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Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - Page updated at 09:41 AM

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President calls Jenna's wedding 'spectacular'

Associated Press Writer

WACO, Texas —

President Bush spent months joking about being a father of the bride, but on Sunday he was downright wistful about giving his daughter Jenna away to her longtime beau.

"Our little girl, Jenna, married a really good guy, Henry Hager," Bush said, standing next Mrs. Bush at an airport in Waco where he boarded Air Force One for his flight back to Washington. "The wedding was spectacular. It's just - it's all we could have hoped for."

Unlike other first family weddings that have been broadcast live, the Bushes didn't share their daughter's nuptials with the nation. The day after, however, they briefly shared their joy.

"The weather cooperated nicely," Bush said about the wedding at his 1,600-acre Texas ranch. "Just as the vows were exchanged, the sun set over our lake and it was just a special day and a wonderful day and we're mighty blessed."

A reporter asked the president if he had been up late partying. Bush winked, then turned toward the plane, ignoring a second question about whether the wedding had given the slumping U.S. economy a boost.

In recent days, the White House has dribbled out details about the bride's dress, the ring, the wedding attire and pre-wedding events. It was part of a carefully orchestrated communications strategy to disclose bits of information, but keep the wedding from becoming a media circus.

But it wasn't a complete media blackout. On Sunday, while it disclosed no more details, the White House released 11 photos of the affair at Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who did a reading during the ceremony with former first lady Barbara Bush, moseyed back to the press section of the plane, but wouldn't dish. He said he dutifully replied "Yes sir!" when he was told not to disclose details.

A White House official confirmed by e-mail at 9:28 p.m. EDT Saturday that Jenna and Henry, the son of the chairman of the Republican Party in Virginia, had been officially hitched.

The post-wedding party ensued. The more than 200 family and friends were entertained by the Tyrone Smith Revue, a 10-piece party band from Nashville, Tenn. The musicians gave the newlyweds what Smith described as a "get down" party.

At Tricia Nixon's White House wedding in 1971, President Nixon and his daughter danced to "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." Bush and Jenna glided across the dance floor to "You are so Beautiful" - a ballad made famous by Joe Cocker. The newlyweds danced to "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" by Taj Mahal.

The bride and groom were reared in Republican families, but this was a bipartisan ceremony.

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Officiating was the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, an influential minister from Houston and longtime spiritual adviser to the president, has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

But while the wedding is now a part of presidential history, it was not a night for politics or publicity.

Millie Martin Bratten, editor-in-chief of BRIDES magazine, said the wedding was a letdown for some who craved a Princess Diana-style event. But she said Jenna's wedding - her classy Oscar de la Renta gown and all - might even set a trend for future presidential weddings. Bratten foresees future first family weddings that mix protocol and formality with creative individual touches from the bride.

"Instead of the event being turned over to the White House social secretary who follows the strict rules of protocol - something that comes from our British heritage of royal weddings - this one had a lot of input from her," Bratten said.

As the nuptials drew near on Saturday, tour buses loaded with wedding guests began rolling through downtown Crawford, past souvenir stores that earlier in the day had sold out of Jenna and Henry coffee mugs and mouse pads. An 18-foot rusty metal sculpture of an angel, a gift to the town after Bush's re-election, was adorned with a white veil and bouquet of white flowers. Plastic geese ornaments on a lawn were dressed up with white knit hats and draped in tulle.

Unable to get close to the ranch, visitors settled for snapping photos of the Prairie Chapel Road sign.

Wedding events were so closely held that even the chef who prepared the rehearsal dinner Friday night in a nearby town didn't find out he was working on the first daughter's wedding until late Thursday night.

"It's pretty amazing how they kept it quiet," said Dave Hermann, who with his wife, Katie, own The Range Restaurant at the Barton House in Salado, about an hour's drive from Crawford. In a phone interview, Hermann said the groom's mother, Margaret Chase Hager, used an alias when she called to arrange the event. "Quite honestly, there may have been a handful of people who knew something, but not very early on."

For the rehearsal dinner, Hermann served lemon-crusted rainbow trout and grilled pork tenderloin over roasted corn pudding. It was the groom's 30th birthday, so he also served a lemony, vanilla cake.

"Lots of people gave toasts," he said. "Henry shared some funny stories about dating Jenna and said something about how he couldn't wait to be the son" the Bushes never had.

Afterward, the rehearsal dinner crowd went to a "Texas-sized" celebration down the street. They were escorted by a high school marching band from Belton, Texas, which played "Happy Birthday" and "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You," Hermann said. Reporters never saw or heard the noisy procession.

"I know the president and I know the family and I think they pulled it off," Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and author of a book on presidents' kin. "What I mean when I say `pulled it off' is that they were successful in keeping it a private event."

Many questions remain unanswered: Did the couple write their own vows? Will Jenna take her husband's name? Are they really going to Europe for their honeymoon? When is Barbara Bush getting married?

If the Bush twins follow the lead of President Woodrow Wilson's daughters, Barbara will tie the knot quickly. In 1913, Jessie Wilson was married on Nov. 25 - the twins' birthday. Her sister, Eleanor Wilson, got hitched a few months later on May 7, 1914.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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