An American three-decade veteran of Japan has spent the past seven years heading a residents’ association in a small community in Osaka Prefecture.

Samuel Edward Teckenbrock, 58, was chosen to head the association in Koyodai, in the city of Hirakata in February 2009.

He said he was initially worried about being able to understand the intricacies of the role, having grown up outside Japan.

But Teckenbrock agreed to take the post as other residents promised to help him out when needed. Moreover, he said he believes it is a resident’s responsibility to contribute to the neighborhood.

A native of Illinois, Teckenbrock first came to Japan at age 28 in 1986 to study Japanese.

After working as an English instructor at Kansai Gaidai University, he began his current career as an architecture consultant.

Teckenbrock moved to Koyodai in 2006 after marrying a Japanese woman.

Known as “Sam-san” by other residents, Teckenbrock has tried to turn the neighborhood into a place where residents can interact with each other on a daily basis.

He has led projects such as planting flowers and building benches in a park that used to be run-down and overgrown.

He also organizes bus trips every year to an aquarium and other tourist spots.

His approach has won the approval of other residents. Yoshiko Tsutsumi, 71, who has lived in Koyodai for more than 30 years, said most previous association heads were reluctant to take any initiative and served in the role only because they drew the short straw.

“But Sam-san is different,” she said. “Thanks to him, our community has become lively.”

In fact, about 50 residents from the roughly 180 households that belong to the association were helping to plant flowers in a park on the morning a reporter visited in December.

Among other things, Teckenbrock organizes a rakugo comic storytelling show around the Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day holiday in September, inviting a professional rakugo storyteller to entertain senior residents, most of whom are unable to travel all the way to a city for such a show.

“I hope to give them a warm and heartfelt gift,” he said.

“Smiling” is another key word for Teckenbrock’s community-building. He suggested that residents smile and greet whenever they see each other on the streets.

“I’m looking to make a cheerful community filled with smiles,” Teckenbrock said. “It is not that we smile because we are happy, but we feel happy because we smile.”