Some Notable Names within Minnesota MUFON
By Torre Nelson, November 6, 2023
On a mild summer day in 1954, a couple of high school teenagers were playing catch with a football near Long Prairie, Minnesota. The boys were enjoying their recreational activity when one of the boys, Lou Masonick, noticed something in the sky. Both boys saw the object. The object was a saucer-shaped, silver, metallic craft that was hovering in the sky approximately 500 feet above them. The object moved slowly East to West. During its flight, it stopped temporarily directly above them. As it hovered silently above them, it started radiating colors as if from a spectrum – like the colors of a rainbow. It became encased in these radiating colors before moving off and then simply disappearing. The object was completely silent throughout the event. At first the boys thought it might be a military aircraft, but they quickly discarded that idea as the object did not look or act like a military aircraft – it didn’t have any wings, no markings were visible, it moved too slowly for a plane, it made no noise and it was able to cloak or disappear. The boys were excited and intrigued because there was no technology that they were aware of that had these abilities. Being an inquisitive yet sensible young mind, Lou decided to call the Air Force with the boy’s sighting in order to determine if the Air Force had developed a new flying vehicle with new capabilities. The Air Force’s response was not what Lou expected – he was simply told not to spread rumors BUT to call them back immediately if it happens again. Lou never saw that “saucer” again but he did have another sighting one year later. While driving on State Highway 27, somewhere about halfway between Little Falls and Long Prairie, Lou witnessed a 40-foot tall craft approximately 100 feet from the road. The rocket-type craft appeared to be either hovering a few inches above the ground or sitting on landing gear that was not visible. The silver craft was smooth (no rivets were visible) and, like his previous sighting, the craft radiated a spectrum of colors. As Lou went passed the craft, he stopped along the side of the road to investigate further but as he watched the craft, it simply disappeared. These two sightings and Lou’s insatiable desire to determine what he saw impelled Lou to become a key figure in the establishment of a group called the “Mutual UFO Network (MUFON)” in Minnesota.
These sightings left Lou with many questions and, combined with the many UFO sighting reports from across the United States, sparked Lou’s lifelong interest in ufology. In 1961 Lou accepted a job with Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (known less formally as “3M”) in St. Paul, Minnesota. He worked for 3M until he turned 55 when he purchased an H&R Block tax preparation franchise. He is now retired after owning and managing several H&R Block franchises. Although Lou devoted much time to his career, he also managed to find time for his interest in UFOs. While in college and early in his career with 3M, Lou met many people also interested in UFOs so he asked several of his friends and acquaintances to meet monthly to discuss UFO sightings. Initially a relatively large group of individuals, mostly college students, began meeting each month in 1957 or 1958 on the campus of Hamline University in St. Paul. Early on, as the meetings developed, Lou was asked to be the leader of the new group and the name for the group “Mutual UFO Network (MUFON for short)” was adopted. The Mutual UFO Network group in Minnesota attracted many individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences – many were highly technical with science related backgrounds and others simply had an interest in the phenomenon. Quickly the group began to receive information about local sightings and decided to investigate many of them. It was agreed early on that a scientific approach was to be applied to these investigations by looking for physical trace evidence. Monthly meetings continue even today. The regularity of the meetings varied over time and the meeting locations have changed several times. After initially meeting at Hamline University, the meetings moved to a building near the VA hospital, Fort Snelling and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Meetings eventually became more regular and have now settled in New Brighton – first at the New Brighton City Hall and for the past 20+ years meeting at the New Brighton Community Center. As interest in UFOs was growing nationally, MUFON began to share their information with other UFO groups throughout the Midwest.
