited," the First Lady said. "It's a very interesting passage of life when you get to that time in your life when your child - first child is getting married. And we're getting, for us, our first son."

Laura Bush admits that she half hoped Jenna and Mr. Hager, whom she calls "soul mates," would get married at the White House.

But Jenna said she was raised in Texas and having a White House wedding wasn't her style.

"There's a glamour to it, I know," Jenna said of White House ceremonies. "But Henry and I are far less glamorous than the White House."

Her wedding gown, however, was the creation of Oscar de la Renta, a top New York designer and favorite of the First Lady's. It's made of organza, a sheer fabric, with embroidery and matte beading. Jenna has described the dress as "simple and elegant."

For the bridesmaids, New York designer Lela Rose, a native of Dallas, has made seven different styles of dresses in seven different colors that match the palate of Texas wildflowers.

Mr. Bush may be commander in chief, but outnumbered by three women - his wife and twin daughters - he hasn't gotten to weigh in much on the wedding planning.

"They're letting me spend money," Mr. Bush has joked.

When he first talked about it, the President didn't seem all that nostalgic about seeing one of his daughters marry.

When Mr. Hager said, "I want to marry your daughter," Mr. Bush replied, "Done deal."

Now with just nine months left in office and his popularity sliding, Mr. Bush jokes that GOP presidential candidate John McCain isn't the only one who wants to distance himself from him.

"Jenna is moving out, too," Mr. Bush said.



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