The falling sun threw streaks of orange across a pale purple sky, and the wildflowers painted across the brilliant landscape were nearing full bloom. With 200 guests gathered at the family’s secluded ranch in Crawford, Texas, Jenna Bush and her fiancé, Henry Hager, traded “I wills” at a lakeside limestone altar made specially for the occasion. But as the others made their way to the dinner and dancing that followed, Jenna and her new husband took a different route, stepping out onto the President’s small fishing dock for a moment that belonged to them alone: a few words of whispered conversation and the clink of two champagne glasses at moonrise.
To those who know the President’s daughter well, the natural beauty of her May 10 ranch wedding was all so quintessential Jenna. But so too were her instructions to the wedding singer. After the tearful vows and a touching father-daughter dance, Jenna, 26, called out to the stage where Tyrone Smith and his band of Nashville musicians were playing wedding standards. “Super T,” she said, “pick it up!”
Over an event-filled weekend in the low hills of central Texas, the two sides of the former Jenna Bush—Jenna Hager, now, with no hyphen or “Bush” lingering as a middle name—were on colorful display: the well-connected sophisticate who wore an Oscar de la Renta gown and helped design her own Anthony Nak quartz-and-diamond earrings and the unpretentious former sorority girl who playfully jumped in a creek at her bridal luncheon. From yoga at Friday’s kickoff lunch for 30 friends and relatives to the nacho chips and chili con queso dip that fortified wedding guests who lasted till 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, the President’s daughter, who once stuck out her tongue at news photographers, had her wedding her way—without press or protocol.
The guest list of family and close friends was hardly designed for name-dropping. Former presidential adviser Karl Rove, Henry’s old boss during a White House internship, was the only nonfamily VIP in attendance. Vice President Cheney didn’t make the cut. And one gate-crasher nearly wrecked the fun. First Lady Laura Bush revealed later that, while the bride and groom were 50 miles away at the rehearsal dinner May 9, tornado-force winds overturned the ovens used by Houston caterer Jackson Hicks in Crawford and tore away the sides of the reception tent. “But everyone worked wildly,” said Mrs. Bush, “and you couldn’t even tell the next night.”
The celebration started at midday Friday in the town of Salado, an old stagecoach stop about an hour south of the heavily guarded Bush ranch (where a no-fly-zone precludes prying from the sky). Jenna bounced into Salado’s Inn on the Creek for an al fresco lunch with the 14 members of her “house party,” twin sister Barbara and others, with red pepper hummus (Jenna’s request) and M&Ms inscribed with the words “Marry Me Henry.” Grabbing one of the hot-pink and yellow parasols serving as decorations, the bride-to-be hammed it up for a White House photographer by splashing in a creek as First Lady Laura Bush and others watched from a porch, attended by a pair of masseuses. Next, an instructor put Jenna and her girlfriends through a 30-minute yoga workout—plus squats, lunges and crunches. “Afterward all the girls said they felt so much better, so relaxed,” says Neissa Springmann of Austin, who led the exercise.
For that evening’s rehearsal dinner at a B&B in Salado, hosted by Henry’s parents, Maggie and John Hager, the chairman of the Republican Party in their home state of Virginia, Jenna traded her yoga pants for a sleeveless dress with white bodice and black ruffled skirt. Florist Ginny Swalley decorated the room with peach and green hydrangeas and white roses. “It was a very SOUTHERN LIVING look,” she says. “That’s what the groom’s mother wanted, that it represent their family’s lifestyle.” After the toasts, a cake was wheeled out for Henry—it was his 30th birthday—and Jenna led her sweetheart out onto a deck for a surprise: a marching band playing “Happy Birthday.” “Henry just stood there grinning, saying, ‘This is awesome,'” says Belton High School associate band director Scott Dudley.
For Hager, an Eagle Scout who worked on his father’s run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, the weekend meant joining an even loftier political dynasty. Called Hank by the President, Henry has told friends he is annoyed by the press’s attention to his relationship with Jenna; he is so way of taking advantage of her family that he refuses to request White House tours for his buddies. The pair first met when they both worked at George Bush’s 2004 reelection headquarters. “On Election Day, they were friends. By the Inaugural, they were an item,” says Henry’s friend Adam Piper, also active in GOP politics. Jenna had just moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating from the University of Texas with an English degree. It was a time of transition, she said when she took the unusual—but totally Jenna—step of making her own toast at the reception. “She told the story of how she wasn’t prepared for Washington’s bitter winters,” recalls one guest, “but that falling in love with Henry made her not notice the cold so much.”
Jenna put their relationship to the long-distance test when she began a nine-month UNICEF internship in Latin America and the Caribbean, where she conceived the idea for Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope, her bestselling book about a single mother with HIV, released last fall. Henry, an MBA student at the time, dusted off his passport to keep the romance alive, and Jenna excitedly planned the details of his time there, including asking her colleagues to recommend fishing spots. “If he could be outdoors every single day all day, he would,” says Jenna.
No real surprise, then, that Jenna overruled her parents’ wishes for a White House wedding, opting instead for what she described to Larry King as a natural setting to match her “unglamorous” personality. Jenna and her father walked down the aisle to “Trumpet Voluntary” played by a San Antonio mariachi band. The bride’s grandparents, former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, took turns reading from Corinthians (“Love is patient, love is kind …”), and Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston, a spiritual adviser to Bush (and a supporter of Barack Obama), conducted a traditional service.
Afterward, with luminarias lighting the paths of the ranch and lights hung in the trees, the newlyweds danced to Taj Mahal’s “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes.” Then the President led his daughter to the dance floor for “You Are So Beautiful,” toward the end of which he motioned to Jenna’s sister Barbara to join them on the dance floor. The First Lady danced with Henry’s father, who uses a wheelchair since an adult bout with polio. “He was out on the dance floor all night,” says a guest. “He wheeled his chair around to the beat and Mrs. Bush twirled around him.” After an intermission, bandleader Tyrone ‘Super T’ Smith changed from a tuxedo into a superhero costume—and the all-night party got started in earnest.
The President lasted until 1 a.m. He told reporters the next morning it was an “awfully special” weekend. “Our little girl Jenna married a really good guy,” he said. After a honeymoon at a secret location, Henry and Jenna plan to settle in the $440,000 19th-century row house they recently bought in Baltimore, where he will begin work in June, earning a base salary in the low six figures, with Constellation Energy Group. Jenna, who taught at a Washington charter school, has filed an application with a local charter school. If the pastor who married the couple is any judge, the young woman who has always insisted on doing things her way is now, in marriage, equally determined to do things their way. “Henry and Jenna both love life. They both have a sense of humor,” says Rev. Caldwell. “They both love each other, and I think they like each other too.”