Local and national UFO sighting reports proliferated rapidly as media exposure generated a massive expansion of interest in UFOs. During this time, many UFO organizations were started by well-respected academics and military leaders who also preferred to apply a scientific methodology to their research. Several organizations became leaders in the UFO research field during the 60’s and 70’s and the MUFON group in Minnesota shared sighting reports and case files with many of them. The Area Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) was founded in 1952 by Jim and Coral Lorenzen from Sturgeon, Wisconsin. Members of APRO included James E. McDonald, an atmospheric physicist and the leading scientific UFO researcher of his time, and James Harder, a civil and hydraulics engineering professor at the University of California Berkeley, and a large staff of consulting PH.D. scientists. As will be explained momentarily, this group was the precursor to today’s national Mutual UFO Network organization. Another organization, The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), was founded in 1956 by inventor Thomas Townsend Brown and included several prominent dignitaries including Donald Keyhoe, retired Major USMC, and Delmer S. Fahrney, former Rear Admiral USN/former chief of the Navy’s guided missile program. This organization was very active and undoubtedly gained membership based on the reputation of its original members. Ironically, it eventually folded due to financial reasons and, in part, to its close association with the military given the widespread belief that the government was covering up UFO information. In 1973, J. Allen Hynek, then chair of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern University in Illinois, founded a new privately funded research group called the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Hynek, had been a consultant for Project Bluebook, the US Air Force’s official study of the UFO phenomenon, from 1948 until Project Bluebook was shut down in 1969. A skeptic during his early work for Project Bluebook, Hynek eventually became a believer that a small number of cases that could not be explained may be actual extraterrestrial visitation. Initially, CUFOS membership and participation were restricted to scientists and other professionals who donated their time and expertise. Mr. Hynek has since passed but CUFOS still exists and is now located in Chicago, Illinois. CUFOS has since adopted an open membership policy, however, CUFOS continues to be a small research organization stressing scientific analysis of UFO cases.
In 1969, a large number of APRO members led by Dr. Allen R. Utke, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wisconsin State University in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Walt Andrus, Assistant Plant Manager for the Motorola Company in Quincy, Illinois, decided to form a new organization due to a disagreement with APRO leaders regarding management styles relating to a perceived need for more grassroots input. The new group was called the “Midwest UFO Network.” This new organization implemented a reporting structure consisting of local observers in several Midwest states. The observers reported through state section directors to the State Director. The State Directors made up the Board of Directors who reported to the Midwest UFO Network Director. Dr. Utke became the first Midwest UFO Network Director and remained so until he resigned in 1970. Walt Andrus became the second Midwest UFO Network Director and his strong business management and human resource knowledge had a large impact on the development of the Midwest UFO Network.
Under Walt’s leadership the Midwest UFO Network group expanded to areas beyond the “Midwest” and the group became a truly national and then international organization. This expansion necessitated a name change from the regional connotation of “Midwest” to a non-geographical name. So in 1973, Lou Masonick, leader of the Mutual UFO Network organization in Minnesota, called Walt and offered to allow Walt’s organization to use the non-geographical name “Mutual UFO Network.“ The Minnesota group then became a member of the newly named organization and was set up with the decentralized hierarchy of Walt’s new organization. Lou Masonick then officially became Minnesota’s first State Director of MUFON.
UFO conferences also proliferated during the 50’s and 60’s and continue to this day. Conferences were a popular way to share UFO information. Conferences contributed to sharing UFO information through detailed papers, presentations, and many informal conversations in bars and restaurants. Many of the early members of MUFON attended several of these conferences. They met many of the early UFO researchers, many of whom are now UFO research legends, and often shared information about local sightings in Minnesota. Several national conferences continue to this day and are held at different times of the year and in various places throughout the US. MUFON holds its own national conference called “The MUFON Symposium” and all MUFON State Directors are required to attend. In 2023, the MUFON Symposium was held August 24-27th in Cincinnati, Ohio. The symposium was a sellout with hundreds of attendees. The cost of the 2023 MUFON symposium ranged from $159 for a one-day pass to $509 for a Platinum Weekend Pass. The cost does not appear to have diminished the enthusiasm that attendees have for the UFO topic or for the distinguished guest speakers. In 2003, the guest speakers included David Paulides, author of “Missing 411” series of books; Grant Cameron, UFO researcher and author of many books related to UFOs; Yvonne Smith, abductee researcher and author; Professor Avi Loeb, head of the Galileo Project – a systematic scientific search for evidence of extra-terrestrial technological artifacts; and many more!
Currently, Minnesota MUFON is very active and has 97 paid members. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the meetings were often held only online but now the meetings are again being held in person and are also available online. Members currently pay $5 to attend meetings and non-members are welcome to attend their first meeting for free – subsequent non-member attendance fees are $7.
We thank Lou Masonic for his interest in the UFO topic and for blazing a trail through the early years of the organization’s development, investigation and research. The Minnesota organization began in the late 50’s – before the national MUFON organization began. Minnesota has been a huge contributor advancing the knowledge and investigations of UFOs for over 65 years. This Minnesota group has not only contributed the name of the National organization but has also provided much in the way of UFO sighting reports and investigations to the national organization for all these years. It is incredible to think that all of this started with a couple of young boys playing catch with a football many years ago.