And just off to their right sat House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi next to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Hatch received an invitation for co-sponsoring the Serve America Act with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. It was one of the first bills Obama signed into law when he took office in 2009; its goal is to triple the number of government-sponsored volunteers.
"Sen. Hatch was proud to support President George H.W. Bush's efforts to promote volunteerism and giving back to the community and was pleased to be able to be at the White House today to honor his good friend's efforts in this important area," said Hatch spokesman Matthew Harakal.
Bush famously described Americans who helped each other as "a thousand points of light" in his 1989 inaugural address and during the next year started the Daily Point of Light Award.
Obama helped him award the 5,000th such honor to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton of Iowa, who created a program named Outreach to feed poor children in the United States and in 14 other countries.
The president also lavished praise on his predecessor and Bush's wife, Barbara, for their efforts to expand public service.
"I am one of millions of people who have been inspired by your passion and your commitment," Obama said to Bush, who sat in a wheelchair, which showed off his red, white and blue socks. "You have helped so many Americans discover that they, too, have something to contribute that they, too, have the power to make a difference."
Obama noted that Bush, his son former President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton have worked together to help people impacted by natural disasters, calling it "a reminder that service is not a Democratic or a Republican value, but it's a core part of being an American."