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It's an inviting job for an Obama confidant

November 27, 2008|John McCormick | McCormick is a writer for the Chicago Tribune.

CHICAGO — For those clamoring for invitations to future White House functions -- including Christmas parties and state dinners -- there will be few people more important than Desiree Rogers.

The Chicago businesswoman will wield major clout for such events as the next White House social secretary, an appointment President-elect Barack Obama's transition office announced this week.

"It will probably be overwhelming, initially, as people want to get into the White House and want to be a part of all this," Rogers said. "We're not going to be able to have everyone there in the first year. . . . People are going to have to be a little patient with us."

The White House's State Dining Room, for example, can only seat about 130 people. Many -- including close friends from Chicago -- are going to be turned away for some of the hottest White House events.

Rogers said she wanted to help Barack and Michelle Obama make the White House a welcoming and inspirational place.

She said she hoped the future Obama home would be a place to showcase the best the nation had to offer for arts and culture, but also be a place that highlighted "great minds, great Americans and everyday Americans."

Rogers, 49, will be the first African American to serve in the full-time position, one responsible for organizing and overseeing all White House functions and ceremonies.

She is wrapping up her duties at Allstate Insurance Co., where she was creating a financial social networking program.

But she is already studying the John F. Kennedy White House, an administration renowned for its functions.

"This is not just going to be about the culture and the arts," she said. "Part of this is reaching out to all Americans."

The Obamas often seem highly disciplined. Rogers was coy when asked whether they could also party.

"We'll see, won't we?" she said. "I think the one thing that is very obvious is that they enjoy life and each other and their friends."

Rogers, a longtime friend of the Obama family, worked on the campaign's fundraising team and is close to Valerie Jarrett, another Obama confidant who will be a senior advisor at the White House.

The former president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, Rogers is also on the board of trustees for the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She is part of the city's effort to woo the 2016 Olympics and is a former director of the Illinois Lottery.

Rogers has a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University, and was once married to millionaire Chicago financier John Rogers, head of Ariel Capital Management and a close Obama friend and fundraiser. She has one daughter, Victoria, 18, a student at Yale University.

"I am giddy with excitement. As I look at my career and the work I have done, this is the perfect combination of some of the skill sets that I have," Rogers said. "I don't think it can get much better than this."

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