Tonya Seelhorst

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

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Classified employee raising money for English warship

Tonya Seelhorst is project's first U.S. ambassador

Tonya Seelhorst's admiration for former King of England Henry VIII has led her down a new and interesting path.

Seelhorst, an administrative associate in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering who recently earned her bachelor's degree in history and political science from Ohio University, became the first United States appeal ambassador for the Mary Rose 500 Appeal last fall.

The England-based charity organization The Mary Rose Trust is coordinating the Mary Rose 500 Appeal, which is a fundraising effort to build a new museum around King Henry VIII's 16th century warship, the Mary Rose.

The Mary Rose, which the king named after his youngest sister, sank in the English Channel in 1545 during England's battle with France. The ship was raised in 1982 and has been undergoing a restoration process that will be complete in 2012.

More than 19,000 artifacts were recovered from the ship and are now awaiting the construction of the museum in Plymouth, England, that will be large enough to display them all to the public. The recovered items include books, bowls, mugs, shoes, a backgammon set, wooden tableware, cutlery, hats, buckles, buttons, arrows, longbows and a fiddle complete with bow. The skeleton of the crew's dog, Hatch, is also included in the list of recovered items.  

Seelhorst came across this important part of Tudor history while searching the Web. She read how 500 crew members sank with the flagship as her favorite historical figure King Henry VIII watched from a nearby castle. She said although Henry VIII is best known for killing his wives and friends, he was misunderstood and was actually a remarkable man with many great qualities.

"The violence, which came late in his career, was just a tiny piece of who he was," Seelhorst said. "He was highly educated, a skillful musician, author and poet, and even wrote musical compositions. He was strong in athletic skills and known to be a fun, handsome and fair man."

Intrigued by what she read about the Mary Rose 500 (number used to honor lost crew members) Appeal, Seelhorst contacted The Mary Rose Trust online to thank them for being dedicated to this important history project.

After trading e-mails with one of the group's members, Seelhorst was invited to join the group that has Prince Charles as its president. Her main duties are to raise awareness of the project and expand the group's fundraising efforts in the U.S. 

"I accepted the offer and have pledged to assist the group in fundraising," Seelhorst said. "I feel that it is a great honor to be part of such an important and historic cause."

Rear Admiral John Lippiett, chief executive of The Mary Rose Trust, wrote a letter to Seelhorst thanking her for becoming the first U.S. ambassador. He wrote that the new museum will reunite the warship with her thousands of artifacts and "tell the story of the crew members and their importance to understanding the whole story of this remarkable ship."

Seelhorst said she will make an appeal to university professors, the Department of History and local history clubs in the near future. She would also like to organize a "Courtly Feast" fundraising dinner on campus in reminiscence of King Henry VIII, who she said became known for hosting lavish over-the-top banquets.    

To date, The Mary Rose Trust has secured about 85 percent of its $53 million goal and is now making a final push to finish the project.

For more information about the Mary Rose 500 project or to make a donation, contact Seelhorst at