University of Maine season opener against Delaware at Alfond Stadium. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

There is a conversation in the 1967 movie “The Graduate” involving Walter Brooke’s character and Dustin Hoffman’s.

Hoffman’s character is mulling his future and Brooke’s character says to him “There is a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

To which Dustin Hoffman’s character responds “Yes, I will.”

Former University of Maine offensive tackle Rod Sparrow remembered that exchange. He was always interested in plastics and when he received an opportunity to produce and market plastic products, he never hesitated.

It made him a wealthy man, and on Friday he donated $1 million dollars to the UMaine football program. It will be used for capital improvements including new offices and meeting rooms for the coaches and the players.

Sparrow will have the naming rights to the new office facilities.  

His father, Richard Sparrow Sr., had owned the Leaktite Corporation which built and sold metal products like small pails. The company was originally located in Watertown, Massachusetts. 

But Rod Sparrow felt building and selling plastic items was a better way to go and they became a plastic fabrication company.

He bought the company from his father and brother, Rick. Jr., in 1984.

The company moved to a bigger space in Leominster, Massachusetts, and eventually expanded to Phoenix, Arizona.

And the item that put them on the map was the 5-gallon orange plastic bucket that became a staple at Home Depots everywhere.

The company took a plain 5-gallon bucket they had made and had its customers design the logo and color for it, which was orange. It was Home Depot that came up with the idea to stack them in front of every aisle so the customers could use them as shopping baskets with an option to buy them. 

And many did.

“The plastic pails are lighter and stronger than the metal pails. They can hold up to 20 pounds.  They’re more colorful and the homeowner doesn’t hesitate to put it in the back of the garage because they don’t have to worry about it rusting out,” explained the 73-year-old Sparrow, a 1971 UMaine graduate with a degree in business administration and marketing.

He had worked summers for his father’s Peerless Pressed Metal company and took a sales job with the company. In 1973, he worked his way to sales manager.

The company went from producing five items to 70 including small containers, paint liners and paint trays in addition to the buckets.

They can be purchased at a variety of stores including Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s and True Value Hardware stores.

Sparrow sold the company last October.

Sparrow said he was inspired by the late philanthropist Harold Alfond, who donated millions of dollars to the university and other institutions in the state.

“I don’t think he ever played ball but he loved the state and gave so much to so many different schools. It was very, very impressive,” Sparrow said. “I remember talking to him. He was an amazing man.”

The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $90 million gift to the University of Maine to upgrade its athletic facilities.

Sparrow said people may not have the funds the Alfond Foundation has but they are just as passionate about the University of Maine and can still make a noteworthy contribution.

After he got established in the business world, he got lured back into getting involved in the football program and “I heard, loud and clear, that the football program didn’t have a lot of extra money.”

He had donated earlier for one of the turf upgrades at Morse Field.

“The state benefits tremendously from the program. We need to keep the facilities up,” Sparrow said.

Sparrow played football for three years at UMaine and was a starter his senior year. He played for Walt Abbott, whom he considers a legend

The Lexington, Massachusetts, native thoroughly enjoyed his time at UMaine and made a lot of lifelong friends as well as putting his business degree to good use.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to Rod and the Sparrow family for their significant support of our transformational campaign and the Black Bear football program,” Senior Associate Athletic Director for Development Seth Wood said in a press release. “Rod represents all we stand for in UMaine Athletics; he is humble, hardworking, positive and has a team first attitude. Rod’s early gift to our campaign reinforces his value in true leadership, and the pride and love he has for his alma mater is palpable to all from the first day you meet him.”