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VALE -- Most of us have been inspired by a teacher from our pasts.

In Vale, auto technology teacher Merle Saunders has had that affect on many of his students, and after 31 years he is closing up shop.

Merle Saunders has won many awards, and was even inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame.

But he doesn't care about all that, he defines his success through the success of his students.

Hundreds of kids have gone through Merle Saunder's auto shop at Vale High School.

Thursday, he gave one of the last tests he will ever grade.

When I started 31 years ago, I was a 22 year-old-kid with long hair and knew everything there was to know and there's been a lot of changes over the years, said Merle Saunders.

Changes like cars being more computerized, women entering the industry.

But the one constant: his dedication to students and exposing them to a career that could stand the test of time.

People are keeping their cars longer so auto repair is a huge deal, said Saunders.

Saunders admits there's little instant reward in teaching but the wait paid off.

Without his help and things I learned from him, I wouldn't be where I am today, said Greg Saunders, former student of Merle Saunders.

Former student Greg Saunders, no relation to Merle, now owns an auto body shop in town.

He's had such an influence on my life and my family's and all the students throughout his career. It's just great we've had him this long, said Greg.

Randy Belnap also went through Merle's auto class, and now owns his own repair shop.

He credits Saunders for helping him focus early in life.

He gave us a paper and made us write down our goals, some short term goals and most of what I wrote down I've accomplished in my life, said Randy Belnap. It's always given me something to look forward to.

Many wish Merle would not leave but they and he know it is time.

Not only has Merle won many awards himself, but his students have won competitions across the country.

There are more than three decades worth of awards inside a trophy case at Vale High School.

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